By Monica Martinez
The anticipated film, “Lee Daniel’s The Butler” follows the life of a young man’s journey from a cotton picker in the 1920s to a respectable butler at the White House. In addition to his career, the audience has an opportunity to witness his struggles to keep his family life as structured as his beloved at a time when the Civil Rights movement is in full swing.
Forest Whitaker excels in his role as leading man, Cecil Gaines. We first see him as a valet in a luxurious hotel where he implements everything he’s learned about tending to whites; he’s careful not to show his presence in the room while he serves, avoiding eye contact and not letting his feelings show through. When asked a question, he answers diplomatically and makes sure to use a wide vocabulary, so that he doesn’t scare the white people.
Aside from portraying his character while working, we can also appreciate Whitaker’s portrayal of Gaines as a family man. His wife, Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) and his family, were extremely happy when he got the job at the White House. Gloria, however, grew envious of all the time he spent away from the house and found refuge in drinking. In addition to his marital problems, Cecil is anxious about their oldest son, Louis (David Oyelowo), leaving to college in the South, where he knows racism is still occurs daily.
This film covers various historical events, beginning in the 1920s and ending early 2000s. Because of that, the timeline is a little difficult to follow, but subtitles depicting the time frame make it clear. Costumes change throughout the film depicting trends of different eras, helping the audience know which years they are witnessing. Most importantly, the film covers the eight presidents Celis served under.
Soon after Cecil’s son left for college, he began hearing chatter about a group of black college students crossing the country in search for equality for all called the Freedom Riders. Cecil fears the worst, and soon gets word that his son is among them and has been arrested.
As his service continues, the Gaine’s relationship with their son, Louis changes, marking the countries change in feelings about race.
“The Butler” is a great film, which should not be missed. It reminds the audience about the challenges blacks faced only a few decades ago through the eyes of a handful of people witnessing drastic life changing events.