Inspired by the real life story of Eugene Allen, who worked at the White House as a butler for 34 years during eight presidencies, The Butler is a sweeping historical epic from an African-American perspective and a moving multi-generational account of the Civil Rights movement in the US, as seen through the eyes of White House butler Cecil Gains (Forest Whitaker) and his family.
After his father’s death, young Cecil is taken off the cotton fields to work indoors as a house servant where he learns the refined ways of catering to wealthy land owners.
A mixture of Roots (1977) and Forrest Gump (1994), the film does a wonderful job of blending family drama with the African-American experience during the long struggle for justice and equality, showing us the many attitudes and reactions to those landmark events that define the civil rights movement.
Cecil eventually escapes the plantation as a young man to avoid falling victim to his father’s fate and travels north to Washington where his quiet dignity and jovial manner around white folk lands him a job at the White House.
Like Cecil and others from his generation, middle class black Americans embraced the American way of life while suffering under its inequalities and double standards. But his son Louis, and those of the next generation, will not tolerate what they see as the bigotry and oppression by the white ruling society, and actively fight in protest against it.
A rift opens between father and son as Cecil’s activist son, played by David Oyelowo, who was recently seen in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and Lincoln (2012), routinely lands himself in jail from a life of protesting, while steadfast and loyal Cecil must be a silent witness to decisions made in the Oval Office that will affect America and his own family as they struggle with domestic riots and unrest stemming from those policies.
Ultimately, the most fascinating thing about this movie is the honest bitter account of one man’s journey through life as he witnesses the long hard fought rise of his people from slavery and serving the President of the nation, to finally achieving the presidency itself.
As The Butler tries to draw parallels between the segregation of African-Americans in the US with the violent apartheid era in South Africa, taken together with such recent films as The Help (2011), Red Tails (2012), Django Unchained (2012), 42 (2013) and Fruitvale Station (2013), these films are writing new chapters in American black history.
This is a moving tribute worth seeing for its powerful and emotional message giving a new and passionate perspective on race relations in America that has been lacking in mainstream media.