Family Values: Lee Daniels

Today there are as many meanings of the word “family” as there are families. Welcome to the new normal.

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Lee Daniels, photographed in New York, with 14-year-old twins Clara and Liam.

Family Values: Lee Daniels

Today there are as many meanings of the word “family” as there are families. Welcome to the new normal.

“For the most part, it’s great having my kids view the world so differently than I did,” says Precious director Lee Daniels of his twins, Clara and Liam, 14, who were born to his brother and his girlfriend and adopted by Daniels and his then partner, casting director Billy Hopkins, when they were three days old. “I tell them, ‘I know it’s all “Kumbaya” with your friends, but when you get in that workforce, you’re going to see what it’s like as a black person.’” The son of a policeman, Daniels grew up in a tough West Philadelphia neighborhood, where he helped raise his siblings after their father was shot to death when Lee was 13. “I didn’t want to have kids,” says Daniels, whose children divide their time between Hopkins’s home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and Daniels’s midtown apartment. “I was just beginning to make money and have fun with my life, and I didn’t want to grow up, but then the universe said ‘Time!’ I was forced to get my shit together because I wanted them to look up to me.” He has long solicited his children’s advice, editing his films at home in the living room. “They’ll say to me, ‘That’s not real, Dad,’ even with the most graphic subject matter—pedophilia, incest, abuse.” But these days, he admits, his kids’ hopeful outlook is nudging him toward lighter fare. “Now I want to do things for them. And they want X-Men, Spider-Man— action movies.”