When the Golden Globes snubbed Lee Daniel’s “The Butler, I was sure that the Academy Awards would pick up the slack and nominate the film in the Best Movie and Best Actor (Forest Whitaker) categories. Looks like I was wrong again, as the Academy followed the Globes lead this week and once again did not recognize “The Butler” in any categories. It’s a shame, but this is a movie well worth watching ─ even though no awards will acknowledge the fine effort,
“The Butler” is a true story based on the life of Eugene Allen, a man who served as butler in the White House for eight administrations, and who traversed the ups and downs of the Civil Rights Movement with a curious eye. The movie begins with Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) toiling in the fields of North Carolina as a sharecropper and then witnessing the brutal rape of his mother, and the murder of his father, by a plantations overseer. The plantation’s matriarch (Vanessa Redgrave), aware of the injustice, brings Cecil into the house to be a servant as some type of recompense for him, and thus a butler is born.
Cecil eventually moves to Washington D.C where word is out that the staff of the White House is looking for pantry workers. Hired in 1952 during the Truman administration as pantry help, Cecil eventually works his way up to butler during the Eisenhower administration and remains in that position until he resigns many years later, after hearing Ronald Reagan say firsthand that he will not sanction the South Africans for policies endorsing apartheid.
The story's plot revolves on the dichotomy of Cecil’s life in the sense that he must remain subservient in his position, while dealing with a “Forest Gump-like” series of civil right events: desegregation in Arkansas, lynchings in Mississippi, civil rights workers being murdered…During his tenure he works for Eisenhower (Robin Williams), Kennedy (James Mardsen), Johnson (Liev Schriber), Nixon (John Cusack), and Reagan (Alan Rickman). (The administrations of Ford and Carter are marginalized by the movie.) Oprah Winfrey plays the role of Cecil’s liquor-inflicted wife, and Jane Fonda even makes an appearance as Nancy Reagan.
In a different year this film would be nominated in the “Best Movie” category, but despite missing out, this is a must see.
My Rating: 4 of 5 Butlers.