Director: Lee Daniels
Writers: Danny Strong, Wil Haygood
Starring: Forest Whitaker, David Oyelowo, Lenny Kravitz, Oprah Winfrey, Vanessa Redgrave
Runtime: 132 minutes
In this summer full of superhero movies, apocalyptic-themed blockbusters, and fun summer films, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, directed by award winner Lee Daniels, is the perfect film to prelude the fall film festival season which will feature films with racial segregation themes such as 12 Years a Slave and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. The Butler is a film about Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) who spends his life as a “house-negro” serving eight presidents as their butler. Unlike other films about the civil rights movement, this film is not about an advocate or someone struggling to stay out of jail. Instead, this film takes a closer look at what a father must do in a world against him in order to provide for his family.
Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), raised to work on a cotton farm, saw his mother lose her mind after being raped and watched his father shot in front of his eyes. It was when his mistress Mrs. Westfall (Vanessa Redgrave) took him in and trained him as a house servant as a boy that his life changed. From this point on, Cecil finds himself working at the Excelsior Hotel where he is recruited by the maître d’ of the White House to work as a butler for the president. Cecil will spend his life serving eight presidents, from Truman to Reagan, before he retires.
The film tells a more complex story than that of a butler’s tale. It touches on many issues including those familial and political. Cecil is married to Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) and has two sons, Louis (David Oyelowo) and Charlie (Isaac White). Louis is an idealistic young man who sees his people struggle. So, in turn, he fights and advocates for what he believes in. Yet this lifestyle is destructive in the eyes of Cecil, leading to strife between father and son.
The movie focuses on the relationship and separate lives of a father and son. Yet, in the end, they come together to advocate and win recognition to gain basic civil rights. Lee Daniels sets an amazing direction for the movie and every moment is enjoyable. The way Daniels juxtapose scenes between father and son touches something personal inside the audience. For me, it shows how parent and child often see the same issue, but have drastically different solutions, making Lee Daniels’ The Butler a movie all can relate to.
Cecil’s character is fairly static, yet Forest Whitaker breathes life, strife, determination, and strength into him to make this movie one where the audience wants to push Cecil to success and for him to emerge as a winner. Whitaker’s acting is outstanding in this film, showing a wide range of skills including perfect chemistry between his co-stars and why he is an Academy Award winner.
In the end, The Butler demonstrates that to raise a family in a time such as that when racial segregation was rampant, sacrifices must be made for the family to lead a good life. But at the end of the day, you still need to fight and vocally stand up for what you believe in, as merely sitting idly and being the wallflower will not bring about change. This movie touched the audience on many emotional levels and is a relatable movies for audiences due to the family nature of the film. It does not show that you have to be a leader to see or provoke change, you just need to stand up for what you believe in, in whatever capacity you are capable of.