The Butler

Posted on August 17, 2013


The Butler – Based on Eugene Allen’s life, who served presidents from 1952-1986, this is the story of Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) who was a White House butler, beginning with President Eisenhower  (Robin Williams) all the way to President Reagan (Alan Hickman).   After Gaines’ father is shot and killed by his white master, the plantation’s mistress (Vanessa Redgrave) takes young Gaines in and teaches him to be a “house nigger.”  He excels in this position, but soon realizes he needs to leave the south.  Circumstances propel him into the White House where he becomes a valued staff member.  Although considered second class citizens, wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) and he enjoy a middle-class life with their two children.  Elder son Louis (David Oyelowo) is not satisfied with the status quo and joins a group of MLK followers who try to change things. 

 There are some excellent, although brief,  performances.  John Cusack as Nixon, Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan, Liev Schreiber as LBJ.  Cuba Gooding, Jr. is really good too.  It took me a while to accept Oprah as anything but Oprah, until toward the end.  She did  a good job overall but not Oscar worthy as we’ve heard.

 This is definitely a must see movie.  It’s a good history lesson, although I think some parts were a little bit biased.  In reality, Allen started out as “pantry man” and was promoted to butler, then was promoted to Maitre d’hôtel.  Here Gaines says no black person was ever promoted at the White House.  This discrepancy notwithstanding, you’ll see Mr. Whitaker at the Academies, probably on stage.

 The audience applauded at the end.  And there were more than a few audible sniffles throughout.