There are many films about leaders, about great thinkers, about the people who shaped our lives today. Every so often, a story comes about that tells the tale of an unknown who helped change the world that captivates an audience so deeply you wonder how it never got told before. Lee Daniels’ The Butler is that story.
The Butler tells the story of Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), an African American butler who serves through seven presidential administrations at the White House. We follow Cecil’s life from his childhood working in the cotton fields in 1926, where his father’s death opens up a whole new world of opportunities and expectations, to his journey to D.C. After working at a hotel, Cecil receives the chance of a lifetime a job to serve at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Cecil is joined by his loving wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) and sons Louis (David Oyelowo) and Charlie (Elijah Kelley), who thanks to the new job enjoy the pleasures of an upper middle class lifestyle. While at the White House, Cecil and the rest of the staff watch firsthand while history is made during the Civil Rights Movement. Before long, things hit close to home, when Louis chooses to attend college in the south where he can be an active participant in sit-ins and freedom rides, putting his life on the line. While his brother, Charlie decides to enlist and serve in Vietnam. Meanwhile Gloria copes with the absence of her family by turning to alcohol.
Ultimately The Butler is the story of the growth of a nation and one man’s pursuit of his version of the American Dream. The film was inspired by Wil Haygood’s 2008 Washington Post article “A Butler Well Served by This Election” showcasing the real life of former White House butler Eugene Allen. The Forest Gump of the new generation Lee Daniels’ powerful film takes us through history to show us the struggles that ultimately made it possible for an African American President to be put in power with the election of Barack Obama in 2008.
Definitely expect several Oscar nominations for The Butler in all categories. The performances are exceptional, the writing top notch, the directing flows with ease and the story is pieced together perfectly. Winfrey is at her best in her first theatrical role since 1998’s Beloved and holds her own with Forest Whitaker’s compelling as always performance. Boldly, Daniels casted a list of notable actors to play the various presidents. Robin Williams, James Marsden, John Cusack, Liev Schreiber and Alan Rickman all shine in their portrayals of the various leaders.
The Butler is a captivating, hopeful film with a lasting legacy. This is a story that reminds us of how far we have come and how much further we as a nation can go if we work together. Rush out and see The Butler, Oscar is about to be served.
Watch the trailer here. The Butler opens nationwide August 16th.