The Butler

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The Butler
The Butler poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLee Daniels
Produced byPamela Oas Williams
Laura Ziskin
Lee Daniels
Buddy Patrick
Cassian Elwes
Written byDanny Strong
Based on"A Butler Well Served by This Election" 
by Wil Haygood
StarringForest Whitaker
Oprah Winfrey
Music byRodrigo Leão
CinematographyAndrew Dunn
Editing byJoe Klotz
StudioLaura Ziskin Productions
Windy Hill Pictures
Follow Through Productions
Salamander Pictures
Pam Williams Productions
Distributed byThe Weinstein Company
Release dates
  • August 16, 2013 (2013-08-16)
Running time132 minutes[1][2]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$30 million[2][3]
Box office$161,875,188[2]
 
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The Butler
The Butler poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLee Daniels
Produced byPamela Oas Williams
Laura Ziskin
Lee Daniels
Buddy Patrick
Cassian Elwes
Written byDanny Strong
Based on"A Butler Well Served by This Election" 
by Wil Haygood
StarringForest Whitaker
Oprah Winfrey
Music byRodrigo Leão
CinematographyAndrew Dunn
Editing byJoe Klotz
StudioLaura Ziskin Productions
Windy Hill Pictures
Follow Through Productions
Salamander Pictures
Pam Williams Productions
Distributed byThe Weinstein Company
Release dates
  • August 16, 2013 (2013-08-16)
Running time132 minutes[1][2]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$30 million[2][3]
Box office$161,875,188[2]

The Butler (full title Lee Daniels' The Butler)[4][5] is a 2013 American historical fiction drama film directed by Lee Daniels and written by Danny Strong.[6] Loosely based on the real life of Eugene Allen, the film stars Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, an African-American who eyewitnesses notable events of the 20th century during his 34-year tenure serving as a White House butler.[7][8] It was the last film produced by Laura Ziskin,[9][10] who died in 2011.

The film was theatrically released by The Weinstein Company on August 16, 2013, to mostly positive reviews[11][12] and was a box office hit, grossing over $161 million worldwide against a budget of $30 million.[13]

Plot[edit]

The film begins in 2008, where an elderly Cecil Gaines recounts his life story, while waiting in the White House. Gaines was raised on a cotton plantation in the 1920s Macon, Georgia, by his sharecropping parents. One day, the farm's temperamental owner, Thomas Westfall, rapes Cecil's mother, Hattie Pearl. Cecil's father, Earl, confronts Westfall, and is shot dead. Cecil is taken in by Annabeth Westfall, the estate's caretaker, who reassigns Cecil to being a house servant instead. In his teens, he leaves behind the Westfall plantation and his mother, who has been mute since the incident. One night, Cecil breaks into a pastry shop inside a hotel and is, unexpectedly, hired by the owners. While working in the hotel, he acquires skills from the master servant, Maynard. After several years, Maynard recommends Cecil for a position in a Washington D.C. hotel which Cecil accepts. While working at the D.C. hotel, Cecil meets Gloria, and the couple have two children: Louis and Charlie. In 1957, Cecil is hired by the White House during Dwight D. Eisenhower's administration, where White House maître d' Freddie Fallows shows Cecil the grounds and introduces him to head butler Carter Wilson and co-worker James Holloway. Working in the White House, Cecil witnesses first hand Eisenhower's reluctance to use troops to enforce school desegregation in the South, then the President's resolve to uphold the law by ordering to racially integrate a high school in Little Rock.

The Gaines family celebrates Cecil's new occupation with their closest friends and neighbors, Howard and Gina. Louis, the eldest son, becomes a first generation university student at Fisk University in Tennessee. Cecil is hesitant about this because he thinks the South is too volatile and encourages Louis to enroll at Howard University. Louis joins a student program led by James Lawson, to peacefully engage in a sit-in at a segregated diner and is arrested. Furious, Cecil heads to Nashville where he confronts Louis for disobeying him. Gloria, suffering from her husband's long working hours, becomes an alcoholic and engages in an affair with the Gaineses' neighbor, Howard.

