Saturday, March 15, 2014

Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013)

Cast: Forest Whitaker, David Oyelowo, Oprah Winfrey, John Cusack, Robin WIlliams, James Marsden, Liev Schreiber, Alan Rickman, Colman Domingo, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz, Yaya Alafia

Director: Lee Daniels

Synopsis: Forest Whitaker, as Cecil Gaines, plays a butler in the White House serving in the daily life of presidents and seeing the inside of politics affecting the nations’ citizens. The film follows the life story of Gaines and major U.S. events that affect his family and country. From boyhood to retirement he is faced with trials representing the hardships and livelihood of African Americans over decades of Civil Rights movements.

Reviewer’s Rating: 4/5 Reels


Standing up to the many great historical films out there, Lee Daniel’s The Butler is original and historically accurate. One reason why this story was able to be so impactful is that it covers such a wide, but distinct, time frame. One man sees so much from the 1940s to 2008; from the injustices of a black man living in a white man’s world to the election of president Obama. Told in one man’s perspective, the tale is personal, thought provoking, and firmly holds the audience’s attention.

This film spans the years of Gaines’ life from his boyhood of being a slave’s son on a cotton plantation and his adolescents in being trained as a house servant, to his fatherhood and prized career as the presidents’ butler. Gaines serves in the presidential terms of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Reagan. Civil rights movements are largely at the center of the plot with Gaines’s son involved with the Freedom Riders, the Birmingham Campaign, Bloody Sunday, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Black Panthers. Other events that appear are the assassination of John F. Kennedy, blacks’ right to vote, the Vietnam War, and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

The cinematography definitely compliments the tone of the film. Throughout the story you feel a tension between Cecil, the father, and Louis, the son. Many scenes parallel actions towards bettering the livelihood of African Americans. Throughout the film there are scenes in which the shot flips several times from Cecil’s point of view to Louis’s. Cecil, out of plain sight, serves the white man he believes can change the country and Louis serves on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement by leading non-violent protests against injustices and unequal rights. They struggle with understanding each other’s motives and discouraging each other’s choices. Cecil is stuck in the middle of two extremes; viewing political action as well as civic activism. Through the voice of MLK Jr. Louis comes to appreciate the power of Cecil’s position. Domestic help has served an important role in black history by defying the stereotype. By being trustworthy and dignified and tearing down racial hatred, he is not subservient but quietly rising above. Eventually father and son learn to appreciate each other’s ways of fighting for freedom.

Family dynamics, love, and personal hubris bring this film all elements of having personal touch beside the historical, political, and social wisdom. It shows tensions, disagreements, rebellion, substance abuse, death, and discrepancy in relationships of husband and wife as well as parent and child. Above all, the film shows the different ways of standing up for rights and shows the power actions can have on a person’s heart. The effects of the government and law on a group of people go hand in hand with an individuals’ life. Fighting for justice is in the public side just as much as the legislative side. Just before the credits role, we see the film dedication to the brave men and women who fought for freedom in the Civil Rights Movement. Overall, this film has optimum acting, cinematography, and plot that surely honors those it is dedicated to.

By: Amber Wentz

{ 1 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. I have yet to see Lee Daniel’s The Butler, but this review has sparked my interest. Before reading this review, I assumed the movie was about an African American's struggles within the white house.The fact that it's one man's story through such a long time frame, makes me want to see how his character changes over time, and how he is able to adapt to the different time periods as conditions change. The themes that you mention of love, pride, and family and how they connect with the overall flow of the films historical and political aspects, has me curious about how the characters overcome their personal struggles as they strive to bring about change. It's also interesting that you mention how the fight for equality didn't look one way across the board, the fight for freedom looked different for different people and this movie pays tribute to that. After finals are over, this is a film that will surely make my summer movie list. I'm already looking forward to reflecting on this movie and the many implications that you have mentioned in this review.


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