“We have no tolerance for politics here at the White House.”
The day after I saw Lee Daniels’ The Butler and overheard on the news there were STILL racial “issues” happening among people in this country, the United States of Freaking America, my mind remains blown as to how some cannot come together to set aside these “differences” (IT’S JUST SKIN, PEOPLE). And while unfortunately race still remains a touchy subject for these very select few, things have evolved dramatically over the past century (I mean, look at our president!); we have become a nation with a healthy, beautiful mix and respect of all races.
The Butler—an extraordinary, moving, and revolutionary story—roots from a man who served 8 presidents over 36 years (Truman all the way to Reagan) in the nation’s capitol as a well-respected butler: Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker). He is born into slavery working on a plantation in Georgia, where he witnesses his own father get shot by his “master”. To compensate the scarring memory of his father’s death, Cecil is welcomed “inside” the house, silently serving his master and his master’s mother. After years of falling into the routine as a house butler, Cecil decides to run away and proclaim his own destiny, winding up in a classier hotel in DC. Here he is opened up to a totally different world of serving politicians. “Never look a white man in the eye,” his boss tells him.
Cecil’s work performance eventually leads to a very unexpected phone call one day at home with his family—to come work at the White House. “The White House? The White House?”, is the reaction from his wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) and sons Charlie (Isaac White) and Louis (David Oyelowo). Not believing such a thing could be true, Cecil’s 36 year journey begins, just as the African American revolution begins.
A lot of parallels going on throughout The Butler make for an interesting American History 101: Vietnam, the Black Panthers, MLK, Kennedy, Malcolm X—the list goes on, making it feel very Forrest Gump-like with its cultural references. I think the real moral of the story lies within Cecil’s relationship with his rebellious son Louis, who opposes nearly everything his father instates. At one point in the movie Louis is on board the Freedom Riders bus when it gets attacked in Anniston, Alabama by KKK segregationists, while Cecil is watching the news and serving President Kennedy—questioning whether his son is still alive.
The characters appearing as president throughout—John Cusack as Nixon, Robin Williams as Eisenhower, James Marsden as Kennedy—were very fun and never once felt forced; the same is to be said about the White House butler staff (featuring Lenny Kravitz and Cuba Gooding Jr.!). Daniels’ directing along with Danny Strong’s script make for an even sometimes funny, most definitely spot-on story of freedom in the making.
(photo via FanShare)