In 1961, after John F. Kennedy's election, Louis and a dozen others are attacked by the Ku Klux Klan while traveling on a bus in Alabama. Kennedy, spurred by the nation's growing turbulence, delivers a national address proposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Several months after the speech, Kennedy is assassinated and his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, enacts the transformative legislation into law. As a goodwill gesture, Jackie Kennedy presents Cecil with one of the former president's neckties before she leaves the White House.

In the late 1960s, after civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination, Louis returns home and tells his family that he and a few others have founded a chapter of the radical organization called the Black Panthers. Aware of Richard Nixon's plans to suppress the movement and upset at his son's actions, Cecil orders Louis and his girlfriend, Carol, to leave his house. Louis is soon arrested and is bailed out by Carter Wilson. The Gaineses' other son, Charlie, confides to Louis that he plans to join the Army in the war in Vietnam, to which Louis announces that he wouldn't attend his funeral if he were to be killed. Indeed, a few months later, the Gaines family hold a funeral for Charlie, which Louis does not attend, much to the dismay of his enraged father. However, when the Black Panthers begin to exercise violence in response to racial confrontations, Louis leaves the organization and returns to college, earning his master's degree in political science and eventually winning a seat in Congress.

Meanwhile, Cecil's professional reputation has grown to the point that in the 1980s, he is invited by Ronald and Nancy Reagan as a guest to a state dinner. Cecil realizes that the invitation was just for show, as Reagan plans to veto any Congressional sanctions against South Africa. Cecil announces his resignation to the President, but not before gaining Reagan's support in his years-long effort to have the black White House staff receive the same rate of salary and opportunities for career advancement as their white counterparts.

Gloria, wanting Cecil to mend his estranged relationship with Louis, reveals to him that Louis once told her that he loved and respected them both. Realizing his son's actions to be heroic rather than antagonistic, Cecil joins Louis in a protest against South African apartheid.

The film then advances to Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, where an elderly Gloria dies shortly before Obama is elected as the nation's first African-American president, a milestone which leaves Cecil and Louis in awe. The film ends with Cecil preparing to meet the inaugurated president in the White House.

Cast[edit]

Gaines' private life
White House co-workers
White House historical figures
Civil rights historical figures

Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Barack Obama and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson are depicted in archival footage.[21][22]

Melissa Leo and Orlando Eric Street were cast as First Lady Mamie Eisenhower and Barack Obama, respectively, but did not appear in the finished film.[6][23][24][25]

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

Danny Strong's screenplay is inspired by a The Washington Post article "A Butler Well Served by This Election".[12][26][27] The project received initial backing in early 2011, when producers Laura Ziskin and Pam Williams approached Sheila Johnson for help in financing the film. After reading Danny Strong's screenplay, Johnson pitched in her own $2.7 million before getting in several African-American investors. However, Ziskin died from cancer in June 2011. This left director Daniels and producing partner Hilary Shor to look for further producers on their own. They started with Cassian Elwes, with whom they were working on The Paperboy. Elwes joined the list of producers, and started raising funding for the film. In spring 2012, Icon U.K., a British financing and production company, added a $6 million guarantee against foreign presales. Finally the film raised its needed $30 million budget through 41 producers and executive producers, including Earl W. Stafford, Harry I. Martin Jr., Brett Johnson, Michael Finley, and Buddy Patrick. Thereafter,as film production started Weinstein Co. picked up U.S. distribution rights for the film. David Glasser, Weinstein Co. COO, called fund raising as an independent film, "a story that's a movie within itself."[3][28]

The Weinstein Company acquired the distribution rights for the film after Columbia Pictures put the film in turnaround.[29][30]

The film's title was up for a possible rename due to a Motion Picture Association of America claim from Warner Bros., which had inherited from the defunct Lubin Company a now-lost 1916 silent short film with the same name.[9][31] The case was subsequently resolved with the MPAA granting the Weinstein Company permission to add Daniels' name in front of the title, under the condition that his name was "75% the size of The Butler".[32] On July 23, 2013, the distributor unveiled a revised poster, displaying the title as Lee Daniels' The Butler.[33]

Filming[edit]

Principal photography started in late July 2012, in New Orleans. Production was originally scheduled to wrap in early September 2012, but was delayed by the impact of Hurricane Isaac (2012).[34]

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

The Butler received mostly positive reviews from critics, with a 73% "Fresh" rating on the film critic aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, based on 162 reviews. The site's consensus says, "Gut-wrenching and emotionally affecting, Lee Daniels' The Butler overcomes an uneven narrative thanks to strong performances from an all-star cast."[35] Another review aggregator, Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 top reviews from mainstream critics, calculated a score of 66 based on 47 reviews, indicating "generally positive reviews".[36]

Todd McCarthy praised the film saying, "Even with all contrivances and obvious point-making and familiar historical signposting, Daniels' The Butler is always engaging, often entertaining and certainly never dull."[37] Richard Roeper lauded the film's casting in particular, remarking that "Forest Whitaker gives the performance of his career".[38] Rolling Stone also spoke highly of Whitaker writing that his "reflective, powerfully understated performance...fills this flawed film with potency and purpose."[21] Variety wrote that "Daniels develops a strong sense of the inner complexities and contradictions of the civil-rights landscape."[39] USA Today gave the film three out of four stars and noted that "It's inspiring and filled with fine performances, but the insistently swelling musical score and melodramatic moments seem calculated and undercut a powerful story."[40]

Kenneth Turan of The Los Angeles Times was more negative; "An ambitious and overdue attempt to create a Hollywood-style epic around the experience of black Americans in general and the civil rights movement in particular, it undercuts itself by hitting its points squarely on the nose with a 9-pound hammer."[41] Several critics compared the film's historical anecdotes and sentimentality to Forrest Gump.[42][43][44][45]

President Barack Obama said, "I teared up thinking about not just the butlers who worked here in the White House, but an entire generation of people who were talented and skilled. But because of Jim Crow and because of discrimination, there was only so far they could go."[46]

Box office[edit]

In its opening weekend, the film debuted in first place with $24.6 million.[47][48] The film topped the North American box office in its first three consecutive weeks.[49][50] The film has grossed $115,587,000 in the United States and $40,272,638 elsewhere, for a total of $155,859,638.[2]

Accolades[edit]

Awards
AwardCategoryRecipients and nomineesResult
Hollywood Film AwardsBest DirectorLee DanielsWon
SpotlightDavid OyelowoWon
Critics Choice AwardsBroadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting ActressOprah WinfreyPending
Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best CastMariah Carey, John Cusack, Jane Fonda, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Lenny Kravitz, James Marsden, David Oyelowo, Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Redgrave, Alan Rickman, Liev Schreiber, Forest Whitaker, Robin Williams, and Oprah WinfreyPending
Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best MakeupPending
People's Choice AwardsFavorite Dramatic MoviePending
Favorite Dramatic Movie ActressOprah WinfreyPending
Phoenix Film Critics SocietyBest Actress in a Supporting RoleOprah WinfreyPending
Screen Actors Guild AwardOutstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion PictureMariah Carey, John Cusack, Jane Fonda, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Lenny Kravitz, James Marsden, David Oyelowo, Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Redgrave, Alan Rickman, Liev Schreiber, Forest Whitaker, Robin Williams, and Oprah WinfreyPending
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading RoleForest WhitakerPending
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting RoleOprah WinfreyPending
Satellite AwardsBest Actor in a Motion PictureForest WhitakerPending
Best Actress in Supporting RoleOprah WinfreyPending
Best Art Direction & Production DesignDiane Lederman, Tim GalvinPending

