Breaking Big: How Lee Daniels Uses His Trauma to Tell Authentic Stories

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Why you should care

The director survived childhood trauma and the AIDS crisis to conquer both independent and mainstream Hollywood. 

OZY's new TV show, Breaking Big, explores the secrets to success.OZY's new TV show, Breaking Big, explores the secrets to success. Click to find out more.

OZY Media’s third prime-time television show, Breaking Big, airs Fridays at 8.30pm ET on OZY.com, Facebook Watch and PBS. Join us as we explore the unexpected journeys to success of some of the world’s most influential stars.

Growing up in the rough neighborhoods of West Philadelphia, Lee Daniels always knew he was different from other kids. Despite losing his father at a young age and witnessing violence almost daily, Daniels believed he would to do something big.

And he was right. Today, Daniel’s is one of Hollywood’s leading writers, producers and directors. With Academy Award-winning films like “Monster’s Ball” and “Precious,” and critical darlings like “The Butler,” Daniels has managed to conquer both the independent and mainstream sides of Hollywood.

How did this gay Black man shatter stereotypes in the entertainment industry and overcome a traumatic upbringing to build a distinguished career? Not only has he found success — he’s created a cultural phenomenon.

“When I came to Hollywood, I was homeless, and then AIDS hit,” Daniels says. “My lovers were dying around me.” But that’s what makes Daniels such an authentic storyteller — the people he creates on screen are real. “As a director, I use those experiences,” he says.

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