Valissa Smith is managing partner of www.itsallaboutHER.com, an online resource for women. She is a proud member of the Kansas City Film Critics Circle. You can watch Valissa's movie reviews Fridays at 11:00 a.m.on the KSHB-TV Midday Newscast.
Imagine being a fly on the wall of the White House for eight different presidents. Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) was raised in the cotton fields. When his daddy was suddenly killed, the plantations white matriarch took Cecil inside the family's home and trained him to serve as their butler. It was that old white woman who taught him the skills that would place him in this very unique space and time of our nation's history, serving decades inside the White House.
As a White House employee, and a black man at that, Cecil was required to fearfully keep all he heard to himself. He was taught never to engage his opinion, even if asked. And when his wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey,) was simply curious about how many pairs of shoes Mrs. Kennedy had in her closet, Cecil was mum - a secret life, of sorts, that put a strain on his marriage.
His work affected his two sons too. They grow up right in the middle of the civil rights movement, and the youngest Charlie (Elijah Kelly) is proud, even excited, to serve in the Vietnam war. His oldest son Louis (David Oyelowo) is embarrassed that his father works for the (I)white man and sets off to improve civil rights, putting a strain on their relationship too.
Lee Daniels uses The Butler, and its character Cecil Gaines, to provide us with one of the greatest lessons in American history. And it is based on truth - a real White House butler named Eugene Allen who worked there from 1952 until 1986. Forest Whitaker does an outstanding job (which didn't surprise me) While I'm a huge fan of Oprah (Life Class, Super Soul Sunday) I wasn't overly excited to hear that she was chosen for the role of Gloria. I'm not sure why. I had actresses like Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer in mind for that part, but Oprah pulls in her big personality to provide this finely tuned subtle personality of Gloria that only roars when the situation calls for it. I was quite impressed.
The cast of presidents was impressive as well. Robin Williams as Dwight D. Eisenhower; John Cusack as Richard Nixon; James Marsden and Minda Kelly as John and Jacqueline Kennedy; Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson; and Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda as Ron and Nancy Reagan.
Director Lee Daniels lets us know right up front that this film is not going to be easy to watch. Slavery was a cruel time for African- Americans in this country. Desegregation was deadly for blacks and today feels quite embarrassing for this white woman. Vietnam stung for everyone.
It's a lesson in our nation's history that ALL Americans need to watch and listen to and never, ever forget. And whether you like Barack Obama as a president or not, he was fairly elected and he is a black man living in the White House - our Commander in Chief! That I am proud of, but know it can't compare to the pride the African American community must feel knowing where they came from not too terribly long ago.
FYI, the reason the title of the film went from The Butler to Lee Daniels' The Butler is due to a dispute between Weinstein Company and Warner Bros. Pictures which released a 1916 silent short film with the same name. Wow. Hollywood.
Arruga! = 0
Fidget Factor = 0
Age Range = 11 and up
Overall Grade = B+