POSTED August 15 2013

The Butler: Reconciling public face with the private one

Oprah Winfrey and Forrest Whitaker in "The Butler"

Oprah Winfrey and Forrest Whitaker in “The Butler”

Lee Daniel’s The Butler. an unwieldy title for a streamlined epic, is an old-school chronicle that looks at 20th-century American history through two lenses, that of African-Americans and that of the black family.  For those reasons alone, it’s positively radical.  Here are my thoughts about how the film about a man who strove to be invisible at his job as a black butler at the White House became visible in his workplace, his family and his community.

Perhaps the best description of the film comes from Odie Henderson, who in his positive review calls it “Forrest Whitaker Gump.”

I’ve had reservations about Lee Daniels in the past (as you can read in the links embedded in my review). But I am very moved by The Butler, particlarly by the performances of Whitaker and David Oyelowo as the accomodationist title character and his radical son, and by Oprah Winfrey as the butler’s wife, whose vitality, sadness and humor as the hypotenuse of the domestic political triangle is riveting. I liked the way Daniels and screenwriter Danny Strong framed the story, inspired by real-life butler Eugene Allen, as how its title figure performed to meet the expectations of his white employers. With his slightly droopy left eye and focused right eye, Whitaker nails the performance of the man who struggles to reconcile the face he shows whites with that he shows his family and friends.

If you’ve seen the film, your thoughts? If you’ve yet to see it, your thoughts about Lee Daniels?


  1. Debbie says:

    I am grateful to anyone made Precious.

  2. Marketing, including movie marketing, obviously, is a funny thing. I often tell myself that I’m untouched by it, that it doesn’t reach me at all. The household products I purchase are mostly the same ones my mother did. Perhaps marketing did its work back then when she was young. Most current television commercials just float by me. But based on its pre-release publicity and marketing, I don’t think there’s anything in the world that would make me want to see The Butler. I expect that’s an unfair judgement and it’s probably my loss. I do usually enjoy the work of many of the actors appearing in the movie. But there it is. Curtis

  3. Miz Val says:

    That is a shame Curtis you feel that way.Not only do I plan on seeing this movie Sunday I plan on taking 35 people with me.Some are my age some younger. This history is important to me because I was there to witness it via that devil some call TV. But to view it based on the point of view of the man who served in the White House while dealing with his own struggles as head of his household and part of a community in social turmoil makes this movie a special event for me.

  4. Miz Val — I hope you enjoy the movie. Curtis

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