If you have not heard about the movie “The Butler,” then you have indeed been living under a rock. This movie has been making waves for the last month about its heavily laden and (somewhat) historical civil rights content.
Lee Daniels, the director of “Precious,” brings together an enormous but well-known cast for this sweeping and ambitious period drama about a butler working at the White House, which at some points may remind you of the movie “Forest Gump.”
This movie is based on an African-America steward, Eugene Allen, who worked under eight different presidential admirations (Eisenhower through Reagan) and focuses on the civil rights movements of African-Americans throughout his lifetime.
The movie starts off with an all-too-familiar scene of cotton in the south, and we are introduced to Cecil Gaines as a child who works alongside his parents at a cotton plantation in Georgia. Within the first ten minutes of the movie, Cecil’s mother is raped, and his father killed by the owner of the plantation for protesting against his wife’s rape.
The lady of the house takes sympathy for Cecil and moves him into the house to become domestic help. He is told by her that, “the room should feel empty when you’re in it,” and Cecil applies this connotation throughout his entire life. This is essentially where Cecil’s training as a butler begins and where the story begins.
Cecil eventually leaves the plantation to find a better life and ends up working at a luxurious hotel in D.C. We are then introduced to Forest Whitaker as Cecil, Oprah Winfrey who plays his alcoholic wife Gloria, and his civil rights activist son Louis, played by David Oyelowo.
The story continues on with Cecil eventually landing a job in the White House via a White House aide at the start of the Eisenhower administration.
The movie shows radical changes happening within the United States related to civil rights for African-Americans at the time, the presidents’ turmoil’s, and Cecil’s own trepidation about walking a thin line between civility and servility.
Cecil’s quiet, invisible-man demeanor and his son’s activism often clash, and this is the movie’s dramatic engine, often showing the contrast of Cecil’s life and his son’s life (which go in two completely opposite directions).
Unlike other movies about where racial undertones are subtle and underplayed by Hollywood, Lee Daniels basically throws it in your face. The movie does not hold back. It shows the freedom riders, the burnt buses, the beatings, the protests, the activism, the jailing, and anything you can imagine that happened during that era.
“The Butler” also brings in prominent figures during that time like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X. It covers the Vietnam War, the Black Panther Party, and the KKK.
Lee Daniels also incorporates news clips and TV shows into the movie to make the events/happenings of the time seem more tangible and for the viewer to connect more readily to the content, especially those that may not know much about the era.
Because Lee Daniels does not hold back, you get to experience an immense amount of emotions while viewing this film: from sadness, anger and hatred, to even happiness; at times, you may even start laughing.
“The Butler” is a movie I believe everyone should experience. I really wanted to like this movie, and I did, but at times it just seemed very long, and certain scenes were just not needed. The end of the movie also brought upon us the election of Barack Obama as president and seemed almost as propaganda for the administration.
In the end, “The Butler” is an extremely ambitious, decades-spanning movie about civil rights. It shows the generational misunderstandings that often occur between parents and children, which are very relatable.
It reminds of the thousands that marched, protested, and fought for the country that we have today and also reminds us that there are people that continue to do so to better this country.
Even with all of this, I can only give “The Butler” 2.5 out of 4 stars because the movie itself could have been much better if it was more focused; however, do not let this stop you from watching it, as I do highly encourage you to form your own opinion about this movie.
– Ruhi Randhawa, A&E Editor