Saturday, November 09, 2013

Lee Daniels' The Butler

This morning I saw Lee Daniels' The Butler, starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey.

Cecil Gains (Whitaker) was a real-life man named Eugene Allen, who was employed by The White House from the Truman administration all the way up through the Reagan administration. He began as a pantry worker and was soon promoted to butler, utilizing the skills he'd learned working in exclusive places around Virginia and Washington, D.C. And, he was black.

The film shows how he was trained as a child as a "house negro" to serve and dazzle the higher class, and takes great pride in doing good work for his superiors.

His wife Gloria (Winfrey)—who was named Helene in actuality—has a drinking problem and turns to another man for intimacy as her husband works long hours. Winfrey gives an Oscar-worthy performance as a woman who clearly adores her husband, but has so much brimming just beneath her emotional surface, she has to find other ways to cope.

The film has fairly been compared to Forrest Gump for its predictable trip down memory lane, but just as I didn't mind it in Forrest Gump, I didn't mind it here either. Though the big-name stars (Robin Williams, John Cusack, etc.) who play the various presidents are distracting, the overall message is clear: it really hasn't been that long since America was a terribly unbalanced country, devoid of human rights for all. In fact, it reminds us that though things are better, we still have a long way to go.

For all its unfaithfulness to the true story, it was still an engaging, well-paced movie that made me wish I was more like its main character: content in hard work, patient in times of injustice and lacking in envy of the riches that surround him.


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