How casting director Leah Daniels-Butler is helping to make film and TV more representative of the US population

I’m just going to say why I think it’s important. First, because it’s the right thing to do, when you are out in every-day life, you don’t just see one ethnic group, you see all ethnic groups… men, women, transgender, people with disabilities. People from all walks of life, so that should be reflected in film and television. Why shouldn’t we all see who we are when we turn on the tv or watch a movie. But most importantly whenever you have diversity in film and television it just makes for more interesting storytelling PERIOD!
I think that diversity should not only be reflected on the screen but also behind the camera. The executives making the decisions need to be diverse and they will hire more diverse. Our society IS the audience, they decide what will be a hit and what won’t. We don’t realize our power and our voices. If we collectively as a group say we want to see more diversity, then Hollywood has no choice to but to fall in line, and to some degree, it is happening. I think that was only 2, but you get the point.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Leah Daniels-Butler. With an eye for talent, casting director and producer Leah Daniels-Butler is responsible for launching the careers of many of today’s most successful actors, including that of Gaborey Sidebe who was introduced to the world in her starring role in the Academy Award-winning film “Precious”. Leah’s selection of the young starlet proved to be a good one as Sidebe’s career has continued to thrive. Leah got her start in the early ’90s working as a casting assistant to the legendary casting director and mentor Jaki Brown and Kimberly Hardin where she assisted in casting actor/recording artist “Tyrese” Gibson in the Coca-Cola ad that ultimately launched his career. He too would embark upon a promising career and go on to star in two extremely successful movie franchises, “Transformers” & “Fast & Furious”. Leah is credited for her work on film classics like “CB4” starring Chris Rock, “The Inkwell” with Larenz Tate and the cult classic “Friday” starring Ice Cube and Chris Tucker. It was in the mid-’90s, when doors began to fly open and Leah after landing the coveted position as assistant to Leslie Litt, Senior VP of Casting at Warner Brothers (WBTV). Leah’s work ethic and reputation for “getting the job done” quickly spread among black filmmakers and throughout the entire entertainment industry making her the “It Girl” of casting. It wasn’t long before she would rise in rank to become the casting executive! In this elevated space she worked on award-winning projects such as “Friends” starring Jennifer Anniston and “Suddenly Susan” starring Brooke Shields. Both shows earned Primetime Emmy Awards for acting roles. During her tenure at Warner Brothers, Leah also cast “The Wayans Brothers” and “For Your Love,” which received six NAACP Image Awards nominations. An Entrepreneur at heart and armed with her God-given talent, years of experience, a good reputation, and strong relationships, Leah leaves WBTV and starts LDB Casting, the company she owns and operates today located at Gower studios.

As an independent casting director, Leah works across genres securing talent for films like “2 Fast 2 Furious,” “Shadow Boxer,” “ATL,” and “The Paperboy,” which featured an all-star cast that included: Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman, Zac Efron, John Cusack, Macy Grey and David Oyelowo. In 2013, Leah cast the award-winning film “The Butler” with another all-star line-up that included: Oprah Winfrey, Forrest Whitaker, Liev Shreiber, Robin Williams, James Marsden, John Cusack, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Terrence Howard and rising star Yaya DaCosta.

Among her many accolades, Leah is the recipient of the Hamilton Award for Outstanding Casting for her work on “The Butler,” she also earned the Casting Society of America’s “Outstanding Achievement in Casting for a Television Drama” award for her work on “Empire.” In 2017, she was elected to be on the Casting Pier Group Committee for the Television Academy.

Passionate about the fight for equality and diversity in the industry, Leah’s voice has been heard on several platforms, advocating, giving commentary and leading discussions centered around diversity and inclusion, including going all the way to Capitol Hill in 2017, to address the issues concerning the lack of roles for actors with disabilities. In that same year, Leah was honored by Variety Magazine and recognized in their inclusion impact report.

Leah capped off a very successful year with the announcement that she along with music executive and producer husband, Henry “Black” Butler founded the 1Oneninety5 Media Group (named to commemorate their wedding date). The 1Oneninety5 Media Group is a global, full-service multimedia company leading through innovative platforms and diverse industry partnerships. The powerhouse husband and wife duo has formed a team of high performing execs with unparalleled experience in the areas of Business admin, marketing, production, and finance to help bring the vision to life.

Leah is the younger sister of Academy-Award-nominated director Lee Daniels and the wife of music exec and producer Henry “Black” Butler. The two have been married for 22 years and are the proud parents of five. The couple currently resides in Southern California.

