Monday, October 28, 2013

Sunday night at the movies: "The Butler"


My mother insisted on seeing The Butler and I finally saw it Sunday night with her at Chatham 14. It was a bit of a period piece that showed the protagonist played by Forrest Whitaker blossom from a young man in the segregated south to an elderly man who worked for several presidents as a domestic worker in the White House.

I can only imagine what discussions her heard during his time as a White House butler. He probably couldn't hear everything because well when it was time for him to go it was time for him to go. It was interesting how to see him get trained by another Black man to be a house servant and it lead him to serve in that capacity in the US Government.

The only gripe I have about this movie even if the context was understood was how they played up the election of Barack Obama as President. So the character Cecil Gaines have served from Eisenhower to Reagan - seven presidents - and was ecstatic when the first Black man was elected President. It almost seems like hero worship to insert that in the movie. A lot of time was dedicated to that although don't get me wrong the reason for bringing that into the film was understood especially for a Black man who lived long enough to see segregation, civil rights, and then it's after effects.

Gaines had two sons one went to Vietnam and was killed in action the other Louis was a radical. He saw America for what it was at the time and after starting college at Fisk University decided he wanted to do something about it and joined the Freedom Riders. As a result Louis had a strained relationship with his father.

Ah, but the more interesting scene of the movie with Louis was when he discussed with his girlfriend the reasons he joined the Black Panthers. He didn't like the more violent philosophy he found with them and sought another path. Finished his masters degree in political science and attempted to run for Congress.

BTW, The Butler was based on a true story even though it's largely fictionalized. The real life inspiration for this movie didn't have two sons and didn't leave the White House because Ronald Reagan simply wouldn't budge in his stance on South Africa. As a matter of fact there was an article out there that explained Reagan's rationale on sanctions to South Africa and attacked that particular part of the movie as a bias against Republicans.

Now before you go on the attack against how Gaines was no hero, I'm not sure this movie portrays him as such. He just so happen to be at the right place at the right time and while it's easy to be dismissive based upon his station in life there was a scene where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr defended him and workers like him. In this movie Cecil may not have seen eye-to-eye with his son Louis it's an interesting act of drama to show a domestic worker who begat an activist who took advantage of his American rights even in the face of violent opposition!

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