Movies are like a box of chocolates…
Lee Daniels’ The Butler
Starring Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz; directed by Lee Daniels
INT. A MULTIPLEX THEATER – PRESENT DAY
A writing pen floats through the air in slow motion. A crowded movie theater lobby is revealed in the background. The pen drops down toward the floor as people mill about. The pen looks like it might get kicked by a passerby, but it continues fall down toward the floor.
Hello. My name’s Critic Gump.
Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey in Lee Daniels’ The Butler.
Photo by Anne Marie Fox, Butler Films, LLC.
You want to hear my thoughts on The Butler?
I could write about a million and a half words on The Butler. My editor always said, “Movies are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
Those entertainment magazines must be interesting, but I’ll bet their reviews are less prevalent due to the loss of staff critics because of that Internet. I wish we had more critics to comment on movies.
My editor always said there’s an awful lot you could tell a person about a movie. Whether it’s worth going. Where they’ve been where others have been before.
I’ve seen lots of movies. I bet if I think about it real hard I could remember my thoughts on The Butler.
My editor said to take good notes, but I find it better to recall from memory, just like The Butler does.
She said to pay close attention to the politics and acting and historical accuracy.
As I was watching The Butler, and they want us to call it Lee Daniel’s The Butler ‘cause of some old copyright issue, I kept thinking that I’d seen this before.
There was this other movie I saw years ago about a fella who was kinda similar to the butler in this film in that he got to interact with our nation’s presidents and was a passive observer of great events of the day, only in that older one he was white, a bit slow, and didn’t have a wife or work as a butler.
Why, even the character in that older movie was named Forrest and the lead actor in The Butler, his name is Forest too!
I recall that the older movie followed a white boy in the South right after the big world war, WWII, and as he growed up without a father his life experiences were cast against the great social events of America, including Vietnam, the upheaval of the 60s, energy crises, and the civil rights movement. And that was the same span of history depicted in The Butler; it starts in the South, follows a young black boy, also without a father, as he struggles through life, encountering obstacles, but persevering and a passive witness to big social events of the same time span. Only in The Butler it was how the African American community viewed and experienced those same times.
And I seem to recollect that each character in that previous film symbolized a generalized way that people responded to the turmoil of the times. There was the passive silent majority character, the radical free spirit, the gung-ho militant, and a character representing the lower classes. Their attitudes, behaviors and beliefs all typified these social and political currents. And you know what? That is also true of The Butler! Only this time it was from the African American point-of-view. We have a central character representing the silent majority passively experiencing the other political and social responses to bigotry and oppression, like the militant, the radical, the go-along-get-along, the whole range.
Isn’t that interesting?
And in that older movie, as that white boy grows up, he happens to do some amazing things, which provides him the opportunity over the years to meet each of our presidents. They even perform some magical special effects so that it looks like he was actually in the presence of these actual presidents. They did this through some doctoring of old news footage, or something like that. And in The Butler the main character also gets to meet all the same presidents as he amazingly gets a job serving in the White House. But here those commanders-in-chief are played by other actors who are layered with makeup, and so they don’t really look or sound like the real thing.
Finally, after all that sound and fury involving the political assassinations, inspiring speeches by influential historical figures, riots, youthful experimentation, familial tension and frayed friendships, all of the symbolic, metaphorical characters reach an understanding and a tenuous reconciliation of their respective roles in shaping national and family history. Poignantly, that same thing happens in The Butler, but again more closely hewed to the African American perspective of facing racial bigotry and striving for equality. Ha, there’s even the death of a matriarch at the end of both films! And even a father-son reconciliation in both! Kinda makes ya think, don’t it?
Doug Young, an award winning film critic, also works as Senior Policy Director in Governor John Hickenlooper’s Office of Policy and Research.