Valerie Macon/Getty Images
Valerie Macon/Getty Images
He's one of Hollywood's most celebrated writers and directors. But before Lee Daniels was able to work with dozens of famous faces, he was a young dreamer hoping to live a better life.
Recently, Lee traveled to Loyola Marymount University where he took part in an ongoing interview series titled "The Hollywood Masters."
While his work in Precious, Empire and other projects were celebrated, it's his road to success that is inspiring many fans.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Lee got candid when talking about his family and life growing up.
"I thought I was going to end up like most of my friends, in jail. That was the way the world was for me," he explained. "I didn't think I was going to die, but I imagined myself in jail. And when you have to steal to eat, yeah, I thought I was definitely going to—I mean, that was just the norm."
While many stars credit their mom and dad for their success, Lee had a difficult relationship with his father who was violent with him. Fortunately, Lee's grandmother helped inspire him and keep him on the right track.
"I come from a family of five, of brothers and sisters. And my grandmother could pass for a white. And she migrated from North Carolina with her sister. And she was a very powerful woman," Lee recalled. "She married the blackest man possible. She was the first black woman to go to Duke University. She passed as white going in."
During the summer, Lee would spend his days with his grandmother while his parents worked. The writer slowly realized he wanted something more in his life.
With little money in his pockets, Lee traveled to Los Angeles where he lived in the back of a church near Baldwin Hills, Calif. He developed a passion for a theatre that was located on the property. At the same time, he received a job as a receptionist at a nursing agency.
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No matter what hurdles came his way, Lee was "determined to make it."
"I knew that I could make it on my own," he shared. "My grandmother told me that I could, and so why couldn't I?"
Lee eventually opened his own nursing agency before AIDS surfaced in and around Los Angeles.
"It hit the community hard. It was terrifying, because we never knew whether you could drink from glasses or what it was. It was the most terrifying thing ever. And I didn't understand why it was that I wasn't [dead], because there were far better souls than me that were going," he explained. "I thought that I needed to go. And so I descended into drugs and into sexual bath houses to die. That I don't have AIDS is a miracle from God. I don't understand it. I really don't understand it. Because I should have had HIV. Everybody else did."
While Lee is filled with gratitude for his success today, his biggest obstacle wasn't his environment or living situation. Instead, Lee believes it was himself.
"Learning to love myself, learning to believe in myself. You know, I only did it as a vendetta to my dad, to show him that I was going to be something. I mean, it was about survival, showing him, but knowing deep down that I wasn't worthy of it. So yeah, I think that myself would be, I am my worst enemy," he explained. "But, I'm learning, that's why I'm in therapy now. And I want to do something about that, because, you know, black people don't believe in therapy. I was like, all of a sudden I'm 57 and I'm going to therapy. That's some heavy stuff, you know?"