Lee Daniels’ The Butler
Official Synopsis: As Cecil Gaines serves eight presidents during his tenure as a butler at the White House, the civil rights movement, Vietnam, and other major events affect this man’s life, family, and American society.
When I heard about “The Butler,” I rolled my eyes. Another film about African Americans serving…who needs that? More who wants that? No one. Luckily, the filmmakers behind the project agreed. Sure, it’s about a White House butler, but it’s about so much more than that. It’s about American history through the lens of not only a White House Butler, but also a black family. It’s insightful, gives you a look into what the domestic life of American Presidents and most of all it’s heartfelt.
We can spend all day arguing about how facts of the “The Butler” and it is in my opinion that most of this film is true, but exaggeration. I am sure that Danny Strong (Yup that Danny Strong from Buffy) did a lot of research and got as much of the events as close to possible, but this is not a documentary. More, the exact facts are not always cinematic. So, please I do not want to hear about how this was wrong and that was not quite right. It’s a movie and it’s fiction. Intelligent people should know not to believe every word of it. Movies are for entertainment and movie makers are in the business of making money, not telling facts.
That being said…this film is the MOST realistic and honest retelling of the Civil Rights movement I have ever seen. I cried. I cried a lot. What makes “The Butler” so good is that this film is not a civil rights film. It’s a film about family, change and America. It’s a look at our history during some of the most trying times. And honestly, what is more trying than the civil rights movement. A time when our country was divided by racism and hate. We get to really see what it meant to be a freedom rider…well as close as we can from sitting in a movie theater. We see what those kids went through. Being attacked and cursed, while politely and nonviolently sitting in a restaurant, because yes you have every right to be there.
There were moments during the sit in that I just felt myself collapse. Felt such pride in the Americans who came before me, because yes, I am really pleased to say that there were white people on the right side of equality during that time. It’s amazing and heartbreaking and scary. Lee Daniels, did an amazing job of bringing it to life. It’s not that we did not understand the sacrifice these young people made. I definitely did, but seeing it in living color, even if it was just acted out, was devastating.
A lot of this film is devastating. Being in the White House after President Kennedy was shot. Seeing Nixon in the days before his scandal. On and on it goes. It’s a piece of our history. Our presidents, our country and everything that has paved the way for the world we currently live in.
This is also an amazing look at character dynamics and evolution. The storyline of father and son, husband and wife, mother and son, etc. How politics can separate or unite us. Also, the clash between a generation. Cecil Gaines is from one generation and his son Louis is from another. The clash of “This is the way things are, just keep your head down and be safe” verses, ” i cannot sit by and be safe, I want change.” That clash is amazing and heartbreaking. Every word this father and son say against each other hits you in the heart, because you understand them both. You may side with one of them, but you get them. You understand and it’s heartbreaking to see that they cannot understand each other.
One more thing, this is not a black film. I hate the term “black cinema,” because it says that films about black characters are only for black people and cannot be understood by all. That is an argument for another day, but what I will say about “The Butler” is this. It is a film about America, the characters just happen to be black. If you are white, Asian, Latino, etc everything about this film involves you. It involves you, because the young people who fought for civil rights, fought in Vietnam and the presidents that were elected..are all of our history. It belongs to all of us, it just happens to come from the POV of a black family. And if you are someone who cannot empathize with a film, because the characters are not the same color as yourself…well, perhaps it’s time that you examine yourself.
This movie is good. There is no way around it and even strange to hear from me, because I am not really a Lee Daniels fan. Still, it’s beautifully shot and has amazing performances. Honestly, I forgot that Oprah could act. She blazed on the screen and shinned beside someone as amazing as Mr. Forest Whitaker. Add in the many cameo appearances and a supporting cast of David Oyelowo (who is amazing!), Terrence Howard and Lenny Kravitz, makes for an entertaining, educational and heartfelt film.
I highly recommend and really really hope that you guys will see “Lee Daniel’s The Butler.”
For more info: IMDB page.