Lee Daniel’s The Butler was my selection to watch the evening of Election Day. Loosely based on the life of Cecil Gaines, who served as a White House butler under administrations from Eisenhower through Reagan, it was the perfect film for this election year. It is rated PG-13 for some violence and disturbing images, language, sexual material, thematic elements, and smoking,
Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) had a circuitous route to the White House. Born in Mississippi to sharecropper parents, he was picked to work for the woman of the house as a servant (although she didn’t use such a kind word to describe his job).
Having learned his duties well, Cecil eventually ended up in DC where he waited on wealthy and politically connected whites in upscale hotels. Married to Gloria (Oprah Winfrey), with two children, he jumped when offered a position to work in the White House.
His employment enabled him to rise above poverty to have a nice home for his family and seemingly everything he could wish for. But he finds that even if you’re getting paid for a job in service, it has its down side.
Well-known actors play the Presidents, only one of which I couldn’t place. I asked who was playing Johnson? He didn’t even seem to look familiar to me and then when I read the credits, realized it was Liev Schreiber, an actor I am very familiar with. He so transformed into LBJ, I couldn’t tell it was Liev.
The butler’s eldest son Louis (David Oyelowo), growing up in the turbulent sixties, puts himself on the line in the civil rights movement. It was very disturbing to watch protestors, both black and white, sitting at the lunch counters in the white section, waiting to be served when violence broke out. They were severely abused by the white patrons, while the protestors never lifted a finger or said a cross word. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have it no other way and taught that a peaceful movement would create change; violence never does.
Putting themselves in harm’s way on the freedom buses, and being ambushed by the KKK was a grim reminder of the hate that the civil rights movement had to endure in their quest for equality.
Chilling indeed to contrast this with present day reality, when hate apparently still runs through the cold, dark hearts of many, where diversity is feared, not celebrated. It saddens me to realize that some citizens in America have not evolved in their acceptance of difference and may still discriminate on the basis of color.
This was an excellent film, and I highly recommend it. You will cry, especially if like me you grew up in the 60’s and watched as JFK, Bobby Kennedy, and MLK were assassinated. This should be mandatory watching in high school history class, maybe even junior high school. The film effectively shows what class and race divisions have done to America, and hopefully will inspire the present generation to not let their ancestors’ sacrifices go unrewarded.