Lee Daniels’ “The Butler” reviewed by Kayla Schorr (’14)


In the typical Civil Rights Movement film, the characters portray the sheer agony that colored people encountered throughout their long fight for freedom. Characters often express extreme radicalism and violence to stand up for their beliefs in this type of film. However, The Butler directed by Lee Daniels took a unique approach.

In the beginning of the movie, we see Cecil Gaines (Michael Rainey, Jr.) as a young child growing up on a cotton farm. Though slavery was illegal in 1917, colored people were still treated with profound scorn and injustice. We see white landowners inflict horrendous acts upon employees, such as murder and rape, which gives the audience a realistic description of the life colored people lived during that time. After the death of his father, Cecil becomes promoted as a house butler. He learns politeness and refinement, traits very different from those of his boss. Because of the prejudice forced upon Cecil, he decides to escape his childhood sorrow and move on to a more pleasant lifestyle. Like any other teenage boy would, Cecil (now age 15 and played by Aml Ameen) resorts to criminal acts in order to survive. Cecil soon seeks employment as a bartender and butler in local restaurants, which lasts him throughout the remainder of his teenage years onto adulthood. Cecil (now an adult and played by Forest Whitaker) soon marries Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) and has two kids, Louis and Charlie. Cecil’s main goal is to raise his children with proper values and supply them with the desirable lifestyle that he was denied. After several years of waiting on various homeowners or businessmen, Cecil is offered a butler position at the White House during the Eisenhower administration. Cecil is forced to grapple with keeping the goings on at the White House in confidence, while witnessing his race recklessly protest for equality. Though Cecil is thankful to fill such an honorable position, he questions his disservice to his race by accepting lower pay than white employees and his inability to help his people by sharing the President’s intent.

The Butler successfully illustrated the many events during the Civil Rights Movement. The portrayal of the Freedom Riders, Ku Klux Klan, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the fight for integration were depicted so clearly, inducing the audience to warrant profound emotional reactions. The material was the perfect balance between raw and flowery, making the further information regarding the plot line utterly addicting. Movies that highlight countless historical events can sometimes seem like a cinematic portrayal of a textbook, yet The Butler triumphantly represented American history with creativity and glory.