LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER tells the story of a White House butler who served eight American presidents over three decades. Academy award winner, Forest Whitaker plays Cecil Gaines married to award winning actress and movie producer, Oprah Winfrey--Gloria Gaines. Whitaker and Winfrey are joined by a stellar cast: Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr. (Butler, Carter Wilson), Terrance Howard (Neighbor--Howard), Lenny Kravitz (Butler--James Holloway); Robin Williams (Dwight Eisenhower); John Cusack (Richard Nixon); James Marden (John F. Kennedy); Jane Fonda (Nancy Reagan); David Oyelowo (Louis Gaines).
The film is a dramatic extended flashframe designed to show the personalized impact of thirty years of social policy changes focusing on America's attitudes, beliefs and values surrounding the Civil Rights Movement. The movie opens with a salient and powerful introduction to young Cecil Gaines; one intended to provide viewers insight to the evolution of Gaine's personality. Gaine's work ethic and fervent desire to escape the perils of living in a still very prejudiced deep south lead him north where he excels as a waiter. Gaines employment in the White House exposes both Gaines and moviegoers to the political backdrop of the presidential power brokers during this social period of change. Gloria Gaines (Winfrey) provides stability and strength to the now working class Gaines family while her husband staunchly serves and unobtrusively observes. The movie unfolds as the civil unrest of the early 60's escalates with lunch counter sit-ins and Freedom Rider bus rides.
Daniels effectively uses the backdrop of politics, decision making and socializing at the highest levels of government as stark contrasts to the social perils and issues of family and community in the lives of African Americans during this same period. Whitaker, as Gaines, wins the empathy of movie goers who perceive his strength despite his passive laid back persona and obvious 'conflicted' beliefs. Oprah Winfrey sassily portrays Gloria as a devoted wife and mother with needs of her own but with the strength and fortitude of one who plans to make it to the race's finish line.
This movie was inspired by the true story of Eugene Allen, who served eight presidents during his tenure as a White House domestic. In the movie adaptation, Cecil Gaines witnesses and endures the abuse of his parents (Mariah Carey, David Banner) ultimately adopting the life style and demeanor of the 'good', non-effacing, non-opinionated 'Negro' in order to make a living and survive in a still very racist environment.
Lee Daniels’ The Butler is a social commentary on ' living the double life'--seeing and not seeing; being and not yet not being. It is a heart-wrenching look at civil rights in this country. Forest Whitaker fully embodies the endurance and strength of his character; Oprah Winfrey stages a performance like none seen before. Cuba Gooding Jr. entertains and convinces. Terrance Howard is smooth as silk as he slithers from scene to scene. The movie is an emotional and dynamic dramatization of social policy and events in America during this critical period and is a 'must see' for all Americans. Prepare yourself for the movie's powerful impact!