Departures from the facts of Allen's life[edit]

Regarding historical accuracy, Eliana Dockterman wrote in Time: "Allen was born on a Virginia plantation in 1919, not in Georgia.... In the movie, Cecil Gaines grows up on a cotton field in Macon, Ga., where his family comes into conflict with the white farmers for whom they work. What befalls his parents on the cotton field was added for dramatic effect.... Though tension between father and son over civil rights issues fuels most of the drama in the film, [Eugene Allen's son] Charles Allen was not the radical political activist that Gaines's son is in the movie."[51]

Particular criticism has been directed at the film's accuracy in portraying President Ronald Reagan. While actor Alan Rickman's performance generated positive reviews, the screenwriters of the film have been criticized for depicting Reagan as indifferent to civil rights and his reluctance to associate with the White House's black employees during his presidency. According to Michael Reagan, the former president's son, "The real story of the White House butler doesn't imply racism at all. It's simply Hollywood liberals wanting to believe something about my father that was never there."[52][53][54] Paul Kengor, one of President Reagan's biographers, also attacked the film, saying, "I've talked to many White House staff, cooks, housekeepers, doctors, and Secret Service over the years. They are universal in their love of Ronald Reagan." In regard to the president's initial opposition to sanctions against apartheid in South Africa, Kengor said, “Ronald Reagan was appalled by apartheid, but also wanted to ensure that if the apartheid regime collapsed in South Africa that it wasn't replaced by a Marxist-totalitarian regime allied with Moscow and Cuba that would take the South African people down the same road as Ethiopia, Mozambique, and, yes, Cuba. In the immediate years before Reagan became president, 11 countries from the Third World, from Asia to Africa to Latin America, went Communist. It was devastating. If the film refuses to deal with this issue with the necessary balance, it shouldn't deal with it at all."[55]

Conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro wrote: "There is no question that the film itself is full of historical inaccuracies. The Butler has virtually nothing in common with its source material, the life of White House butler Gene Allen, except for the fact that the main character of the film and Allen were both black butlers in the White House. The film's title character, Cecil Gaines, sees his father murdered and his mother raped by a white landowner; that never happened to Allen. The movie's title character has two children, one who goes to the Vietnam War, the other who becomes a Civil Rights pioneer; Allen actually had only one son."[56]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "THE BUTLER (12A)". Entertainment Film Distributors. British Board of Film Classification. October 15, 2013. Retrieved October 15, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 22, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b "Why 'Lee Daniels' The Butler' Has 41 Producers". Hollywood Reporter. August 14, 2013. Retrieved August 15, 2013. 
  4. ^ Lee, Chris (July 20, 2013). "MPAA permits Weinstein Co. to use 'Lee Daniels' 'The Butler' title". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 2, 2013. 
  5. ^ McNary, Dave (July 23, 2013). "'Lee Daniels' The Butler' Gets First Posters Following MPAA Ruling". Variety. Retrieved September 2, 2013. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Nordyke, Kimberly (May 7, 2013). "'The Butler' Trailer: Oprah Winfrey Plays 'Proud' Wife to Forest Whitaker (Video)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved May 10, 2013. 
  7. ^ Child, Ben (May 9, 2013). "The Butler trailer: Oprah Winfrey in the White House". The Guardian (London). Retrieved May 10, 2013. 
  8. ^ Roberts, Roxanne; Amy Argetsinger (May 8, 2013). "Trailer for 'The Butler,' based on life of the White House's Eugene Allen". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 10, 2013. 
  9. ^ a b Fleming, Mike, Jr. (July 6, 2013). "UPDATE: David Boies Charges Extortion As He Returns Fire In 'The Butler' Spat Between Warner Bros And The Weinstein Company". Deadline.com. Retrieved July 27, 2013. 
  10. ^ Rosen, Christopher (May 9, 2013). "'The Butler' Trailer: Lee Daniels' 'Forrest Gump'". The Huffington Post. Retrieved May 10, 2013. 
  11. ^ Williamson, Caroline (July 20, 2013). "The Butler to be re-titled – but only slightly – following dispute over name". Metro. Retrieved August 6, 2013. 
  12. ^ a b Feinberg, Scott (August 17, 2013). "'The Butler' Builds Oscar Credentials With Strong Critical, Commercial Debut (Analysis)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 19, 2013. 
  13. ^ http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=butler.htm
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h Scott, A.O. (August 15, 2013). "Black Man, White House, and History". The New York Times. Retrieved August 17, 2013. 
  15. ^ "Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013)". All Media Guide via The New York Times. Retrieved August 8, 2013. 
  16. ^ a b c d e f g "Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013)". The New York Times. Retrieved August 17, 2013. 
  17. ^ a b c Johnson, Terence. "Awards Profile: The Butler". Awards Circuit. Retrieved May 12, 2013. 
  18. ^ a b c d e f g Labrecque, Jeff (May 8, 2013). "'The Butler': The new trailer showcases Oscar-winning actors tackling history – VIDEO". PopWatch (column) (Entertainment Weekly). Retrieved May 10, 2013. 
  19. ^ Ingram, Bruce (August 16, 2013). "Fame comes second for Evanston actor starring in 'The Butler'". Sun-Times Media. Retrieved August 17, 2013. 
  20. ^ Wirt, John (August 16, 2013). "N.O. native Walker joins The Butler cast". The Advocate. Retrieved August 17, 2013. 
  21. ^ a b Travers, Peter (August 15, 2013). "Lee Daniels' The Butler". Rolling Stone. Retrieved August 16, 2013. 
  22. ^ Makarechi, Kia (August 1, 2013). "'Lee Daniels' The Butler' Celebrated By Oprah, Forest Whitaker, Gayle King & More In New York". The Huffington Post. Retrieved August 19, 2013. 
  23. ^ Williams, Kam (August 15, 2013). "Two-time Oscar-nominee talks about his latest film Lee Daniels' 'The Butler'". The Bay State Banner. Retrieved August 19, 2013. 
  24. ^ Child, Ben (July 4, 2013). "Lee Daniels pleads with Warner Bros to retain title of The Butler". The Guardian. Retrieved August 19, 2013. 
  25. ^ "'The Butler' Poster: Lee Daniels' New Film Fits Massive Cast List On New One-Sheet". The Huffington Post. June 3, 2013. Retrieved August 19, 2013. 
