Lee Daniel’s The Butler


ldbutler-flag-poster-final-jpg_195608It’s rare these days to find a movie worth its ticket price. The reviews alone are enough to make me shake my head in disgust. Maybe I’m pickier than some, but I’d rather spend my time (and money) on worthier causes than supporting the often sophomoric productions put out by the movie industry. So when one comes along that I’m willing to pay $9.50 for, I like to share it.

When I saw the reviews for The Butler, I was immediately intrigued. Since teaching U.S. history for several years, I’m drawn to the drama surrounding the development of this country, even if that drama puts our nation in a poor light. I wasn’t entirely sure what this movie was about, other than the service of a black butler in the White House throughout the terms of eight different presidents. More specifically, The Butler follows the life of one man—Cecil Gaines—from 1926 until the presidential election of 2008.

It amazes me (and I suppose it shouldn’t) that I was alive through much of the historical events that were dramatized throughout The Butler. Admittedly, I was just a baby for much of it, but still it was a little like wandering back through time for me. I might not have remembered the Civil Rights Movement, but I wondered why I’d never thought to ask my parents their viewpoint of this time in history. My knowledge of Martin Luther King, Jr., is limited to what I researched in order to teach my students, but since that time, he’s always been a hero of mine. The audience is given a heartfelt portrayal of what the young people fighting for equality during these turbulent years experienced.

One of the things that surprised me about The Butler was the casting. Forrest Whitaker was brilliant as Cecil Gaines, but since I had no knowledge of the real Cecil, I can’t say if it was an accurate depiction. However, who would have thought Alan Rickman could play Reagan with any credibility, let alone John Cusack as Nixon? But with a little nose reconstruction and makeup—not to mention brilliant acting—I recognized the presidents immediately. I don’t think James Marsden looks anything like Kennedy, but he surely had the voice down. And Robin Williams as Eisenhower? I would have never imagined it.

The bigger surprise casting for me, however, was Oprah Winfrey. This is the first film she’s acted in since The Color Purple, which came out the year my 27-year-old daughter was born. I’m not an Oprah fan, but I must say I was impressed with her portrayal of Cecil’s wife Gloria. We live in a world of throw-away marriages, so to see true devotion, even tested during the toughest of circumstances, was inspirational.

If you’re disgusted with the lack of thought-provoking choices at the movie theater, I would suggest you take the time to view this one. You won’t be disappointed.

3 thoughts on “Lee Daniel’s The Butler

  1. I soooo want to see that movie. I didn’t realize Alan Rickman was in it until reading this post. I honestly can’t imagine him in the role of Reagan (or any American character, for that matter) despite his fine acting skills. Honestly, it’s tough to imagine a number of the actors you mentioned in the roles they had for this movie. I’d love to see how well they did.

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