Thanks to eOne Films, we had the chance to see ‘The Butler’ on DVD.This film tells the story of African-American White House Butler Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), who is very loosely based on real-life White House Butler Eugene Allen. Throughout his career this loyal servant worked under seven different presidents from 1952 all the way up to 1986. In his youth he was often confronted with racism, but as the decades passed racial equality slowly started to kick in, finally resulting in the election of the first African-American president of the United States. Allen’s story is quite fascinating as it is, but director Lee Daniels and screenplay writer Danny Strong have taken so much artistic license that the film has become a fictional story instead of a biopic.
The story starts off with a dramatic scene where a young Gaines witnesses the death of his father by the hand of a sadistic plantation owner (Alex Pettyfer), who also abuses Cecil’s mother, played by Mariah Carey. The singer’s appearance is the first of many distracting cameo’s in the film. Carey is even more distracting since the white singer is supposed to play an African-American character. But Lee Daniels is good buddies with Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz and Oprah Winfrey, so he made sure that all of them would get a role.
When Gaines flees the plantation he gets taken in by an experienced African-American Butler who learns him the etiquette and other tricks of the trade. Within a few years Gaines is serving at fancy dinner parties in Washington D.C., until the day comes where he gets a job working at the White House. There he becomes good friends with fellow butlers Carter Wilson and James Holloway (played by Cuba Gooding Jr. and Lenny Kravitz, who are both giving very good performances).
Initially Cecil’s wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) is very proud her husband gets to work for the president, but the pride quickly wanes when her husband is hardly ever home again. Due to his absence Cecil is also not around to intervene when his angry young son Louis (David Oyelowo) starts displaying criminal behaviour. The disgruntled Louis ultimately ends up joining the Black Panthers and their militant fight for racial equality. Cecil’s relationship with his son is the main storyline of the film, and Whitaker and Oyelowo play their roles very well, but the real Eugene Allen’s son never joined the Black Panthers. We also see how his other son goes off to Vietnam, but in reality Gaines only had one child.
Still ‘The Butler’ tells a touching story that tells a lot about the long and hard fight for racial equality in America. With such a fascinating story to tell it is a bit of shame that Daniels resort to distracting stunt-acting (five presidents are played by well-known actors, mostly just in very short cameo’s). The director very obviously went for an Oscar-friendly movie, so it is rather ironic that the brutally uncompromising ‘12 Years A Slave’ ended up being this year’s Academy Award Winner. Yet ‘The Butler’ is a highly recommendable alternative for people who find ‘12 Years A Slave’ too intense.
‘The Butler’ is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray