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Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Lee Daniels' The ButlerLee Daniels’ The Butler”
*****

Weinstein Company

Biography/Drama

Cast: Forest Whitaker (Cecil Gaines), Oprah Winfrey (Gloria Gaines), Elijah Kelley (Charlie), David Oyelowo (Louis), Cuba Gooding Jr. (Carter Wilson), Terrence Howard (Howard), Lenny Kravitz (James Holloway), James Marsden (John F. Kennedy, Vanessa Redgrave (Annabeth Westfall), Alan Richman (Ronald Reagan), Liev Schreider (Lyndon B. Johnson), Robin Williams (Dwight D. Eisenhower), Ami Ameen (Cecil Gaines, age 15), Nelsen Ellis (Martin Luther King Jr.) and Clarence Williams III (Maynard.(PG-13) Running time:132 minutes. Director: Lee Daniels. Writer: Danny Strong.

Lee Daniels’ fictional character butler Cecil Gaines based on the real life butler Eugene Allen serving in that position in the White House during seven presidential administrations. Lee Daniels’ “The Butler” is essentially a love story tapestried with the civil rights movement and walking the tightrope against the matrix of racism.

Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) journey starts out in the cotton fields in Macon, Georgia, in 1926,witnesses a horrible ordeal when the white plantation owner fatally shoots his father for his “insubordination”. A few years later, Cecil leaves the cotton fields of Georgia for a “better” life and location. Hungry, tired and weary he breaks into a store only to find an older colored man (Clarence William III) who gives him wisdom and a job as a bartender and a server that will lead him to Washington D.C. and a butler in the White House.

What Daniels and screenwriter Danny Strong do so well is depicts the African American must maintain two faces (aptly illustrated in W.E.B. Du Bois’s “The Souls of Black Folks”) in a white man’s world, a survival kit for each and every black face as he or she goes about the business of everyday life in America.

Cecil’s forewarned before he gets the job as butler from seasoned butlers to serve the president(s) and his cabinet members without listening to any conversations among them. Cecil marries Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) a former hotel maid and Louis (David Oyelowo) and younger son (Elijah Kelley).They live in a modest, middle-class house in Washington D.C.

The “new” Cecil is dressed impeccably in black tuxedo, white shirt and bow tie and black shoes on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He’s away from home so much his wife Gloria starts drinking and flirts with the next door neighbor Howard (Terrence Howard). His older son Louis goes to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he participates in the Freedom Rides attempting to integrate “whites only” lunch counters and to register blacks to vote in the South. Cecil doesn’t understand Louis’ political activities nor does Louis understand his father’s naiveté on the rising political climate of civil rights. Tension, Builds, grinds, and, even explores between father and son, especially when Louis joins the Black Panther Party. This generational gap between father and son is a large part of what Mr. Daniels calls a love story in “The Butler.”

Just the fact Cecil Gaines worked in the White House over a time of seven presidencies is an outstanding achievement on any terms. Cecil started in those hallowed halls as a butler under Dwight D. Eisenhower (Robin Williams), the 34th president of the U.S., 1953-1961, a hero as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in World War II demonstrates his ambivalence on the 1954 Supreme Court on Desegregation of Public Schools on the South and sending federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to protect nine African American children to a previously segregated high school in 1957. He did decide to send the troops. The 35th president would be John F. Kennedy (James Marsden), the first Roman Catholic to be elected president, young, good looking senator from Massachusetts. Kennedy’s life cut short by assassination Jackie Kennedy (Minka Kelly)is seen sitting on a bed crying, her coat and dress spattered by her husband’s blood while Cecil is in the room trying to comfort her. Next is the 36th president Lyndon B. Johnson (Liev Schreider) with the Civil War (and since 1965). I’d say John Cusack as President didn’t fare well as much a look-alike especially with his fake nose. (As far as bad makeup, Mickey Rooney’s character as Mr. Yunioshi in the 1961”Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is considerably worse.) Jimmy Carter is suspiciously and manifestly missing leads one to think that decision lies at the feet of the Weinstein Company, the producers of “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”. For the 40th president, Alan Rickman plays Nancy Reagan. Fonda invites Cecil to a presidential dinner as a guest (along with his wife Gloria) not as a butler. It’s the first time Cecil sits at a presidential dinner and not as a butler serving others.

The scene juxtaposed between Cecil serving the president and his guests and police turning fire hoses and German Shepherd dogs on civil rights marchers is quite powerful. Another scene Louis is in a hotel room with Martin Luther King Jr. (Nelsan Ellis).

Daniels and Strong shift to Cecil after he retired in 1986, a scene where he campaigns for Barak Obama, the first black president.

Tribute to Eugene Allen, 1919-2010.

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