After listening to the events that led up to the death of Trayvon Martin, then witnessing the torturing George Zimmerman trial go on for what seemed like indefinitely, understandably, a segment of the African-American community was opposed to seeing Lee Daniels’ The Butler. I mean, who wants to see an African-American man proudly play a subservient role after that? An innocent boy dies simply because he was profiled and soon after we’re presented with a movie about an infamous Black butler? Honestly, it’s hard not to question whether or not the African-American community is moving forward or taking huge steps back. And aren’t we all fed up with Hollywood romanticizing Black history and only focusing on the most tragic part of Black history? Quentin Tarantino’s Django, starring Jamie Foxx, did a great job at making such a devastating part of Black history approachable and even entertaining, but again, the period movie features African-American slaves and the experiences of slavery serves as the backdrop to the movie. However, after much contemplation, we decided to see the movie, and were pleasantly surprised by its depth.
In fact, The Butler is based on the life events of Eugene Allen who performed as a butler for 34 years and through 8 administrations. Most of the movie is narrated by Cecil Gaines, the character who plays Eugene Allen, as he shares the intricate details of how he “advanced” from being the son of a sharecropper, just learning how to pick cotton, to a highly-esteem butler at the White House. What’s remarkable is that the movie reveals the unfolding of American history from the perspective of an African-American butler, which is not often told. As butler to 8 U.S. presidents you can imagine how much insight Allen must have gained. And interestingly enough, the movie cleverly portrays the most notable stages of Black progress from the onset of the SNCC, to the creation of the Black Panther Party, to the first Black president and how all of these events influenced decisions made in the White House.
Ultimately, the point of the movie is to get viewers to see that there are many ways for African-Americans facing racism in America to date to make progress, and that even the most unsuspecting, and seemingly nonthreatening people, can make a difference toward this ongoing progress. Eugene Allen might have been a butler to 8 U.S. presidents, which to some pro-Blacks in his day would have been an act of extreme conformity. Today, we call it “selling out”. But Allen also used his income to support his family and put his children through college. Equally important, the movie tells the story of Black love and strength of the Black Family. The movie is very inspiring and could easily serve as a much-needed reminder of just how many sacrifices were made so that future generations of African Americans could have more choices and career options.