Lee Daniels' The Butler FeaturedWritten by Jon Patch
The Weinstein Company, Laura Ziskin Productions, Lee Daniels Entertainment and Pam Williams Productions present a biography, drama, PG-13, 132 minute film based on a true story, directed by Lee Daniels, written by Danny Strong and Wil Haygood with a theater release date of August 16, 2013.
Martin Luther King once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”.
It’s 1926 in Macon Georgia and a young Cecil Gaines (Michael Rainey Jr.) is working in the cotton fields with his father Earl (David Banner) and his mother Hattie Pearl (Mariah Carey) when suddenly Thomas Westfall (Alex Pettyfer) takes Hattie Pearl into a shed for his own satisfaction. When Earl stutters a word to Thomas he is shot and killed in front of his son and all the field workers. Soon thereafter Annabeth Westfall (Vanessa Redgrave) comes out to the field and makes Cecil a ‘house nigger’. A word known then as a white man’s word but oddly enough a word that some people in the black community use amongst themselves today and personally a word that I believe should not be used amongst any person no matter what skin color.
Cicel (Aml Ameen) has grown into a teenager and has decided to go off on his own eventually landing a job at a hotel. In 1957 Cecil (Forest Whitaker) moved to Washington DC taking another hotel position where he eventually met and married Gloria (Oprah Winfrey), they bought a house and raised were raising two boys, Louis (David Oyelowo) and Charlie (Isaac White). When the phone rings at home and it ends up being his boss Cecil expects the worse but in the end got the best. He was hired as a butler to work in the White House and with that duty came rules, hear nothing, see nothing, and only serve. A motto Cecil lived by for most of his life in the White House.
In 1957 Cecil worked under the Eisenhower (Robin Williams) administration, a President that sent troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to step up protection due to segregation issues. Meanwhile Louis has graduated High School and is leaving home to attend Fisk College in Tennessee. The year is 1960 and Louis has joined a radical group called the Freedom Riders, they make a stance in the white community expressing their equal rights to eat where they please, walk where they wish and ride a bus and sit in any seat they see fit, all leading up to physical altercations with whites, getting the Freedom Riders locked behind bars. Of course when news of Louis’s behavior becomes known to Cecil he is not happy, Gloria started drinking and messing around with a married family friend Howard (Terrence Howard) and life as they knew it has forever changed with no end in sight especially as Louis is in and out of jail on a regular basis.
In 1961 President Kennedy (James Marsden) and first lady Jacqueline (Minka Kelly) with newborn John along with Caroline (Chloe Barach) enter the White House. Cecil and his associate butlers Carter Wilson (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and James Holloway (Lenny Kravitz) are pleased working under the Kennedy administration that is until JFK stood up for equal rights and soon thereafter he was assassinated in 1963. In 1964 Cecil and his co-workers served under the Johnson (Live Schreiber) administration who lived in the White house with his two beagles. In 1965 Louis gets involved with the Malcolm X Speaking Tour which eventually leads to ‘Bloody Sunday’ and with the Vietnam War in hand President Johnson was dealing with much more than his beagles. In 1968, Martin Luther King was killed, riots broke out and a black organization was formed called the ‘Black Panthers’ and of course Louis and his so called girlfriend Carol (Yaya Alafia) become members. At home Cecil is still the best butler at the White House, Gloria spends more time feeding her fish, Sidney Poitier is the house favorite actor and Charles (Elijah Kelley) has decided to join the war and fight for his country in a way more respectful than his brothers methods.
In 1969 Nixon (John Cusack)is in office and has ordered retaliation against the ‘Black Panthers’ a group that’s philosophy is that if someone kills one of them they kill two of theirs. In 1974, Nixon’s second term soon ends, Carter comes in then Reagan and Cecil is still serving at the White House fighting for rights amongst the black workers. Louis has found his voice using it in a more productive manner. He received his masters and has decided to run for Congress but the relationship between he and his father is still torn especially since Charles went off to war and has not returned. Things changed for Cecil at home and especially at work under the Reagan administration, Nancy (Jane Fonda) invited Cecil and Gloria to the state dinner and for the first time Cecil got to see the two faces of a butler from the other side of the white gloves. Reagan had issues to deal with in South Africa and when Cecil said goodbye some words of encouragement where expressed changing the lives of so many black butlers and staff to grace the White House future. Yet throughout so many years serving in the White House Cecil Gaines was the black man that made a difference right up to the election of President Obama in 2008 and still at his age he will forever know his way around the White House.
The film as my friend Brad states unfolds like a book from one administration to another but I must say that even so it was about twenty minutes too long it was still a brilliant piece of history that one can only hope all people learn from and decide to take a step forward and not a step back. History is to be learned from so that we as a people never make the same mistakes not to be revisited and experienced all over again. If history does repeat itself we can only hope it is for the betterment of all mankind no matter race, religion or orientation. The director and writers both do a remarkable job of bringing out the emotions, memories and feelings of what hate can do to a society and we can only hope that love takes us into a better direction moving forward. There is a lot of history to be learned here as the story takes us through the life and times of one very important butler that served under so many Presidents for so many decades in the White House.
Every actor associated with this story is superb especially of course Whitaker who takes the audience on a journey into the life of one very important man Cecil Gaines and that of his private and professional life. Winfrey does it again and shows why she is a phenomenal actress, too bad the big screen doesn’t get to see more of her. Every one of the actors portrayed as President were brilliant but I tended to enjoy the life of Kennedy the most that is until is untimely death due to a man that used his voice for the right reasons and not political gain. Nice appearance by Mariah Carey especially since she only uses expressions and not a voice, the woman can sing but still has some acting 101 lessons to take in order to get bigger dramatic roles. Oyelowo was extremely convincing as a man out to make a change in some right and wrong ways. Howard ironically once again plays yet another sleazy character but tends to do it well. Gooding Jr. and Kravitz were a treat and I did like that the film outlined some of the household and White house pets. Overall I thought this film was a superb reflection of history and the change that one man made within a very volatile world run by several of our well known Presidents, right up to the first black President Obama who now of course happens to be serving his second term in office. This film will definitely appeal to the baby boomers that like me lived throughout many of these years but it should also be seen by the younger generation so they too can learn hopefully to never make the mistakes that were so horrifically made by our forefathers. All men are created equal, it should have been that way in the past, is now and God willing will always be in the future. Written and enjoyed for the education of years past with three and half paws out of four by Jon Patch.