Nominated for six Academy Awards at the time of its release in 2009, Lee Daniels’ Precious would go on to secure Oscars for both Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress for Mo’Nique. Some 12 years since the release of the film, however, the director Lee Daniels has revealed that he was forced to fire several “disrespectful” crew members on the film, who could not light black skin properly.
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, the filmmaker reported that he “didn’t feel good” about the shoot two weeks in, in a discussion that included lead actor Gabourey Sidibe. “I had a white line producer, a white AD, they also read Shadowboxer was the worst film ever made, and they had zero respect for me, my vision, or what it was,” the director stated, making reference to his debut feature film.
“They were New Yorkers that looked at this as a job. I kept coming home like, this doesn’t feel right, she doesn’t look right, the set looks weird. I felt like I was giving birth to an alien, literally, so I did something that I now don’t even know whether I’d have the courage to do, but I fired everybody. I shut it down,” Daniels stated. As the director elaborates, “I was so nervous about making sure that she was lit beautifully. It didn’t feel right…whether we were going to take a financial hit because of it, I just blindly shut it down”.
The Oscar-nominated Gabourey Sidibe went on to explain that the original DOP had “no idea” about lighting black skin, “One time we were shooting under a bridge in a literal gutter — not a ‘set’ gutter, like, gutter — with actual green slime on the ground,” she reported.
Continuing, she explained: “I had to lay so they could light me on the ground, and I swear to you, I was on the ground for over an hour while they were trying to light me. Every now and then, I might run into a DP that doesn’t know how to light the variance of Black and brown skin, and that was one of the major problems with him”.
Lee Daniels went on to direct The Butler in 2013 with Forest Whitaker and The United States vs. Billie Holiday in 2021.