Last night my wife and I went to see the Butler, the movie that was just released recently. To be honest I had not heard of the Butler until my wife mentioned a few days ago and said she wanted to see it. At the same time there was a discussion on our website, Elk Grove Laguna Forums about the movie. I had no idea who was in it, so after my wife said she wanted to see it, I Googled it to see what it was about. I saw Oprah Winfrey was in and got the basic premise of the movie, a black butler who served in the White House under numerous Presidents. On our website a few people said they would not see the movie because of Oprah Winfrey and also Jane Fonda due to her role in the Vietnam War. I heard Fonda only had a brief cameo. To be honest, I never saw her in the movie. Not that I looked for her either. Her role must have been very brief. Yesterday I was talking with a close friend and he asked what I was doing yesterday and asked if I wanted to play golf and I said I couldn’t because I had stuff to do and also because I was going to dinner and the movies with my wife. I said we were going to see the Butler and his reaction was, “why are you going to see that liberal movie?” I told him when I agreed to see it that I didn’t know what it was about and that my wife wanted to see it. We both had a good laugh because that was the real reason we were seeing it.
After the discussion on our website I decided to see it with an open mind. I am fan of history so I knew from that point of view I would probably like it. From what I read on various Internet sites, I was expecting a movie that was very political and from a liberal perspective. I would have to say that the people commenting never saw the movie or saw from a different perspective than me. I’m sure there were moments of subtle politics I may have missed because I was not looking for them. I didn’t go looking for historical inaccuracies or to see if it had a liberal slant. I’m not saying there may not have been some, but I didn’t notice them. The movie is loosely based on the life of Eugene Allen. The movie is a fictionalized account of his life. I didn’t realize this until after seeing the movie. That sort of changes the movie for me. I felt as if the movie had a Forrest Gump type quality to it in that just as Gump happened to appear in huge moments of history, so did Cecil. He was there and witnessed conversations between the various President’s and advisers. I had assumed that most of that was true, but knew they likely embellished some details. I would suggest not doing any fact checking before seeing the movie as it will change your perspective of the movie. I am glad I waited until afterwards as some very important parts of the movie are fiction.
The Butler is a movie about a black man, Cecil Gaines, that grew up in the cotton fields of the south with his family. Mariah Carey has a brief cameo as his mother. When he was a child his mom was raped by the plantation owner. His father knew what was happening but did nothing. When the owner returned after raping his wife, the father did stand up and was murdered. The matriarch of the family then took him in and made him a server at her house and referred to him as a “house nigger”. He stayed there until late teens early adulthood when he decided to leave the plantation. He was unable to find a job until one night he broke into the restaurant of a hotel because he was hungry. From there he tutored under an older black man at the hotel and learned how to become a butler. Forrest Whitaker has the role of Gaines at the hotel in DC.
From there he went to work at hotel in Washington DC where he was noticed by someone at the White House who was in charge of hiring the staff. He was then hired to be a butler at the White House under President Eisenhower. Then we see his life as he serves under the various Presidents. He is married to Oprah Winfrey’s character and has 2 sons. The heart of the movie is the parallel worlds of black people living in America during the Civil Rights era. Gaines is a black man living a pretty good life, serving a white president. Meanwhile his oldest son, Louis, has went away to college in the south where he becomes involved in the civil rights movement and sees how black people are treated. The two have a falling out over the son’s actions. The son becomes involved with the Freedom Riders and eventually Martin Luther King. Some of the most powerful scenes are the butler serving meals at state dinners and serving the President, while his son is engaged in protests in the south, being beaten and put in jail. His son was with MLK when he was shot. He eventually went to work with the Black Panthers before leaving because he disagreed with the violent nature of the panthers.
In all 7 presidents are shown. The real life butler started work at the White House under Truman, but he was not depicted in the movie. Actors portrayed Eisenhower (Robin Williams), JFK, LBJ, Nixon and Reagan. Brief scenes were shown of Ford and Carter speaking in real life, but no interaction between them and Gaines. The movie skipped from Nixon to Reagan for the most part. It was during the Reagan term that Gaines left his job. Then it skips to the end where Barack Obama runs for President and wins. That is kind of the rah-rah moment of the movie. It seemed gratuitous to me, but that may have been the one time where my bias got in the way. The ending of the movie shows Gaines at the White House going to meet President Obama. Some of the movie is narrated by Gaines and shows him sitting in a chair, waiting to meet the President.
The acting in the movie was excellent. Whitaker and Winfrey did an excellent job. It has to be the front runner for the Academy Awards. I am not a fan of Winfrey in general, but I thought she did very well and I wouldn’t let it stop me from seeing the movie. Overall I think the movie did a good job of portraying the Civil Rights era to the best of my knowledge. While some of the characters may not be accurate, the time period is. I think it’s a movie that everyone should see as it sheds more light on what black people went through during that time. It’s hard to believe that 50 years ago our country went through this and that it took 200 years of our country’s existence to make right that which was so wrong on how such a large segment of our population was treated so poorly. It’s a movie we will be showing our kids when it comes out on video. Earlier this week we saw the movie 42 about Jackie Robinson. Two very powerful movies about racism in America. I think it definitely gives us a different perspective, especially for those under 50 who don’t remember the civil rights era. We study some of it in school, but seeing it portrayed in a movie I think hits home that much more.