The Forrest Whitaker movie, The Butler was on Showtime the last night and I taped it and watched it in two parts today. I don’t usually do movies here, but I was surprised at how sad it was. The more I watched the more I realized this movie was a good movie but far removed from reality. To say it was “based on a true story” would be akin to saying The Wizard of Oz was a movie based on a tornado in Kansas. Both are good movies but to say they were based on a true story would be a stretch.
Also, can we talk about Oprah’s role? I didn’t think she was very good at all and I love Oprah. She was oddly better in the scenes later in the movie than in the earlier parts, but maybe because I watched How To Get Away With Murder earlier today, I kept thinking that Viola Davis would have been perfect in the role.
Anyway, the book was based on a Washington Post article, not a book. Pretty much everything was made up. They changed the name of the real butler, I suppose to avoid lawsuits from the family.
It was all overly dramatic and sad. But still I would recommend you see it if you are like me and waits for stuff just to show up on cable. Click through for a cut and paste from Wikipedia (consider the source, but still) regarding the truth versus fiction.
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, 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.”
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.” 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.”
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.”
And if you saw the movie, I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments. I love going to movies alone, but this one, I sort of want to talk about.