October is LGBT History Month. Each week throughout the month, Hotspots will be profiling two of the people named to Equality Forum’s LGBT History Month icon list, to showcase the great things LGBT people have done, and are doing.
Margaret Cho was born in San Francisco, California on December 5, 1968. Her parents, immigrants from South Korea, ran a bookstore on San Francisco’s Polk Street. Cho knew she wanted to become a performer from early adolescence, and was accepted into the San Francisco School of the Arts. She went on to pursue stand-up comedy and by 1994 she was given the American Comedy Award for Best Female Comedian.
That same year, Cho was given a sitcom deal by ABC. The series, All-American Girl, was the first sitcom to feature an Asian-American family and the first to feature an Asian-American female lead. While groundbreaking, the series was low-rated and ended after one season. After the show’s cancellation, Cho dealt with alcohol and drug problems, which were detailed in her book and her first one-woman show, both called I’m the One That I Want. Her comedy shows became successes, and her most recent show, Mother!, debuted in 2013. She has taped nearly every single one of her shows and has had them released either on television or straight to DVD.
Cho is also an accomplished actress, first debuting in a bit role on the Golden Girls spinoff The Golden Palace in 1992. Since then, she has appeared on over two dozen television series, perhaps to the widest acclaim on the comedy/drama Drop Dead Diva, where she played Teri Lee, the assistant to the lead character, played by Brooke Elliott. She also imitated North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il on the sitcom 30 Rock, which earned her an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series.
Cho has spoken many times about bisexuality and what it is like to be bisexual. She has also been a tireless advocate for LGBT rights and the rights of women for decades, earning her the Golden Gate Award from GLAAD in 2000. The award was given to her “as…[she] has made a significant difference in promoting equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.” In 2008, the mayor of San Francisco declared “Margaret Cho Day” and her advocacy work on behalf of LGBT people and women was officially celebrated by the city government.
Lee Daniels was born on December 24, 1959 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He attended Radnor High School in Radnor Township, Pennsylvania, and went on to attend college at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri. He went on to work at a nursing agency in California, and in a fit of enterprising spirit, started his own agency. By the time he sold his successful agency, he had 5000 nurses on his roster ready for work in hospitals all across southern California. He went on to become a casting director and manager for talent. He was seen in the documentary My Big Break, which featured Wes Bentley, then one of his clients.
His company, Lee Daniels Entertainment, branched into moviemaking in 2001 with the film Monster’s Ball. He produced the film and it went on to become a worldwide success, earning an Oscar for actress Halle Berry and a nomination for Best Original Screenplay. The independent film The Woodsman (2004), starring Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, was a favorite at international film festivals. Daniels debuted his directorial skills with the 2006 film Shadowboxer, starring Helen Mirren, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Stephen Dorff. He was nominated for the Best New Director award at the San Sebastian Film Festival.
He achieved breakthrough success as a director with the 2009 film Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire, which featured Gabourey Sidibe in the title role and Mo’Nique as her abusive mother. The film earned over $60 million against a budget of $10 million, making it a commercial success as well as a critical one. Mo’Nique earned the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, Daniels was nominated for Best Director, and the film was nominated for Best Picture. His 2013 film The Butler, about a servant to two generations of American presidents, was a similar succcess, grossing $100 million at the box office and earning award nominations for its leads, Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey.
When asked by Essence magazine what it takes for him to produce a film, Daniels replied, “When I’m making a film, I’m in a bubble. I’m pregnant with this child. I can’t have anything disturb the making of the baby, so when I give birth to whatever film I am working on, I’m usually in trouble with my family because I’ve been disconnected for so long. I didn’t know about all of this until recently…My mission is to let Black kids know that their dreams can happen.”