Lee Daniels’ The Butler: A Historical Drama Told from an Unlikely Perspective
7 Out Of 10 Stars…
The Butler is an historical drama that follows Cecil Gaines’ childhood and his employment as a butler in the White House covering the terms of Eisenhower to Reagan. The character of Cecil Gaines’ is loosely based on the real-life White House butler, Eugene Allen. Mr. Allen’s service in the White House actually began while President Truman was in office, but the filmmakers altered the timeline to better match up with the civil rights issues they planned to address.
Though the beginning of the civil rights movement plays a large role in the story, the heart of the film beats in Cecil’s home life. Cecil (Forest Whitaker), his wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey), and their two sons live in an average, lower-middle class community. The true conflict within the film happens between Cecil and his son Louis (David Oyelowo). Louis is passionate about the civil rights movement and puts himself in danger to stand up for what he believes. Cecil was raised more or less “to go along to get along.” What I most admired about this movie was the way it handled each character’s perspective. You see the injustice through Louis’ eyes and you respect his passion for equality, but you also see his ingratitude and inability to understand the way his father lives his life. On the other side of the coin, you know the absolute horrors that Cecil was forced to live and witness as a child on a cotton plantation. You understand his stubborn attitude and concern for his son and family, but you also see how that stubbornness is hurting all of those he loves around him.
The cast is as star-studded as it gets. Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey give the most standout performances, in my opinion, but I didn’t expect any less from actors of their caliber. There has been a great deal of praise and criticism for the portrayals of the presidents, but I think this is really a situation where not everyone will ever be happy. For example, no matter how well I think she played the part of Nancy Reagan, I simply cannot stand Jane Fonda. No amount of watching 9 to 5 will ever cure it, and believe me, I’ve tried.
The pacing was unwieldy at times and the film could easily be accused of trying to do too much, but I still recommend it. The horrors of the plantation and violence of the civil rights protests definitely earn the movie its PG-13 rating. I actually think that the film’s attempt to cover too much is a testament to how powerful and important this subject matter is. The timing of the release of The Butler is good for America. Racial issues and tensions have been on the forefront of the news, and a movie like this can help remind us how far we’ve come and how far we have to go in a way we can relate to. Finally, I recommend looking into statements made by Lee Daniels and the cast of the movie. Many have said beautiful things about what they learned doing this movie, and for me that made it even more enjoyable to watch. 7/10