A review of Lee Danielís The
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
E. Ablorh-Odjidja, publisher, www.ghanadot.com, Washington,
DC, September 03, 2013
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