DVD Review: A butler of history

Imagine being an African American and seeing the entire Civil Rights movement unfold from beginning to end. This amazing journey is contained in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” shows the perspective of a number of major historical events from the perspective of five presidents as well as the average African American.

The screenplay for “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” was written by Danny Strong. The screenplay was based off a book titled “The Butler: A Witness to History,” which was inspired by a true story by a Washington Post article “A Butler Well Served by This Election.” The original article is about Eugene Allan, on whom the protagonist, Cecil Gaines, is based. There are some major differences because the movie’s goal is to show the events of the Civil Rights Movement as opposed to what Eugene Allen did.

The main characters are Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), Gloria Gaines (Oprah Winfrey), and Louis Gaines (David Oyelowo). Cecil Gaines is a modest and respectful butler who works at the White House. Gloria Gaines is Cecil’s wife who is not from the South. Louis Gaines is Cecil’s son and an activist for Civil Rights.

The film starts off with a bang in 1926 Macon, Georgia. After a very dramatic and interesting beginning, some events happen that lead Cecil Gains, the protagonist, to end up in Washington. Gaines also now has a wife and kids.

Gaines is contacted by the White House, and through some wit and respect, he gets the job of being a butler. As a butler, Gaines sees the conflicts and views of many powerful figures in history. Gaines’ sons also play a major part in active protest and the Vietnam War showing another perspective other than just Gaines’.

The film makes numerous references to major events in history, and manages to show them in chronological order. The first event that the movie did a great job displaying was the Little Rock Crisis during the Eisenhower administration. Another big incident is the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. who makes an appearance talking to Gaines’ son. The movie even shows protests for the freeing of Nelson Mandela, and compares the apartheid of South Africa to the Civil Rights movement.

The acting in the movie is very believable. There are scenes where an unprepared actor might over or under act, like when Gaines gets angry at his son, but the acting feels honest. The camera angles are not distracting and help display the scene as it is. Most people may think it odd to have humor in a movie like this, but at the appropriate times, it is quite entertaining.

The actors were a big part of the production. Lee Daniels, one of the films producers and its director, has said that an actor who is a major figure, like Oprah Winfrey, needs to be seen for the character they are, and she does just that. Oprah, despite being a major figure, manages to be forgotten and takes the role of her character.

“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” is a must-see film. While there is a fair amount of fictionalization, many of the events are based from Eugene Allan’s life, or they are based off of experiences of other African-American workers in the White House. The movie stays true to showing a story relating to a quote in the beginning of it by Martin Luther King Jr.: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that.”

Our Grade: A

“Lee Daniels’ The Butler”

Rated: PG-13

Length: 132 minutes

Genre: Biography, Drama

Directed by: Lee Daniels

Starring: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey