With the merciless social and political overhaul that has shattered the American value system as we know it, it’s safe to say discomfort is the new black. For film and television producer and director, Lee Daniels, who is known for Precious, Monster’s Ball, and Empire, comfort is not what good storytelling is made of. ‘Star’, his new FOX series, made up of a case of familiar names as Queen Latifah, Tyrese Gibson, Lenny Kravitz, and newcomer Amiyah Scott was anything but comfortable for the filmmaker to create.
Star digs into tales of a girl band from Atlanta and promises fiery scenes between Gibson, who plays a pastor in his breakout television role, and Queen Latifah, a salon owner who is mother and mentor to the band members. With an increase in equality in the arts and LGBTQ rights, all eyes are on Scott, a transgender model who plays the role of “Cotton”. Scott touches on the intensity of a part of the storyline that hit close to home, “I have real life issues to reflect on, I have been ambushed, I’ve been brought to therapists, not necessarily for someone trying to pray the gay away but I’ve been prayed over.” To Scott, the scene didn’t just feel personal to her, it “felt personal to everyone because this is something that frequently happens but isn’t always ready to be addressed.”
Although Gibson shares openly that he brings a world of inexperience working closely with transgender talent beyond, the entire cast and Daniels are invested in the story that is a knock at the transphobic and multi-cultural door. With the element of scripted television as a new medium for Gibson who identifies as a Christian, he commented during an interview that, “he’s cool with everybody” and advocates for “people living their own life”. More than anything, the actor wanted to be sure he conducted himself professionally but when he met Scott he pivoted from arm’s distance disinterest to now, “having a heart” for what Scott and other transgender people weather socially.
When shooting a scene that is sure to be controversial, set to air on February 15th at 9pm EST, both Daniels and Gibson comment that some of the scene work is uncomfortable to shoot and to watch but will introduce empathy. During the interview with Daniels and Gibson, Daniels referred to Tyrese as a terminally heterosexual male commenting on the importance of that in culture and the world. No matter what Daniels does, he seemed to recognize his work could be looked at as polarizing because, “the truth is unsettling”. What’s more unsettling is the famed trash can scene from Empire that is all too real for many transgender people.
Daniels, who identifies as much about being openly gay and a father as he does an artist who especially celebrates strong women of color said it best, “we can’t help who we are”. At the risk of an ironic twist, Daniels comments he is not here to “pass” for approval or to make others happy but says it can be easy for people to “take a soundbite and (they) flip it on its head. We all have to understand each other or we’ll end up in a worse situation than we are currently in.”