When she’s not busy helping to shape the many fictional characters, international audiences have come to know and love, Leah dedicates her time to helping shape the futures of real women in her community who need second chances. She sits on the Board Of Directors the A New Way to Life ReEntry Project, an organization that provides housing and support to formerly incarcerated women in South Central Los Angeles. As an advocate for community and family, both Leah & Henry roll up their sleeves each year during the holiday season to help assemble and distribute toys and food vouchers to hundreds of ultra-low-income families in crisis with children, hosted by the New Image Emergency Shelter.


Thank you so much for joining us Leah. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Honestly, I did not know that I wanted to be a Casting Director. It’s not as if it was something I dreamt about. I didn’t even know this was a career until I was introduced to it. I was fortunate enough to work with Jaki Brown and Kim Hardin, who were 2 of the top Black Casting Directors in Hollywood. They gave me an opportunity and mentored a young black girl from Philly, for no other reason but to pass the baton.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I have been casting for over 25 years, so there are a lot of interesting stories. I think the most fun moments are the ones that happen in casting sessions. When you actually see the words come alive by actors breathing life into them. Also, never really knowing who is going to get the job for a particular role. I remember being shocked when Bryshere Gray was cast on Empire because he had literally no experience. He was such a raw talent and he got the job over much more experienced actors. But now I can’t imagine anyone else playing his role.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I remember as an assistant, an agent called the office for my boss. She wasn’t available and he asked me to change the billing on the actors deal memo to say something other than what was negotiated. I did it, but luckily when my boss came back and proofread the deal memo, she said his billing was incorrect. I told her about the agent asking me to change it and she told me to never change anything on a deal memo without checking with her first. She called the agent and ripped him a new one. LOL… I learned never to trust agents LOL …. no, but seriously it taught me a very valuable lesson.

Can you describe how you are helping to make popular culture more representative of the US population?

I believe that is done with the types of projects, I cast. It's reflective of everything that is current and going on in the world today. I try to cast actors that represent that.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by the work you are doing?

I can’t name a specific person, but I received a ton of emails and messages about Precious when it came out. So many young girls thanked me for being a part of a story that showed what they had been through. It was very tough to receive that compliment because it was upsetting and shocking to know how many young women suffered from abuse but were glad that their stories were being told. I can’t tell you how many girls came up to me and said I AM PRECIOUS. It was heartbreaking.

Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important to have diversity represented in film and television and its potential effects on our culture?

I’m just going to say why I think it's important. First, because it’s the right thing to do, when you are out in every-day life, you don’t just see one ethnic group, you see all ethnic groups… men, women, transgender, people with disabilities. People from all walks of life, so that should be reflected in film and television. Why shouldn’t we all see who we are when we turn on the tv or watch a movie. But most importantly whenever you have diversity in film and television it just makes for more interesting storytelling PERIOD!

Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address the root of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?

I think that diversity should not only be reflected on the screen but also behind the camera. The executives making the decisions need to be diverse and they will hire more diverse. Our society IS the audience, they decide what will be a hit and what won’t. We don’t realize our power and our voices. If we collectively as a group say we want to see more diversity, then Hollywood has no choice to but to fall in line, and to some degree, it is happening. I think that was only 2, but you get the point.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership to me is when someone can lead by example. They provide proper guidance to a group of people or an individual. Giving opportunities to those who wouldn’t normally have them. Giving back to your community, providing internships, teaching them about finance and the importance of education and ownership.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why?

I wish someone would have told me to explore ALL departments before jumping right into one. That's not saying I wouldn’t have ended up in casting, but who knows. 2nd. Always speak up, no one will ever remember the person who didn’t have a voice. I’m sure there are more, but those are the 2 most important.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

The movement that I would inspire is already in motion, to be honest, and that is equality and more opportunity for women, but more specific Black Women. Not just behind the camera but in executive positions. I think if there were more women of color in those positions then we would see that reflection in all areas.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Always be kind or nice to the people you meet in this business, from the P.A’s to the extras.. you never know who they could become. They could be the very person that hires or signs your check. — I’m always kind to people, no matter who or what business they are in, but someone I know, very famous (who shall remain nameless) once told an actor that they should give up acting because they weren’t very good. That actor went on to become an A-list actor (also, remaining nameless) LOL… He saw the other very famous person who told him to give up acting and said you don’t remember me do you, of course, he didn’t and then he proceeded to tell him the story. The other famous person was left with egg on his face.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

JESUS CHRIST! If you can score a breakfast or lunch with him, then that would be something else. LOL but the 2nd would be Jay Z — His story is really amazing or Lebron James.

How can our readers follow you on social media? Twitter: @ldanielsbutler InstaGram: @LDBCasting