Lee Daniels told Insider that he was the original director of the Oscar-winning "Brokeback Mountain," but couldn't get the film made as "nobody wanted to see the movie."
The project then passed on to Ang Lee, who went on to win his first best director Oscar for the now-classic movie starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as two cowboys who form an intense and secret relationship spanning years.
"I was going to be directing 'Brokeback Mountain' but I lost the rights," Daniels, who is gay himself, told Insider. "A long, long time ago. It was going to be my second movie after 'Monster's Ball.'"
Daniels produced 2001's "Monster's Ball," which made history as Halle Berry became the first woman of color to win best actress at the Oscars, so "Brokeback Mountain" would have been his second producing credit but his first directing credit.
"It was a very expensive piece to keep and I simply couldn't get the movie made," Daniels told Insider. "Nobody wanted to see the movie, nobody wanted to make the movie. And I had to let it go."
"Shadowboxer," starring Helen Mirren and Cuba Gooding Jr, became his directorial debut.
"Brokeback Mountain" was eventually made by River Road Entertainment and distributed by Focus Features. A new director was found in Ang Lee, who already had international success with "Sense and Sensibility" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," which had earned him a best director Oscar nod.
"Brokeback Mountain" was released to rave reviews, with a current Rotten Tomatoes score of 87%, and went on to win three Oscars including a best director win for Lee. It was nominated for best picture but famously lost the award to "Crash" in what many deem as one of the Academy's biggest upsets.
However, despite the movie's success, Daniels couldn't bring himself to watch the film.
"I couldn't watch the film when it came out. I saw the movie in my head, the script was powerful. I saw the entire film in my head because it was so powerful," Daniels said.
"So when Ang came out with it, I didn't want to see it. Because I just didn't think that he would do it justice. When [Jack and Ennis] first had sex in the tent, I saw that scene how I would direct it, so I just couldn't imagine any other filmmaker doing it justice. Especially a straight filmmaker taking it on."
Daniels couldn't see the film for a long time, as his version remained in his head even years after the movie was released. Eventually, however, he did see it.
"I saw it, like, 15 years later and Ang Lee did a really great job. As a matter of fact, he did it in a way that was palatable for many heterosexuals around the world. I would have probably been more in your face with it, and he did it in a different perspective, so kudos to him. And I told him that."
Daniels went on to direct "Precious" as his second feature film, a movie that earned him two Oscar nominations: one for best director and one as a producer for best picture. Daniels also created TV shows "Star" and "Empire."
The director said that while he couldn't imagine a straight filmmaker taking on something like "Brokeback Mountain," he has no problem in heterosexual filmmakers taking on LGBTQ projects.
"That's like saying I should not tell a straight love story. I think that everybody should be given the opportunity," Daniels said.
"I love how we have evolved to a place of really looking for the truth when we are casting. We are in a different time now so we can actually cast an actual gay man or an actual lesbian to play these roles. I think that if a straight man wants to play a gay role, sure, why not? And if gay men want to play straight men, sure, why not? It's called acting."