By TIME Video
April 22, 2015

Director and producer Lee Daniels credits his success to a special woman in his life — his mom, Clara Watson, whom he toasted with a moving address at the TIME 100 gala on Tuesday.

The creator of the hit television series Empire told attendees his life as a gay African American man could have gone very differently were it not for the support of his mother. “My mom knew early on that I was gay. And she knew that I had to get out of the ghetto,” Daniels said. He acknowledged that many of his friends have died from HIV and AIDS. “That I don’t have HIV is a miracle from God.”

The 2015 TIME 100 honoree — who was feted by Oprah Winfrey on this year’s list — concluded by asking his mother to stand up to a round of applause from the audience. “This evening is for my mom, because she knew that I was destined for something,” he said. “What that something is, I don’t know. But I love her from the bottom of my heart.”

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