AmericanCatholic.org
 
Skip Navigation Links
Home
Year of Mercy
Catholic News
Saints
Seasonal
Special Reports
Shopping
Donate
Blog
Share:
Facebook
Twitter
Google Plus
LinkedIn
Email
RSS Feeds
ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Lee Daniels' The Butler

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Robin Williams and Forest Whitaker star in a scene from the movie "Lee Daniels' The Butler."
A frequently heard slogan of the late 1960s held that "the personal is political." Whatever its value as a rallying cry, that phrase certainly fits the affecting fact-based drama "Lee Daniels' The Butler" (Weinstein) in which the private and public realms collide.

Drawing on a 2008 Washington Post article by reporter Wil Haygood, director Daniels ("Precious") tells a fictionalized version of the life of former White House butler Eugene Allen (1919-2010). Allen's screen stand-in is Cecil Gaines, played by Forest Whitaker.

Escaping the vicious racism of the early 20th-century Deep South -- flashbacks to the Georgia cotton plantation where he was raised prove harrowing -- Cecil makes his way to the relatively less oppressive surroundings of Washington. There he masters the art of providing elegant service to the all-white patrons of an elite hotel, a skill that requires him to suppress not only his true feelings, but his views on any controversial matter.

Cecil's discretion wins him the favorable notice of a White House agent, and he secures a coveted place on the domestic staff of the executive mansion. As he proceeds to work, close at hand, with every president from Dwight D. Eisenhower (Robin Williams) to Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman), Cecil cherishes the cautious hope that, under their leadership, white Americans will eventually see the light on racial issues.

This patient, conservative stance, however, increasingly conflicts with the civil rights activism of Cecil's older son Louis (David Oyelowo). And the long hours Cecil puts in at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue leave his strong-willed but fragile wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) feeling neglected.

Of the several appealing performances from which the movie benefits, Winfrey's complex portrayal of Gloria is perhaps the most impressive. Earthy yet spiritual, a commanding matriarch yet a woman tempted both by the bottle and by a slick, seductive neighbor (Terrence Howard), Gloria follows an erratic course through life—one very much in contrast with her husband's steady ways.

In addition to its subtle fictitious characterizations, the surprisingly nuanced view of the various real-life chief executives offered by screenwriter Danny Strong's script—an irretrievably self-absorbed Richard Nixon (John Cusack) alone excepted—also helps to keep the unfolding events from feeling like a chronological checklist of postwar history.

Still, it does come across as a bit too pat when Louis moves, with seeming inevitability, from training for sit-ins at lunch counters to enrolling as a Freedom Rider to enlisting in the Black Panther movement. All the more so, since his on-cue, Malcolm X-inspired radicalization is followed, in short order, by his younger brother Charlie's (Elijah Kelley) departure for Vietnam.

Additionally, those of a Republican bent should note that the climactic first-term election of the current commander-in-chief is presented not only in an understandably celebratory light but in one that borders on adulation.

Vulgar language and other red-flag content would normally prevent recommendation of "Lee Daniels' The Butler" for any audience but grown-ups. But the moral significance of this uplifting journey—undertaken within a context of implicit religious faith and strong marital commitment—is such that at least some parents may consider it acceptable for older teens.

The film contains occasional action violence, an adultery theme, numerous mature references, a half-dozen uses of profanity, a couple of rough terms and some crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III —adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.





Thank you for your comments. Editors will review all posts before they are visible on the website.

blog comments powered by Disqus







Philip and James: 
		<b>James, Son of Alphaeus:</b> We know nothing of this man except his name, and of course the fact that Jesus chose him to be one of the 12 pillars of the New Israel, his Church. He is not the James of Acts, son of Clopas, “brother” of Jesus and later bishop of Jerusalem and the traditional author of the Letter of James. James, son of Alphaeus, is also known as James the Lesser to avoid confusing him with James the son of Zebedee, also an apostle and known as James the Greater. 
<p><b>Philip:</b> Philip came from the same town as Peter and Andrew, Bethsaida in Galilee. Jesus called him directly, whereupon he sought out Nathanael and told him of the “one about whom Moses wrote” (John 1:45). </p><p>Like the other apostles, Philip took a long time coming to realize who Jesus was. On one occasion, when Jesus saw the great multitude following him and wanted to give them food, he asked Philip where they should buy bread for the people to eat. St. John comments, “[Jesus] said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do” (John 6:6). Philip answered, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little [bit]” (John 6:7). </p><p>John’s story is not a put-down of Philip. It was simply necessary for these men who were to be the foundation stones of the Church to see the clear distinction between humanity’s total helplessness apart from God and the human ability to be a bearer of divine power by God’s gift. </p><p>On another occasion, we can almost hear the exasperation in Jesus’ voice. After Thomas had complained that they did not know where Jesus was going, Jesus said, “I am the way...If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:6a, 7). Then Philip said, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us” (John 14:8). Enough! Jesus answered, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9a). </p><p>Possibly because Philip bore a Greek name or because he was thought to be close to Jesus, some Gentile proselytes came to him and asked him to introduce them to Jesus. Philip went to Andrew, and Andrew went to Jesus. Jesus’ reply in John’s Gospel is indirect; Jesus says that now his “hour” has come, that in a short time he will give his life for Jew and Gentile alike.</p> American Catholic Blog Only in human weakness do many of us begin to rely on God and explicitly repudiate our own divine ambitions. Every pain alerts us to the fact that we are not the Almighty.

New Call-to-action

 
CATHOLIC GREETINGS
Mother's Day
Send an e-card to arrange a special gathering this weekend for your mother, wife, sister, or daughter.

Happy Birthday
You are one of a kind. There has never been another you.

Sixth Sunday of Easter
Easter is an attitude of inner joy. We are an Easter people!

St. Catherine of Siena
This 14th-century scholar combined contemplation and action in service to God and the Church.

St. Gianna Beretta Molla
This 20th-century wife and mother courageously embraced the joys and sorrows of family life.




Come find us at: Facebook | St. Anthony Messenger magazine Twitter | American Catholic YouTube | American Catholic


An AmericanCatholic.org Site from the Franciscans and Franciscan Media Copyright © 1996 - 2016