The Butler

From director Lee Daniels and written by Danny Strong, comes this decades answer to Forrest GumpThe Butler. Based partly or rather inspired partly by the true story of the real life of former long time White House butler Eugene Allen, the movie is about an African-American butler who grows up from the cotton fields of Georgia and later becomes a long time butler at the White House where he witness notable events. The movie has an impressive cast led by Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz, Terrance Howard and small roles as historical figures by Robin Williams  as  Dwight D. Eisenhower, James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, Minka Kelly as First Lady  Jackie Kennedy, Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan& Jane Fonda as First Lady Nancy Reagan.

Cecile Gaines is a young boy who grows up in the cotton plantations of Georgia and when his mother is raped by their white owner, his father finally stands up to him and is shot dead. The caretaker of the estate takes in young Cecile, as his mother goes a little crazy and becomes mute, and trains him as a house servant. In his teens Cecile goes off to find work in the cities but finds food & work being denied to him. One night he breaks into a large hotel’s bakery to eat and is caught by Maynard, the black master servant. Maynard offers him a job as a server and trains him well and after a few years recommends him for a position in a Washington D.C. hotel. While working at the D.C. hotel, Cecil meets and marries Gloria, and the couple have two children: Louis and Charlie. In 1957 is hired by the White House to be a butler during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration. He meets and befriends maître d’ Freddie Fallows, head butler Carter Wilson and co-worker James Holloway. At the White House, Cecil witnesses Eisenhower’s reluctance to use troops to enforce school desegregation in the South, then the President’s resolve to uphold the law by racially integrating Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. Soon Louis graduates from high school and chooses to go Fisk University in Tennessee although Cecil feels that the South is too volatile.

Louis joins a student program led by activist James Lawson, which leads to a nonviolent sit-in at a segregated diner, where he is arrested. Furious, Cecil confronts Louis for disobeying him. Gloria, suffering from her husband’s long working hours, descends into alcoholism and has an affair with the Gaineses’ neighbor, Howard. In 1961 Louis and his friends are attacked by the Ku Klux Klan while riding one night in the Freedom Bus. Louis is shown participating in the 1963 Birmingham Children’s Crusade, where dogs and water cannons were used to stop the marchers, one of the movement’s actions which inspired President John F Kennedy to deliver a national address proposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Several months later, Kennedy is assassinated and Gaines is shown breaking down. Before she leaves the White House Jacqueline gives Cecil one of the former president’s neckties as a goodwill gesture. Louis is later shown participating in the 1965 Selma Voting Rights Movement, which inspired President Johnson to demand that Congress enact the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. Later after Martin Luther King’s   assassination, Louis visits and tells his family that he has joined the radical organization called the Black Panthers. Upset at his son’s actions, Cecil orders Louis and his girlfriend, Carol, to leave his house. Louis is soon arrested and is bailed out by Carter Wilson. Cecil becomes aware of Richard Nixon’s plans to suppress the movement.

Cecile’s younger son Charlie joins the Army and goes to Vietnam and is killed a few months later. Cecile is celebrating his birthday with Gloria when they get the news. Louis does not attend the funeral, based on a conversation he had with Charlie which infuriates Cecile and drives a further wedge between him and his elder son. when the Black Panthers resort to violence in response to racial confrontations, Louis leaves the organization and returns to college, earning his master’s degree in political science and eventually running for a seat in Congress. In the 80s, Cecile stands up to his white supervisor over the unequal pay and career advancement provided the black White House staff. With President Reagan’s support he prevails, and his professional reputation grows to the point that he and his wife are invited by President and Nancy Reagan to be guests at a state dinner. Yet at the dinner and afterwards, Cecile becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the class divisions in the White House. Finally, after witnessing Reagan’s refusal to support economic sanctions against South Africa, he resigns. Gloria tries to mend things between Cecile and her older son and tells her husband that Louis has told her that he loves and respects them both. Slowly accepting his son’s actions as heroic, Cecile reconciles with Louis at a Free South Africa Movement protest against South African apartheid, and they are arrested and jailed together.

As the film moves towards 2008, Gloria dies shortly before Obama is elected as the nation’s first African-American president, a matter of great pride to Cecile and his family. Cecile prepares to meet Obama in the White house as the movie ends, with him walking towards the Oval office. Although the movie is “Hollywood-esque” and a lot of stuff is written for the sake of the movie, the film is very well acted and it is a wonderful film to watch. I was totally engrossed and emotionally touched, even if the story is fictional for the most part and I was a bit disappointed at learning that going into the movie. 8.5 outta 10 for me!

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