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Lee Daniels Opens Up About Becoming a ‘Really Proud’ Foster Parent

Variety logo Variety 4/27/2017 Mannie Holmes
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Extraordinary Families, a nonprofit that provides foster care services, held its second annual gala Wednesday that gave NBC’s “This Is Us” and Lee Daniels a pat on the back for accurate portrayals and representation of foster families in television.

NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke was on hand to present the Luminary Award trophy to “This Is Us” exec producer Jess Rosenthal at the Beverly Hilton, and described the series as “a cultural phenomenon.”

“With shows like ‘This Is Us,’ it’s impossible not to think of television as the place to be for programming that is insightful, emotional and influential,” Salke said.

Rosenthal, who claimed that he did not set out to “make America cry” during the show’s emotional first season, shared sincere thanks to the real foster and adoptive parents in the room for inspiring the hit series.

“With great humility, I say that we are not experts on the subject [of adoption],” Rosenthal said. “In fact, we have great fun inviting experts to our writers room to share wisdom and indeed [CEO of Extraordinary Families and foster parent] Sarah Boone was there, and that inspiration I’m sure will make it to air next year because these subjects play a major part in Season 2.”

Fox Television Group chairman and CEO Gary Newman was also there to hand Daniels his Visionary award, but not before praising the “Empire” co-creator’s influence in the world of television and in film, with stories like “Precious,” “The Butler” and Fox’s “Star” (whose leads Jude Demorest,Brittany O’Grady and Ryan Destiny attended for additional support).

“Looking at Jamal from ‘Empire,’ Precious [Jones] and the ‘Star’ trio, it is fair to say that it can be rough being a young protagonist in a Lee Daniels production,” Newman noted. “But unfortunately, that is true for a lot of kids who go through foster care.”

Daniels, who accepted his award without a prepared speech, spoke about his personal experience of unexpectedly becoming the foster parent to his brother’s children.

“I took them in, and I raised them and I’m really proud that I did,” Daniels said to much applause. “My partner and I at the time were the first same-sex couple to adopt in Pennsylvania.”

The night was additionally highlighted by a spoken word piece by a trio of Extraordinary Family participants who were once at-risk children before entering the foster system. Honors were also given to foster parents Kim Kopp and Lisa McFann as well as the late music manager Howard Kaufman, whose family took the stage to accept the posthumous award on his behalf.

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