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A review of Lee Danielís The Butler
E. Ablorh-Odjidja


The movie The Butler is a finely crafted one by Lee Daniels, the director, a highly creative spirit and without doubt among the best in Hollywood.


The acting is superb by all performers, starring Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and others.


Underneath it all, Lee Danielís The Butler is a paean to Obama and the liberal cause. The Weinsteins, liberal, left and anti-right wing produced it.


The storyline tracks the civil rights movement in the life story of Cecil Gaines, who served as White House butler, spanning the tenures of eight presidents.


The movie culminates with the election of Obama as the first African American president of the United States and thus upholds the achievement as the fulfillment of the dreams of millions of black persons.


As time passes by on screen, the viewer is to find the narrations favorable to some presidential characters.


The viewer gets the feeling that Democrat presidents appear human and very understanding or supportive of anti racist causes.


President John Kennedy (JFK), succinctly lists the travails of the civil rights movement, a statement meant for the time capsule as witness to the moral uprightness of the liberal stance.


President Johnson looks forceful, genuine, compassionate but only crude in the appearance on a toilet seat; a quiescent moment for every man but not for a liberal president in hot pursuit of justice for blacks.


The image of Republican presidents, on the other hand, is not so flattering. Nixon, as vice president, is a mere caricature.


In the movie, Nixon (John Cusack) visits the butlersí quarters to announce his upcoming candidacy as president in campaign against J. F. Kennedy. He appears insensitive, asks for votes and leaves his campaign buttons as gifts to his black underlings.


A perceived image of Nixon as the father of black capitalism is given a back hand slap with the notion that he has ordered the killings of Black Panther party members.


A coded mentioning of the policy of ďbenign neglectĒ for black concerns is made to sink Nixon further, without explanation for the real intention of the policy.


Nancy Reagan (Jane Fonda) invites Cecil Gains (Forest Whitaker) and his wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) as guests to official diner at the White House. The invitation is cynically portrayed as hugely symbolic patronage of a simple black man.


The heartbreaks of the Gaines happen under Nixon and Reagan - the loss of their youngest son (Michael) to the Vietnam War and the separation of the elder son (Louis) from home and parents.


Historically, Nixon worked to end the Vietnam War, a war started under Kennedy, and widened by Johnson.


Lee Danielís The Butlerís movie starts on a plantation. A depraved white man rapes Gainesí mother. The young Gaines pushes his father to protest. He does and the father is shot point blank on the forehead.


As consolation for the death of his father, the grand old lady of the plantation (Vanessa Redgrave) moves young Gaines from the field to the house. Ironically, the skill he learns in the house is to take him all the way to the White House.
A metaphor for some blacks and their gains? Perhaps.


In the telling of the biography of Cecil Gaines, moments in history intrude such as some key events from the civil rights movement.


Gaines, after all, is in the White House where many political issues come for solutions.


He has seen the worse of plantation life as a kid. His eyes have known racist evils in the South but none of the names of the segregationists there, mostly Southern Democrats, is mentioned. Senators Lester Maddox, William Fulbright and Wallace are whitewashed out of the story.


Meanwhile the subtle codification of Republicans as vile racists continues on screen.


The caricatured Nixon in real life was no angel. But neither was Johnson or Kennedy on racial matters.


Johnsonís Civil Rights Act of 1963/4 becomes the seminal point in the telling of the Gaines' story.


About that same time in history, Martin Luther King, Jr., had already been wire tapped by the FBI, at the behest of Robert Kennedy; a fact well known but never mentioned in the movie, less it sullies the liberal image of the Kennedys.


But more important, another watershed moment, the signing of the Civil Rights Bill of 1957, is ignored.


The 1957 bill, the first significant legislative act of that era, was presented to Congress by President Eisenhower and his vice Nixon, with Martinís cooperation in the drafting, only to be weakened by Democrat opposition in Congress.


Senators Fulbright, Richard Russell, Strom Thurman, Gore, Sr., all Democrats, were star opponents of the 1957 and 1964 Civil Rights bills. President Johnson, at the signing in 1964, reserved the phrase ďoverwhelming supportĒ for Republican senators only.


The butler Gaines must have heard about the 1957 bill. If he didnít, how inconvenient.


In the movie, Nixon goes to beg for votes in his presence and confides his worries about Watergate to him but canít bring himself to tell him about his triumphs - his historic trip to Ghana that year?  The butlers in the White House must be oblivious to current world news!


Nixon and Martin Luther King, Jr., went to Ghana in 1957 as state guests to witness the founding of the new nation, the first black African nation to be free.
Providentially, it was in Ghana that Nixon invited Martin to the Eisenhower White House to discuss race matters. This led to the drafting of the 1957 Civil Rights bill.


The movie is silent on this providential moment. Did Martin visit the White House under Eisenhower and Nixon?


Replace Nixon with a Kennedy and the movie would have gotten Gaines to declare the same occasion as an act of God, at least to Gloria, his wife who was always curious to know how many shoes Jackie Kennedy had!


The real Cecil Gaines must have known about the Martin visit. Unfortunately, Nixon reputation as Republican got in the way.


Some might say shucks, it is just a movie. The Weinsteins and the Civil Rights industry might say itís not just that. Itís a necessity.

E. Ablorh-Odjidja, publisher, www.ghanadot.com, Washington, DC, September 03, 2013
Permission to publish: Please feel free to publish or reproduce, with credits, unedited. If posted at a website, email a copy of the web page to publisher@ghanadot.com . Or don't publish at all.


 

 

 

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