Lee Daniels on #OscarsSoWhite controversy: "If you're doing a job for an Oscar, you're doing the wrong job"

Black Actors Speak Out Against Oscar's Diversity Problem

Fox's juicy Empire picked up the best drama series trophy at Friday night's NAACP Image Awards in Pasadena, and it didn't take long for the conversation backstage to turn to Hollywood's hot-button issue of diversity, both on the big and small screens.

Standing on stage in the press room, co-creator Lee Daniels found a quick answer when asked for his perspective on the lack of diversity in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and among the 2016 crop of nominees. "If you're doing a job for an Oscar, you're doing the wrong job. Do it for the art," he explained, while surrounded by his entire cast and producer crew, including Danny Strong and Brian Grazer. "I don't wait for people to give me anything."

Photos of Lee Daniels:

Lee Daniels
See Gallery
Lee Daniels on #OscarsSoWhite controversy: "If you're doing a job for an Oscar, you're doing the wrong job"
Director Lee Daniels arrives for the Screen Actors Guild Foundation's 30th anniversary celebration, November 5, 2015 at the Wallis Annenberg Center For The Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, California. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - NOVEMBER 05: Honoree Lee Daniels accepts the Patron of the Artists Award onstage during the Screen Actors Guild Foundation 30th Anniversary Celebration at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on November 5, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Mark Davis/Getty Images for Screen Actors Guild Foundation)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 12: Lee Daniels attends the 'Empire' Series Season 2 New York Premiere at Carnegie Hall on September 12, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
THE VIEW - Lee Daniels and Dr. Ruth Westheimer are the guests today, Tuesday, September 22, 2105 on ABC's 'The View.' 'The View' airs Monday-Friday (11:00 am-12:00 pm, ET) on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC via Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - AUGUST 05: Singer Mariah Carey and director Lee Daniels at the Mariah Carey Star on The Hollywood Walk Of Fame on August 5, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - MAY 31: CEO, Lee Daniels speaks at the 7th Annual Produced By Conference at Paramount Studios on May 31, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
ISCHIA, ITALY - JULY 16: Lee Daniels and Trudie Styler attend 2015 Ischia Global Film & Music Fest - Day 4 on July 16, 2015 in Ischia, Italy. (Photo by Venturelli/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 13: Producer Lee Daniels attends A Tribute To African-American Achievements In Television hosted by The Paley Center For Media at Cipriani Wall Street on May 13, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 11: Writer/director and event honoree Lee Daniels poses with his award during the 10th Annual Family Equality Council Night at The Pier held at Pier 60 on May 11, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Brent N. Clarke/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 04: Model Naomi Campbell and producer Lee Daniels attend 'China: Through the Looking Glass', the 2015 Costume Institute Gala, at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 4, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 21: Lee Daniels attends the 2015 Time 100 Gala at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 21, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Toth/FilmMagic)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - APRIL 08: Lee Daniels and Sarah Treem attend the The Hollywood Radio and Television Society's Annual Hitmakers Luncheon at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on April 8, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic)

Daniels wasn't the only one questioned about diversity backstage or on the red carpet at the Image Awards. Here's a sampling of what THR heard Friday night.

Sanaa Lathan, an Image Award winner Friday for her performance in The Perfect Man: "The Oscar controversy is great because it's giving light to something we've known all along. I've been in this business for 20 years and that's the reality of being a person of color in Hollywood. For me, I'm excited that the rest of the world is going to know what's going on and there will be some change."

Actress Kimberly Elise: "I am not an awards-oriented person. I enjoy great art and great performances and I leave with my own sense of satisfaction after having seen a film and I like to personally tell people how I felt about their work. Art is so subjective; it's so very personal. I hope it becomes a non-discussion and we can grow to a place where we are cast just as human beings and remember that we are all just having life experiences and you don't have to be a certain color to click into something that a character is going through."

Empire executive producer and director Sanaa Hamri: "Overall movies and entertainment should be the reflection of the journeys and the stories of people from different walks of lives. It's everybody's responsibility, specifically the studios and the people making movies, to greenlight diverse projects. I'm very about different walks of life and seeing various people on screen. I don't attach a gender to myself. I believe in being excellent."

Scandal actor and Image Award winner for best supporting actor in a drama series Joe Morton: "What happens is that Hollywood looks at black writers and performers and directors and says, 'Lovely, lovely job but we're not going to be writing for you. We're not going to be casting for you. We're not going to be looking for you to direct because we don't tell those kinds of stories.' Very often what happens in many cases when a black entertainer wins an award they cut themselves out of a career because the industry doesn't want to pay a black individual more money to do a film. Denzel has been lucky and Viola has been lucky that way but the scales are still out of balance."

Power creator Courtney Kemp Agboh: "One of the things I've always wanted to do is a show about where I grew up [Westpost, Connecticut] which would be a show about no black people at all other than the character playing me. The revolution is not to make black TV or white TV but to make TV; television that looks like the world that exists. That's why Shonda Rhimes led a revolution because Grey's Anatomy looked like the real world. It wasn't a black show or a white show, it was a show. That's what we should be moving toward.

Actor/comedian Affion Crockett: "We don't need to get recognition from anybody that doesn't want to give it to us. We can celebrate ourselves, like tonight, and turn this into a positive."

Actress Danielle Nicolet: "I was offered a film today that I don't think I would've two months ago. This character was never intended to be black and the fact that they came to me with it is amazing and a sign things are changing."

See More: NAACP Image Awards: Red-Carpet Photos

More from The Hollywood Reporter:
Oscars' Diversity Dilemma: A Mathematical Solution to Parity in Voting
#OscarsSoWhite: Why Black Films Have to Be About MLK and White Movies Can Be About a Mop Inventor
CBS Orders Medical Drama From Ridley Scott
Read Full Story

From Our Partners