Monday, August 12, 2013


Oscar nominations will be abundant when it comes to the new Lee Daniels movie, The Butler, written by Danny Strong.  The acting and directing is flawless not to mention an all-star cast.  "Absorbing", "compelling", and "captivating" are just some of the adjectives to describe a drama that captures the Civil Rights Movement as Cecil Gaines (Forrest Whittaker) portrays a White House butler who serves eight presidents.

As a young boy, Cecil is working in the cotton fields with his father during the 1920's.  Plantation family member pulls his mother, Hattie Pearl, (Mariah Carey) aside to rape her. Dad speaks out and gets shot.  Annabell Westfall (Vanessa Redgrave), a matriarch family member of the plantation is feeling sorry for Cecil.  She trains him to be a "House Nigger".

Older now Cecil leaves and wanders to find himself hungry.  Seeing some cakes in a hotel window (at least I think it was a hotel), he breaks the glass and enters.  Staff worker Maynard (Clarence Williams III) catches him and winds up giving him a job serving after asking what he has been doing. When Cecil uses the word, "Nigger", Maynard reprimands him and tells him that the word is used in a negative way by white people.

We skip a few years as Cecil is married to Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) and has two sons. He is noticed by the White House staff in charge of jobs and is offered the butler position, where Dwight D. Eisenhower (Robin Williams) is now the President.

During the course of the movie various aspects of the Civil Rights Movement are taking place.  Many of the scenes are actual footage of the violence.  Birmingham riots, school integration, and the sit-in incidence at the Greensboro, NC Woolworth's are entwined with Cecil going from one president to the next.

Home life with the family centers on his problematic relationships with  both a boozy Gloria and Cecil's older son Louis. Louis is quite the rebellious one, knocking his dad for being a butler, going off to college and getting involved with the Civil Rights Movement including becoming a Black Panthers member and hopping on the Freedom Rider Bus.  Louis gets beat up a number of times as well as finding time in a jail cell.

What comes to play in this movie centers on the two positions of father and son, which at one point becomes estranged.  Cecil is willing to deal with the way blacks are treated wanting to keep his job and as we go from one President to another, something involving Civil Rights comes up and slowly gets accomplished.   Both share an accomplishment in 2008 when Obama gets elected.

Over at the White House we have butler staff to include: Lenny Kravitz, Cuba Gooding, Jr and Terrance Howard.  John Cusack portrays Richard Nixon, while Jane Fonda takes on the role of Nancy Reagan. Don't look for spot on portrayals.

The movie theatre was totally packed and not a sound was heard during the entire movie accept for a few scenes that deserved some chuckles. You certainly won't go away without being emotional moved.

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