The Butler (2013)

Biography, Drama
Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, John Cusack, Jane Fonda
As Cecil Gaines serves eight presidents during his tenure as a butler at the White House, the civil rights movement, Vietnam, and other major events affect this man's life, family, and American society.
Gut-wrenching and emotionally affecting, Lee Daniels' The Butler overcomes an uneven narrative thanks to strong performances from an all-star cast.
  • The Weinstein Company Company:
  • PG-13 Rated:
  • IMDB link IMDB:
  • 16 Aug 2013 Released:
  • 14 Jan 2014 DVD Release:
  • $115.9M Box office:

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Civil Rights 4 Dummies & Stunt Casting. But Whitaker is GREAT.5/10
There's a scene about halfway through Lee Daniel's "The Butler" that is perfect.

African-American White House butler Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) asks his boss, Mr. Warner, for equal pay for African American staff. They are paid less than white staff, he complains. The audience has been watching Cecil Gaines for a while now, and we know he is an admirable man. He certainly deserves equal pay.

Warner tells Gaines that if he is not happy with his salary, he can go work someplace else.

Gaines is trapped in an invisible prison of white supremacy, and he knows it. Whitaker's face shows all the agony of that moment. He quietly leaves Warner's office.

Forest Whitaker is utterly brilliant in this scene, as he is in the rest of this choppy, heavy-handed, misguided film.

That scene is worth the entire rest of the film "The Butler." That scene has everything the rest of the film lacks: subtlety, intelligence, and faith in its audience.

Otherwise, "The Butler" is Civil Rights for Dummies plus an overload of stunt casting.

"The Butler" tells the story of Cecil Gaines, an African American White House butler. The movie tells us it wants us to pay attention to this humble, working class man. The movie depicts none other than Martin Luther King Jr, right before his assassination, delivering a speech on the importance of domestic workers.

But the movie belies its own message. "The Butler" doesn't have faith in its audience. It believes that we won't pay attention to this humble, admirable butler. So the film dumps one big Hollywood star and tabloid celebrity after another in small roles, and the film beats us over the head with a dumbed-down, sensationalized, hate-whitey version of Civil Rights.

Stunt casting: Mariah Carey is on screen for about two minutes as Cecil's mother, and Vanessa Redgrave is on screen for about three minutes as his first employer. The casting of the presidents Cecil worked for is flagrantly weird. It's as if the movie wants to set the audience abuzz over why this or that actor was chosen. John Cusak as Richard Nixon? Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan?? Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower??? Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan???? Did the people who cast this film take any of it seriously? James Marsden, though, is fine as JFK.

Oprah Winfrey plays Cecil's wife, Gloria. Oprah gives a fine performance. The problem is, she is Oprah Winfrey, and her presence as a celebrity never left my mind as I was watching her. Rather than being moved by the plot, my mind wandered. I thought about her recent public scandals, the Swiss purse incident, and calling Trayvon Martin a modern Emmet Till. I thought about her boyfriend Steadman. I wondered why he has never married Oprah. Again, Oprah's performance was spot on, but the script was not compelling enough to allow me willing suspension of disbelief.

The film's dumbed down version of Civil Rights is aesthetically and historically criminal. In the first five minutes of the movie, the film depicts two African Americans lynched together beside an American flag. They remain on screen for quite a while. The film returns to the image. A black woman is raped by a white man. Again, weird casting: Alex Pettyfer, one of the most handsome men in the world, is the rapist. Why? Then a black man is killed. The n word is tossed around liberally. Crosses are scary – the Klan burns one and attacks a freedom rider bus. The film eventually states, in so many words, that America was a "concentration camp" for African Americans for hundreds of years, worse than what the Nazis did to the Jews.

All the whites on screen are rich and powerful. All the blacks, including the Black Panthers, are good, innocent, humble, hard-working, harmless. The Civil Rights movement is all but exclusively black.

This just isn't true. Comparing the Holocaust to slavery and Jim Crow isn't accurate. The Black Panthers did some very bad things, including to their own members. Thousands were lynched, not millions, thousands of those lynched were white. The largest mass lynching in America was of Italian immigrants; Leo Frank was lynched for being a Jew.

African Americans made up roughly ten percent of the population; had whites not been part of the Civil Rights Movement, African Americans could never have achieved what they did. The film insists that the Civil Rights Movement was inspired by a "brown man," Gandhi. But in fact Gandhi was inspired by Tolstoy, Thoreau, Christ, and the Bhagavad Gita. The film alludes briefly to Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, but does not name them. The film refers to these Jewish Civil Rights martyrs only to cynically dismiss their sacrifice. Americans only care about dead whites, the film says. If that were true, the Civil Rights Struggle would not have achieved what it did. Jim Zwerg, a white man, endured a horrible beating on one freedom ride because he, like many Civil Rights heroes, was inspired by the Judeo-Christian tradition.

