Movie Review of Lee Daniel's THE BUTLER

I just watched the movie, "The Butler". The way I see it, there are movies I like to recommend because they are good movies and I think my friends would enjoy them. Then there are movies that I recommend because, in my (humble) opinion, they are movies that everyone MUST SEE. These movies are not only good, but also, important. "Selma", "Lincoln" and "The Butler” are all mandatory viewing

“The Butler” tells the life story of Cecil Gaines. It opens in what I initially thought was a slave plantation because of the atrocious way the black cotton pickers were treated by the white owner, but upon googling it, I found the time was 1926 on a cotton plantation in Macon, Georgia and they were share croppers, which seemed to me to be just another name for slavery. Cecil Gaines, then a little boy, sees his father shot dead in the head because he was about to complain that his wife was raped just a few minutes before, by said plantation owner. As it happens the estate's caretaker and owner's grandmother, has in her own way, enough of a heart to take Cecil into the house and out of the life draining cotton fields and trains him how to be a house servant, which Cecil learns very well. He leaves the plantation when he is 16 (which meant leaving his mother behind, but he knew that she would want him to pursue a better life for himself, and so he does. Ultimately he gets recommended for a position in a hotel in Washington, D.C. and by the time Eisenhower is in the White House, Cecil Gaines finds his way there as a butler to the president. Meanwhile he met his wife and they have two sons.

The story proceeds as a study in contrast between himself as a butler and his older son who goes to Fisk College and becomes a part of the Civil Rights Movement, first as a follower of Martin Luther King and, after King’s death, as a member of the Black Panthers. The conflict that ensues between father and son is heartbreaking. Cecil is a witness to history through the presidential administrations of Dwight Eisenhower, JFK, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, who was the final president that Cecil Gaines serves, as he begins to feel different about this position he has had all these years. He is a witness to the history of his people, as well as a major part of the history. Ultimately, he and his wife, as well as his son who becomes a member of the US Congress, live to see a black president of the United States, Barack Obama. Never did the significance of the first African-American president seem so poignant as in the context of this movie.

“The Butler” was directed and produced by Lee Daniels, who is known for "Monsters Ball", "Precious" and recently the television series "Empire". It has a blockbuster cast, starting with Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, Oprah Winfrey as Gloria Gaines, Cecil's wife, David Oyelowo (plays MLK in Selma) as Louis Gaines, the elder son, Mariah Carey as Hattie Pearl, Cecil's mother, Terrence Howard as Howard, the Gaines' neighbor, Vanessa Redgrave as Annabeth Westfall, matron of the plantation, Cuba Gooding Jr. as head butler at the White House, Lenny Kravitz as a co-worker butler of Cecil's, Robin Williams as Dwight D. Eisenhower, Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan. The full cast can be seen on “The Butler’s” Wikipedia site.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Butler.

Thank goodness for Netflix, since there are virtually no video (DVD) stores left. It is not on Netflix, but on their DVD rentals. However you get your hands on the movie, “The Butler”, get it and watch it. I suspect it will be viewed very differently by anyone born in the last 30+ years, as opposed to baby boomers, like myself, who lived through much of the time period being shown. It is important that everyone see this movie in its proper context. “The Butler” is a good movie. It’s an important movie, as well.

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