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The Butler features Civil Rights evolution

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I wanted to share a review of the movie The Butler, released just last week on DVD. I simply don’t understand how a mediocre movie like “American Hustle” can get nominated for Golden Globe and Academy awards when powerful movies like “The Butler” are completely overlooked.

Movie Title: The Butler

Grade: A

In a Nutshell: Packed full of awesome star power, The Butler is a sobering look at U.S. history and the evolution of black Civil Rights. “The Butler” begins with the quote “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” “Light” has long been a symbol representing knowledge, truth, and understanding.

Lee Daniel’s gripping movie begins in 1926 Macon, Georgia where slavery was outlawed, yet still practiced culturally in the south. “The only thing I ever knew was cotton” are the first words you hear from Cecil Gaines, a black man whose family worked on a plantation and destroyed by the bigoted, evil property owner. Cecil’s journey takes him to the White House to serve as a butler and experience first-hand the political changes that affected a family and a nation.

For those unfamiliar with black history in this country, this “crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice” is shown in a Forest Gump-like overview through significant milestones in Civil Rights, such as: the Executive Order in Little Rock, 1960’s Fisk University, Freedom Writers, 1965 Malcolm X speaking tour, Bloody Sunday, Vietnam, the Black Panther movement in the 1960’s, and on up through President Obama. You hear the “N” word used a lot, a word defined in the film as a “white man’s word filled with hate.”

Uplifting theme: There are many uplifting themes throughout the movie that should spark interesting conversations about equal rights at your dinner table. It was fascinating to watch father and son approach their desire for equality and respect in different ways: one with dignity and patience, the other with reckless passion. The screen shows the words “This film is dedicated to the men and women who fought for freedom in the Civil Rights movement.” Thankfully, the movie points out that the group includes both white and black patriots. It’s hard to believe that only a few decades ago, black Americans were not allowed to drink out of the same drinking fountain as Caucasians. While our society still has a long way to go in regards to racism, we have come far.

Things I liked:
• I thought the White House dinner scene was extremely powerful, combining it with scenes from the famous Woolworth restaurant scene. Many of the film’s montages were very well done.
• I love Robin Williams in everything. He plays President Eisenhower in this movie. Cecil serves eight presidents during his tenure as a butler.
• I love Alan Rickman in anything. He was a delightful Reagan.
• I also adore James Marsden and thought he was perfect as John F. Kennedy. I appreciate it when actors actually try to use the correct accent when playing the role of a real person in history.
• I loved seeing real TV clips from history as the movie progressed through significant times in our country’s history.
• The beginning and end of the movie both show an old man sitting in a chair in the White House. I love it when movies take you in full circle.

Things I didn’t like:
• Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey and many of the film’s actors did an excellent job, yet were left out of Golden Globe and Oscar nominations.
• I thought it was actually offensive to see Jane Fonda playing Nancy Reagan. Casting her in any political role is sure to spark controversy.
• Because there was so much history to cover in a short amount of time (although the movie is 2 hours 12 minutes long), some scenes seemed a bit rushed and superficial.

Funny lines:
• “We have no tolerance for politics here at the White House.” - Maynard at the job interview. The audience I sat in howled with laughter.
• John F. Kennedy says “I’ll be looking forward to working with you the next four years.” Jacqueline Kennedy quickly corrects “Eight years.”

Inspiring lines:
• Referring to the White House, Gloria Gaines says “I don’t care what goes on in that house. I care what goes on in this house.”
• “A hero is one who fights to save the soul of our country.” - Louis
• “Americans always turn a blind eye to our won. We look out to the world and judge. We hear about the concentration camps, but these camps went on for 200 years in America.” - Cecil Gaines

Tips for parents: I thought it was interesting that the only F-bomb in the movie was spoken by the white Vice President of the United States. There is some profanity, infidelity, lots of racism, and violence. Not a movie for young children, but older teens may be introduced to some history that they never learned about in school.

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