I have looked forward for almost a year to seeing this film and it finally became available to me recently. I admittedly knew little about the details of the plot but had certainly been caught up in the hype surrounding the movie – the true story of a butler who served in the White House through eight consecutive Administrations. Almost hard to imagine and certainly intriguing to ponder what that life was like and all the history making events he would be somewhat privy to be a part.
Bottom line… In the end I was very disappointed in the film. So much so that it has taken me over two weeks, off and on, to gather my thoughts into the manner I wanted to present them. Again, I don’t know what I expected from the film but I didn’t expect to see ground which had already been plowed up time and time again in numerous other good films be subjected to another plowing and made part of an almost completely fictional plot.
You say you thought it was based on a true story? To say the film is based on a true story would be better stated a saying loosely based on a true story and even that is a bit of a stretch in my opinion. There are certainly a lot of true events related to in the film but unfortunately they are presented within the confines of a fictional plot for the most part.
“The Butler” is a screen play written by Danny Strong which is actually based on an article that appeared in The Washington Post titled “A Butler Well Served by This Election” back in 2008. The article was written by Wil Haygood, a Washington Post staff writer and can be read ‘here’. As noted in the article, the actual name of the man portrayed in the film by actor Forest Whitaker as ‘the butler’ is Eugene Allen.
Lee Daniels, an African-American, was the Director of the film. The performances by the actors in the film were outstanding, especially those of Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey. That unfortunately is about all the accolades I can spare for this film. It was entertaining but when a little ‘after the fact’ research was done about the film, I came away feeling as though I had been duped.
Forest Whitaker & Oprah Winfrey
The film’s eye-opening beginning takes place in a cotton field supposedly somewhere in Georgia and the white landowner comes into the field where the family is working alongside other workers. Our main character who as at the time a small boy along with his father watches as the landowner takes his mother to a small shanty nearby and rapes her. Then as he is leaving the father says something to the landowner who then stops, takes out a gun and kills the father, then casually walks off. The intent of the film of course was to show the absolute lack of worth a black man’s life had in those times but as to it factual basis as relates to the life of the film’s main character, it is completely fictional and never happened.
Eugene Allen and his wife had a son and a daughter. In the film they are portrayed as having two sons, one younger son with a demeanor similar to his fathers and an older son who is portrayed as a civil rights activist. The younger son serves in Vietnam and is killed which is completely fictional. Eugene’s real son, Charles Allen, did serve in Vietnam but was honorably discharged and returned to civilian life where he worked as an investigator for the State Department. Charles Allen was never the radical civil rights activist portrayed in the film.
In the film his older son is portrayed as a black activist during the civil rights movement as a backdrop to his position as head butler in the White House. His son is portrayed as participating in every major civil rights event from the Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-in to joining the Black Panthers while his father, the butler, takes a more passive stance given his position in the White House. It is this tension between the father and son over civil rights issues that fuel the majority of the drama in the film.
To put it quite simply, the film for me would have been a much more enjoyable experience overall if it had simply been produced as a fictional drama and not passed off to the public for something it wasn’t.
In closing, as I have often stated with regard to my reviews… they are my reviews and my personal take on the films I review as I see it. It is not my purpose to encourage or dissuade anyone else with regard to viewing the films.