Lee Daniels fired 'disrespectful' Precious crew after white DP couldn't light Black skin
During a TIFF reunion, Daniels and Gabourey Sidibe said the original cinematographer made the actress' skin look green: "That was one of the major problems with him."
Lee Daniels revealed that a "disrespectful" crew led to a major behind-the-scenes shakeup only 20 days into filming his Oscar-winning 2009 drama Precious.
During a reunion panel with lead actress Gabourey Sidibe at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, the director recalled that he "didn't feel good" about the film's dailies after two weeks of shooting, and course-corrected shortly thereafter.
"I had a white line producer, a white AD, they also read [reviews that said my last film] Shadowboxer was the worst film ever made, and they had zero respect for me, my vision, or what it was. They were New Yorkers that looked at this as a job," Daniels said. "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."
Sidibe appeared to wipe away tears as Daniels recalled the incident, and chimed in to confirm that he cleared the crew after a mere 20 days on set.
"I was so nervous about making sure that she was lit beautifully. It didn't feel right," the director added. "Whether we were going to take a financial hit because of it, I just blindly shut it down." It was a risk that ultimately paid off, as the film ended up grossing $64 million against a $10 million budget.
"Then, we got back with a new DP, Andrew Dunn," Daniels continued. "I'd seen The Madness of King George, and I loved the way he shot it. I loved The Bodyguard with Whitney Houston, he'd done that, and I asked him, 'I need your help because my DP is disrespectful.' They were all white guys, just rude, disrespectful, really rude to what I wanted to do, not knowing I was going to shut it all down."
Sidibe, who went on to receive an Oscar nomination for her role in the Oprah Winfrey- and Tyler Perry-produced film, echoed Daniels, saying the original DP — whom she didn't name — had "no idea" how to light her skin, and that she often looked green in the footage she was able to see from early shoots.
"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... 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," she remembered. "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."
A representative for Precious distributor Lionsgate did not immediately respond to EW's request for confirmation.
Precious and its tale of a New York City teen who enrolls in an alternative school amid ongoing abuse from her mother, became a runaway hit with critics. The film scored two Academy Awards: one for supporting actress Mo'Nique, and the other for Geoffrey S. Fletcher's script, atop a Best Picture nod. The film also featured critically lauded performances from Paula Patton, Sherri Shepherd, Lenny Kravitz, Xosha Roquemore, and Mariah Carey.
Watch Daniels and Sidibe discuss Precious above. Keep up with EW's ongoing TIFF coverage here.