If we were able to walk through a lens in time and see the evolution of racial relations, what would the result be? “The Butler” Directed by Lee Daniels uses the real life story of White House butler, Cecil Gaines ( Eugene Allen) to show parallels between his life, and that of the racial revolution that was going on in our country. The film starts off with Cecil, Michael Rainey Jr. as a young boy working as a share cropper with his father and mother. The year is 1926, and we witness the harsh brutality towards his mother and the subsequent death of his father. Shortly after this when Cecil leaves the plantation he becomes so hungry that he breaks into a bakery for food. He is caught, befriended by one of the workers in the bakery and subsequently hired by the bakery. From here, he works at The Excelsior Hotel and then the White House.
The film has a vignette feel to it. Cecil (now Forest Whitaker) marries Gloria, Oprah Winfrey, and they have two sons. It should be noted the writers took such liberties as creating a second son Louis, who becomes involved in the civil rights movement. This causes a division between Cecil and his son.
There are serious gaps in which history and fact do not mesh. The film while rehashing the evolution of racial relations completely misrepresents The Black Panther Party as thugs, whose social agenda was a veil for their violent tendencies. The food program which they briefly mention was the organizations proudest achievement and is the reason that lunch programs exist today in our nations’ schools. In addition, Malcolm X is barely mentioned, nor is Bobby Kennedy.
The end of the film in which President Obama is elected stands out as salacious propaganda. All the political snippets before that appear dim and grainy, yet when they show the clip announcing the Presidents’ acceptance speech, suddenly the resolution is crisp and clean; if the intent was to showcase President Obama’s Presidency as a crowning achievement this was done, however this moment stands out as fodder for the right wing media. This film would have been better had it not chosen that last frame and instead have made it a small moment for Cecil to reflect on his years in the White House, and all the things that he and African Americans have achieved.