In the history of the Academy Awards, only four African American men have won Best Actor. Even more stunning is only one African American woman has won Best Actress. As a result of those incredibly skewed numbers, films about African Americans and crafted predominantly by African Americans don’t always get the fair chance they deserve. “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” has fought to not be overlooked and based on today’s strong reviews it succeeded.
The movie stars Forest Whitaker (incidentally one of those four men referred to above) as Cecil Gaines, a man who proudly served as the butler to eight different United States Presidents. The film looks at Gaines’ time with each President and how the country changed from presidency to presidency. While Gaines is a fictional character, he is based on a real person.
With a strong cast including Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Jane Fonda and Alan Rickman (just to name a few), “The Butler” has more than enough “A-listers” to get on the radar of many Academy Award voters, which is a fact not lost on critics who today mostly acknowledged this is pure and simple “Oscar-bait,” but good “Oscar-bait.”
Lee Daniels' The Butler is deliberately and meticulously designed to grab Oscar and Golden Globe and other nominations for acting, writing and directing. Gary Wolcott, Tri-City Herald
A history lesson in violence and endurance. A sentimental journey. A tribute. Director Daniels and the dedicated cast of The Butler deliver all that. Lisa Kennedy, The Washington Post
Daniels directs in about five styles at once, like a Bollywood maestro. No, it's not a musical, but it makes plenty of visual music. Steven Boone, Roger Ebert.com
The reaction from early screenings has been positive and many have walked out saying Whitaker gave the performance of his career and Oprah may find herself in the same position Mo’Nique did with Daniels’ 2009’s film “Precious.”
Like “Precious” which also had an absurdly longer than needed official name (“Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire), “Lee Daniels’ The Butler’ has an extended moniker as well. Now if your one of those people who believes a director putting their name in the title is pretentious (and it is), this is one of those rare cases where the director in question agrees with you!
Lee Daniels didn’t want his name in the title, but as the result of a feud with a rival studio over the name “The Butler,” this was the compromise the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) handed down.
While everyone claimed victory in what ultimately proved to be a useless battle, it did re-confirm one well-known truth…Hollywood executives only come after projects they believe are a threat to their own slates. Based on the buzz, “The Butler” is a legitimate threat.