Recently, Lee Daniels and Forest Whitaker were in Atlanta promoting their new film “The Butler”. After previewing the movie, we were among a privileged few invited to interview Lee and Forest at the luxurious St. Regis hotel in Buckhead to discuss the creative direction of the film as well as the character transformations that make “The Butler” worthy of Oscar gold.
From the beginning of Lee Daniels’ triumphant film, “The Butler: A Witness to History,” there isn’t a dull moment. The raw, emotional, thought provoking but sometimes humorous story was inspired by an article entitled “A Butler Well Served by This Election” penned from the desk of award winning author Wil Haygood of The Washington Post.
The film starts with a portion of a quote by the illustrious Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” Eloquently setting the tone for “The Butler” and wets your appetite for what’s to come.
As you know by now, Oscar winner Forest Whitaker portrays Cecil Gaines, a White House butler, who in real life was actually named Eugene Allen. With the skill and precision that only a seasoned actor can muster, Forest superbly became Cecil Gaines and took us on a 30 year journey serving 8 Presidents. As the butler, Forest’s character, Cecil was privy to monumental political discussions which shaped human rights policies that affect us–even today.
The dynamic Forest Whitaker delivers a captivating performance as only the Academy Award winner can. He successfully draws you into the painful world of segregation and challenges faced by a ‘colored’ butler trying to find balance with his family and working at The White House.
Although, the film depicted challenging times throughout our history, you found yourself laughing. Daniels says humor was a way of survial and needed to be present in the film.
“You know what I learned in my research back to slavery? They [slaves] were telling jokes as they traveled. Humor was the only thing that kept them alive. During the Civil Rights Movement, during those fearful times, humor kept us alive. Humor enabled us to breathe because it was so tense.”
You’ll get a few laughs out of Oprah Winfrey’s performance as she masterfully plays alongside Forest Whitaker as Gloria Gaines, the wife. Hands down, Oprah gives a rousing performance as the sexy, playful, style conscious wife. Oprah’s classy, elegant portrayal was moving and sometimes emotional. She held her own (as she always does) while depicting a smart, sassy housewife hungry for more time with the man she loves, her husband Cecil.
Oprah displays her range of superb acting throughout the film, especially when she steals a scene in particular with her son (Louis Gaines) portrayed by David Oyelowo. Let’s just say that Momma Gaines doesn’t play! Not to mention the hotness Oprah displays as she has some steamy ‘foreplay’ with bad boy Howard, portrayed by Terrence Howard. Terrence is outstanding as the slick and sometimes mean family friend. Howard brings spice to Gloria’s life as she waits for her husband Cecil to come home everyday.
Most of you will remember Nigerian born actor, David Oyelowo, from his role in “Red Tails” as Lt. Joe “Lightning” Little. David is just as captivating and fluid as he transforms himself on the screen before your eyes. He is mesmerizing as Louis Gaines and commands your attention as a Freedom Fighter battling racist Jim Crow laws of the South. Louis and Cecil struggle to to have a father/son relationship as they each tackle the times in their own way.
“The Butler” is packed with historical references that move the film along as it continues to tell the story of Cecil Gaines while he perfects his craft as a butler, faithful husband and dedicated father. Forest accomplishes this by translating a sense of dignity and grace displayed by the real life, Eugene Allen.
From the white gloves to the beautiful tea service, the Soul Train line and Jet magazine, Lee Daniels painstakingly pays attention to every detail. Everything from the music to the hairstyles, the clothes, the interior design and the General Electric televisions is right on point. Even YaYa DaCosta’s character (Carol Hammie) has a hair raising surprise for you that you might miss but you don’t have to if you pay attention. It’s all in the details.
There are scenes which cut to documented events such as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the plight of President Richard Nixon to name a few. There is hard to watch footage of attack dogs, water hoses, white/colored washrooms and the like.
Unfortunately, there are rumblings amongst some who don’t want you to see “The Butler” because the film recounts racist events and truths in our history and are calling for a boycott. Don’t be fooled because those same people have a vested interest in our history being lost and forgotten forever. A return to the old South would please them but we won’t let that happen.
Lee Daniels is a visionary who has led the star studded cast of “The Butler” to Oscar gold! Be prepared for moments in the film that will make your heart beat faster and your pulse race. Take a group and go see it, you will feel a sense of pride when you leave the theater. You will laugh and you will cry but most of all you will want to see it again.
The Butler hits theaters August 16, 2013.