Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013)
Genre: Biography, Drama
Directed by Lee Daniels
Starring Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, and John Cusack
Plot: As Cecil Gaines serves eight presidents during his tenure as a butler at the White House, the civil rights movement, Vietnam, and other major events affect this man’s life, and American society.
Movie Trivia: The character of Cecil Gaines was based on Eugene Allen, who served as White House butler for over 30 years and 8 presidents: Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan. Much of the detail is fictionalized for this movie.
From the first scene I can tell this is going to be a movie to remember. The age makeup, the classic music, the camera angles and then that vivid mental image of lynched black boys paired with the MLK quote. With the current climate, I feel like this movie is going to be very emotionally charged for me.
I was not wrong. I have a feeling that keeping myself on strict note taking during this film will be difficult. I am already emotionally invested and the story has only just begun. Seeing his journey from the field to the house as a servant breaks my heart. This is my heritage as a southern resident. On the ground I live has soaked the blood of slaves and Indians. I live in Memphis, so I have the added heartbreak of this being the place where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. With everything happening in the world today, I could not have picked a better movie to blindly watch. I apologize in advance if this review is not as detailed as my others. It might be more socially charged than my other reviews, but for that I do not apologize. Equality is an issue I feel deeply about and I fight for daily. It was only a matter of time that I found a movie that put me up on that soap box.
Robin Williams does a good Eisenhower. This movie is very much making me want to research the real man that this story is based off of. Some of the script is a little weak in regards to the father-son relationship. There has not been enough development there, in my opinion. Cusack is amazing with the prosthetic. I mean… wow… I am convinced. He has the inflection on the voice perfect, the mannerism. Very impressive. Ohhhh, hello Jesse Williams! This cast really has everyone! Sorry, not sorry, Jesse Williams is one of the most beautiful specimens of humanity and hotness that I have ever seen. Watching the preparation for the counter sit-ins has me at the first sign of tears in the movie. Watching the white ally being forced to shove and shout racial slurs to prepare not only the black woman before him but also himself for what to expect. We are in those times again in so many ways and as a white ally, I feel that scene deeply.
Showing the juxtaposition between the dinner sit-in and the formal dinner service at the White House is very effective. Showing the hungry, scared protesters and then showing the black butlers to the law making white men as they stand in a corner and “don’t exist”. It is a very telling moment to define the thoughts of the time and of now: comply, don’t die. And then even further with the Freedom Rider’s scene in Birmingham. The National Civil Right’s Museum here in Memphis has the very bus they are showing in the movie. Seeing it in person, the twisted and charred metal chairs, the missing roof, just a week ago when I visited and now watching this scene, I feel much more connected to it.
Coming next to the assassination of Kennedy, seeing blood soaked Jackie… this movie is hitting every point and hitting it so eloquently. As Charlie is buried I am brought back to myself, remembering that I have neglected my note taking yet again. This movie just sucks you in and makes you truly lose track of time as history rolls out before your eyes. The casting, the camera angles, the script, it all moved together so very well, seamlessly making me fall into the story, forgetting everything else. This is the kind of movie where after it had finished, I sat in stunned silence, staring out into space as the impact of the film made itself known. I am very surprised that I did not cry because I came incredibly close multiple times.
This is a wonderful film and I now count it among my favorites. Especially with all that is currently happening in America, I feel this movie is very important as a reminder. Check yourself often. Louis teaches us that there are right and wrong ways to establish change in a society. Cecil teaches us that sometimes you absolutely have to shake the status quo to show and stand for what is right. You cannot go too far in either direction or the message you are wanting to spread will get muddied and twisted by those who do not understand. I give this movie 5/5 and recommend this movie for EVERYONE.