I've lived in the Indian Subcontinent, where the religiously mandated caste system, for millennia, has doomed Untouchables to lives in Hell. I lived in Africa, where the slave trade still flourishes. From a world perspective, the United States is not remarkable because it had slavery and Jim Crow. From a world perspective, the United States is remarkable because it produced the Abolitionists, John Brown, martyrs like Goodman and Schwerner and Viola Liuzzo and heroes like Jim Zwerg and Rabbi Heschel. "The Butler" presents an unbelievable conundrum – a country populated exclusively by evil, rich white supremacists somehow magically changed in 2008 and elected an African American president and presto changeo everything was better for black people.
Just another over-hyped, oprahization of American history1/10
It's always about race with anything Oprah touches and this grossly over-hyped movie is just another example.

One need only see the trailers, watch the clips on the entertainment shows or read user (not critics') reviews to get a hint of what you're in for if you choose to waste your money in a theater watching this tripe.

The film is very loosely based on a real life butler - Eugene Allen (1919-2010))- who had worked in the White House for 34 years from Truman in 1952 to Reagan in 1986.

If you want to know the real story of the real butler, read Wil Haygood's book OR do some research on the internet instead of lining Orca's over-sized pockets by subsidizing yet another fictionalized rewrite of history.

Here are 3 short examples:

ONE - In the movie, Oprah (as the butler's wife) brags that the White House called her husband to come work there. NOT SO. In reality, the real life butler got his entry level job by hearing that they were looking to routinely hire pantry workers at the White House.

TWO - In the film version, the butler's son serves in Vietnam and gets killed there. NEVER HAPPENED. Although the real life butler's son did serve in Vietnam, he is alive and well today. No matter to the makers of this film.

THREE - The real life butler never had a second son at all, let alone one who was a Black Panther as depicted in the film.

Like the liberal media, an agenda is in play here and this racially pandering movie is just another 2 hours of the oprahization of America - the essence of which is: black man good, whitey bad.

Waste of time, waste of money. Read the book if you care at all.
highest accolades9/10
I'll start by stating that I'm a 62 year old white male. I did not grow up in the South - but I did live for a year in Louisiana in the early 70's. I lived through every news event that was portrayed in the movie - that is, I saw and read about them in the actual news when these things happened. Many posters on the boards say that the movie is inaccurate. Then they go on to say things like: His name was changed, he didn't have 2 sons, he didn't look anything like Forest Whitaker, Nixon was miscast, etc. True, the details of The Butler's family life have been dramatized. That is called movie making. The movie was historically accurate in every important way. I don't say that every single detail was true, nor am I saying the portrayal of these historical events was 100% exactly as portrayed. But it is far more accurate (and important) than your average popcorn POS that pervades the theaters these days. I want to state that I have rarely, if ever, been as emotionally affected by any movie. It is brilliant, provocative, artistic, and has a social purpose. Like it or not, persons of African descent have been victimized, downtrodden, brutalized, persecuted, tortured, lynched, raped, and murdered - and only because of their skin color. HOORAY to Lee Daniels for making this movie! Hooray to Forest for being a sensitive, intelligent, highly gifted actor. Hooray to Oprah, whose performance is beyond stellar. Hooray to anyone involved with this movie. Not to say that ALL movies have to take you to the places that this movie does. I guess there is a place for Pacific Rim and Wolverine. So if you think that movies have no business delving into our racist and brutal history, then see one of those movies. But to say that this movie is irrelevant or inaccurate - well, as I said I lived through it all. It is not. What it is, is an exceptional, mature movie for those that want a little more than monsters (the fictional kind). My wife and I went through a whole packet of tissues - we were blubbering like fools. BRAVO!!!!! 9 (rather than 10) stars only because the 10 star reviews are often discounted as over- the-top hero worship. But if Ironman, The Avengers, etc are 10 stars (and I liked those), this movie rates 100 stars - because it is 10X better, more important, more relevant, and more thought provoking.
Title Is Misleading4/10
I was hoping to see a movie about the butler and his experiences in The White House. I'm sure he had a lot of interesting stories to tell and a lot of very interesting experiences in his many years in The White House. Yes, the movie was about a butler to some degree, but it was more about the civil rights movement and the evil white man. I would love to know more about the butler. I would love to have seen his experiences with the presidents the movie skipped over. I think in real life he must have been more interesting than he was portrayed. I also did not like the liberties the movie took with the real butler's life. He spoke of no horrible event on the cotton fields as a child. He had one son, not two. His son, who is still alive, was not a militant. His wife did not have a drinking problem, nor did she have an affair. Why add unnecessary drama? This movie will win awards because of its self righteousness, but not because it's that deserving.
What a Sham1/10
The actors in this movie were fantastic, however the "rewriting of history" was terrible.

The Butler's real name is Eugene Allen. Here is where the movie rewrote history: he did NOT have a son who died in Vietnam, he did NOT have a son who became a Black Panther, his mother was NO raped by a white cotton field manager, and his father was NOT murdered by the same white man.

So if you take this "made up" stories out of this movie, you have a much different movie. What a disservice to Eugene Allen. You would think that this story could have been a true story, at the very least the opening header should make a statement that this is a FICTIONAL movie.