Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Butler

It seems it is never enough to hew a historical line, or in this case biographical line.  Better to make a real figure into a caricature you can easily wrap your own ideas about race and inequality around.  This certainly seems to be the case with The Butler, an odd cross between Remains of the Day and Forrest Gump, with Eugene Allen remade as Cecil Gaines, a White House butler who served 8 presidents between 1952 and 1986.

The New Yorker notes that this is pretty lightweight drama, with Forest Whitaker offering a very restrained portrayal of the butler, in contrast to his fictionalized son who actively takes part in the Civil Rights movement.  Cecil can only watch, quite literally, as he sees his son being arrested on television, and is forced to hold his tongue, as the White House is pretty much portrayed as a "plantation."

Not surprisingly, right-wing pundits have lashed out at this film, notably Reagan's adopted son Michael, who likened the movie to Sayles' The Brother from Another Planet, mostly because he felt the title suited this largely fictionalized account, claiming his father was not a racist as he felt he was portrayed in this movie.

Lee Daniels appears well meaning, but this film seems to be in the contemporary lineage of Driving Miss Daisy and The Help, as he tries to find a populist angle to present his vision of the Civil Rights Movement, with popular actors like Robin Williams, Leiv Schrieber and John Cusack hamming it up as the former presidents.  It would have been much more interesting to get inside Eugene Allen, who is featured in Smithsonian Folkways' Workers at the White House.

1 comment:

  1. I see The Butler got a "shout out" from the White House,