The Butler’s Time Has Come

Patricia Ruiz

Campus Editor, Lake Worth

Lee Daniels’ The Butler is a powerful, gripping movie, telling the life story of a man who worked for more than 30 years as a White House butler, from Presidents Eisenhower all the way through President Reagan. Daniels does a tremendous job of giving the audience an insider’s perspective of a tumultuous time in American history.

The film’s behind-the-White House-doors gives the audience a new way to look at some of the men who have lead this nation, while telling the story of an average man who was an amazing human being.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler takes hold of the audience from the first scene in the cotton fields Macon, Georgia, in1926 when the title character’s (Cecil Gaines) mother is grabbed by the farm owner and the film doesn’t let go all the way through to the final scenes on the streets of Washington, D.C., in front of the South African Embassy. This riveting American story, long overdue in its telling, is based on the life of Eugene Allen, a real butler in the White House whom Will Haygood first wrote about in his Washington Post article, “A Butler Well Served by This Election.”

Lee Daniels’ The Butler is an instant classic that has everything to make it Oscar worthy. Incredible story-telling, check; Period piece, check; All-star cast, check; Based on a true story, check; A story told unlike any other before, check; A story that makes the audience feel and empathize with its characters, check; And finally, triumph of the human spirit, double check.  From beginning to end, as the movie played on the big screen, moviegoers could hear sniffles and see audience members wiping away tears on numerous occasions.

People will embrace this universal story for what it is, a story of the dynamic and yet difficult relationship between a father and son that also happen to be African American. As Forest Whitaker said at a pre-screening for the NABJ’s national convention roundtable discussion, “The takeaway should be, it is a love story of a father and son.”

In a style uniquely Lee Daniels, he shows America as viewed through the eyes of an African American family from the 1920s through 2008. At times it is raw, and overpowering, but it shows a side of America that has never really been shown before and it was exciting to see on the big screen.

Whitaker’s performance as the fictional Cecil Gaines, the title character, is breath taking.  The portrayal of Gaines as a strong, sensitive, disciplined man, supporting and keeping his family together during turbulent times is Whitaker at his best. Oprah Winfrey as his wife is equally as compelling a character, as she battles her own demons.  Each character in this film had a strong story line, which explains why so many important actors, including Terrance Howard, Cuba Goodin, Jr., John Cusack, Jane Fonda, to name a very few, signed on.  Mariah Carey, who had no dialog at all, had one of the most powerful scenes in the movie. And the amazing David Oyelowo, as Cecil Gaines’ son Louis, was both magnetic and disturbing, demonstrating the full range of his acting abilities.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler brings an amazing story to life of history and family that mirrors difficult yet necessary times in the American experience. Naturally, like with Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball, Kevin Bacon in the Woodsman or Gabourey Sidibe in Precious, Daniels’s gift is troubled, yet Oscar worthy characters, brought to life.

This film is no different and should easily earn acting nominations with its stellar all-star cast. It’s going to be a tough year for Oscar-worthy films and Lee Daniels’ The Butler should surely take home several awards, and its time that director Lee Daniels does as well.