  26. ^ Haygood, Wil (November 7, 2008). "A Butler Well Served by This Election". The Washington Post. 
  27. ^ "No, President Obama isn't doing a cameo in 'The Butler'". The Washington Post. August 6, 2013. Retrieved August 8, 2013. 
  28. ^ "Lee Daniels' The Butler: The film with FORTY ONE producers: How a host of stars and entrepreneurs raised $30m to fund The Butler". Daily Mail. August 15, 2013. Retrieved August 15, 2013. 
  29. ^ Brevet, Brad (September 24, 2012). "New Look at 'The Butler' as the Weinstein Co. Picks It Up for Distribution". Ropes of Silicon. Retrieved May 10, 2013. 
  30. ^ Kit, Borys (November 19, 2008). "Columbia tells White House butler story". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved May 10, 2013. 
  31. ^ Johnson, Ted (July 9, 2013). "Harvey Weinstein Has Already Won 'The Butler' Battle (Opinion)". Variety. Retrieved July 10, 2013. 
  32. ^ "TOLDJA! Weinstein Co. Can Title Its Movie 'Lee Daniels' The Butler', If It Wants". Deadline.com. July 19, 2013. Retrieved July 23, 2013. 
  33. ^ The Deadline Team (July 23, 2013). "Weinstein Co Unveils New Poster For 'Lee Daniels' The Butler' To Comply With MPAA". Deadline.com. Retrieved July 23, 2013. 
  34. ^ Scott, Mike (August 27, 2012). "Tropical Storm Isaac chases 'The Butler' away, as film suspends production". The Times-Picayune. 
  35. ^ "Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013)". Rotten Tomatoes. August 16, 2013. Retrieved August 16, 2013. 
  36. ^ "Lee Daniels' The Butler". Metacritic. Retrieved August 16, 2013. 
  37. ^ McCarthy, Todd (August 9, 2013). "Lee Daniels' The Butler: Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 16, 2013. 
  38. ^ Roeper, Richard. "Lee Daniels' The Butler". Richard Roeper & The Movies. Retrieved August 16, 2013. 
  39. ^ Foundas, Scott (August 8, 2013). "Film Review: 'Lee Daniels' The Butler'". Variety. Retrieved August 16, 2013. 
  40. ^ Puig, Claudia (August 15, 2013). "'The Butler' is mannered and moving". USA Today. Retrieved August 16, 2013. 
  41. ^ Turan, Kenneth (August 15, 2013). "Review: 'Lee Daniels' The Butler' significant but often contrived". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 16, 2013. 
  42. ^ Anderson, John (August 15, 2013). "'Lee Daniels' The Butler' movie review". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 16, 2013. 
  43. ^ Rodriguez, Rene (August 15, 2013). "'Lee Daniels' The Butler' (PG-13)". Miami Herald. Retrieved August 16, 2013. 
  44. ^ Williams, Joe (August 15, 2013). "Forest Whitaker shines as 'The Butler'". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved August 16, 2013. 
  45. ^ Burr, Ty (August 15, 2013). "'The Butler' examines civil rights history from a new perspective". The Boston Globe. Retrieved August 16, 2013. 
  46. ^ Child, Ben (August 28, 2013). "Barack Obama 'teared up' watching Oscar-tipped drama The Butler". The Guardian. 
  47. ^ Kilday, Gregg (August 18, 2013). "Box Office Report: 'The Butler' Tops the Field With $25 Million". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 19, 2013. 
  48. ^ Mendelson, Scott (August 18, 2013). "Weekend Box Office: 'The Butler' Opens To $25m, 'Kick-Ass 2', 'Jobs', And 'Paranoia' Crash". Forbes. Retrieved August 19, 2013. 
  49. ^ Cunningham, Todd (September 2, 2013). "Oprah Winfrey's 'The Butler' Powers Past 'One Direction' for 3rd Straight Box-Office Win". The Wrap. Retrieved September 2, 2013. 
  50. ^ McClintock, Pamela (August 25, 2013). "Box Office Report: 'The Butler' Wins Again With $17 Million, Crosses $50 Million". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 26, 2013. 
  51. ^ Dockterman, Eliana (August 16, 2013). "The True Story of The Butler: Fact vs. Fiction in Lee Daniels' The Butler". Time. 
  52. ^ Bond, Paul (August 26, 2013). "President Reagan's Son Attacks 'Lee Daniels' The Butler'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 28, 2013. 
  53. ^ "The Butler falsely portrays Ronald Reagan as racist, says son". The Guardian. August 29, 2013. Retrieved September 1, 2013. 
  54. ^ Reagan, Michael (August 27, 2013). "The Butler from Another Planet". Newsmax. Retrieved December 25, 2013. 
  55. ^ "Lee Daniels' 'The Butler': Reagan Biographers Slam President's Portrayal". Hollywood Reporter.com. August 16, 2013. Retrieved September 1, 2013. 
  56. ^ Shapiro, Ben (August 18, 2013). "'The Butler' Filled with Historical Inaccuracies, Finishes #1". Breitbart.com. Retrieved August 28, 2013. 

External links[edit]