Aug 16, 2013
Inspired by the true story of Eugene Allen, one of the first black men to serve in the White House, Lee Daniels' “The Butler” details the life of Cecil Gaines, who served as a butler for eight consecutive presidential administrations from 1952 to 1986.
Opening with a young Cecil and his father working in the fields of a cotton plantation, the film begins with the rape of Gaines' mother by the plantation owner and the murder of his father who tries to intercede. The story unfolds from there as the boy is taken to work in the house by the owner's elderly mother, who teaches Gaines how to serve. He eventually leaves the plantation in order to find a better life, and more opportunities. He eventually moves to Washington D.C. and works his way up to serving at the most prestigious hotel there. After some years, Gaines is spotted by a White House employee, who is impressed with his ability to serve as well as his cadence and neutrality when speaking with politicians of all different party affiliations.
All this happening withing the first 15 or 20 minutes of an over 2-hour long movie, the rest of the film focuses on Cecil's struggle to find his place within a rapidly changing culture, as the fight for racial equality escalates. The main plot lays out the tension between Gaines and his family, as he quickly becomes immersed in his position at the White House, seeking to hide from the issues that he does not want to face. He is estranged from his son, Louis, and distanced from his wife, who turns to drinking as a way to cope with Cecil's stubbornness. His son, who becomes an active member of the Freedom Riders, participating in protests and rally's in the nation-wide effort to show that skin color doesn't matter, sees his father's role as subservient, while Cecil, who has always been taught to bow his head in the presence of whites, sees his position as respectable compared to the radical actions of his son, who seemed to have made a career out of getting beaten and put in jail.
As the fight for civil rights unfolds, the political tension, as well as the personal drama that Cecil is facing, culminate when the black community earns equal treatment and the right to vote, and Gaines is finally able to confront the issues that he did not want to face, and restores the relationships with his family that had remained strained due to his own personal pride.