Today I packed up the entire family including my mother in law and we all treked to the local Regal to see The Butler. The Butler is a story that pays its respect to the countless years of service black domestic servants have provided to America and especially in the White House. Cecil Gaines is a butler in the White House, and this film chronicles is ascension to the White House from his humble and tragic beginnings in the cotton fields of the South. The Butler takes you on an emotional and sometimes funny journey through the life of Cecil Gaines as he views the Civil Rights movment, while working for the most powerful men on the planet, ranging from President Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Reagan. Although many people have expressed over the years that domestic service was beneath and lowered black people, including Ceicil’s son Lewis. Cecil demonstrates that his work is the means for providing a stable environment for his children. As history has shown and some may know, the growing working and middle class of black America grew on the hardworking labor of domestic service. In the film, Martin Luther King makes a powerful statement that resonated with me. He said that domestic servants are not subservient, but subversive in that they fight all the sterotypes that exist about black people. Martin Luther King said domestic servants are trusted, quiet, reserved, dedicated, loyal, hard working, which shows white people that they are worthy of eventual equality. I thought that was one of the most powerful messages I have heard when it came to views on blacks in domestic service.
The Butler also takes us on a journey through the major events of the Civil Rights movement through the actions of Cecil’s son Lewis, who starts off as a lunch counter protester and ends up as a black panther and political activist. It was interesting seeing the reality of the Civil Rights movment through Lewis Gaines as he journeyed through its various forms from non-violence to self defense, but the method used to convey this reminded too much of Forrest Gump.
Regardless, the most powerful aspect of this film is the theme of family. With all of the outside pressures Cecil faces, he is still just a man with a wife and two sons, who struggles to meet their needs like he meets the needs of the President’s he serves. This movie is more about his struggles to be a father to his oldest son who has gone off to develop his own views on life, which contrast starkly with Cecil’s. Its a movie about the difficulties that a husband and wife face when the pressures of racism and work keep you apart. This movie is just about life. I felt connected with Cecil throughout the film as he fought to provide a stable home for his family, while trying to find a way to bond with his wife and sons. This movie has the means of moving you to tears, but it will also fill you with laughs. The Butler is a good movie to see with your loved ones, however, I will caution that this film earns its PG13 rating with strong language, racial language, violence and sexual overtones. Just be aware if you are thinking about bringing little kids to see the movie.