Lee Daniels has been forthcoming about his ambitions for Star, his latest musical drama. Ahead of the series’ debut, the Empire creator said he wanted to harken back to the days of Norman Lear’s entertaining yet socially conscious programming, which is no easy feat (only Lear’s been capable of that). Then, just last month, Daniels said he wanted to use the show to help heal the country after the presidential election. The writer-director-producer told The Real he cast Jude Demorest as one of the leads in his new show because he “felt that the country, instinctively, I thought, needed to heal. And I thought that this white girl is so fabulous that black people will embrace her and white people will embrace her.” He continued: “We are truly, I believe, in a civil war. When we understand that we’re all one, will we then understand America.”
But, at today’s Star panel at the TCA winter press tour, Daniels insisted his intentions had been misconstrued. After one critic asked him to expand on his Real quote, Daniels agreed to respond, but with the caveat that he wasn’t going to wrap up things up in a neat little package for the audience. He spoke of the inspirations and goals for the series, which no longer include bridging the ideological gap.
There is no right or wrong to this. I’m going to run away with the soundbite. So whatever journalists in the room, you choose to run with the soundbite you like. I’m a 57-year-old black man who came to Hollywood with a $7 in his pocket, with a dream. To dare to dream big.
When we were putting this TV show together—we talked about Dreamgirls, Paris Is Burning, and Valley Of The Dolls—we talked about this question. I knew it was coming. She [Demorest] isn’t the star of the show, the show is just named Star. It’s an ensemble, very similar to that of Empire. Why am I putting a white girl in the middle of this black env with a sister who is half-black, with another singer who’s an entitled, very rich black girl, with a transgender [actress]. Why am I doing that? We’re in a difficult time right now in America. I foresaw where we would be right now. And I, when I said heal the nation—I think it was about personal healing. Bringing these girls together and watching these girls come together as a family. Though there is racism, I wasn’t saying I don’t acknowledge racism. It’s very, very real. And you’re talking to somebody that’s experienced it firsthand. I’m not going to let racism define me.