My husband and I went to movie night on $5 Tuesdays here in Portland. We finally got to see the much acclaimed The Butler. Of course, I would probably see anything with Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding, Jr, Alan Rickman, Jane Fonda, and Vanessa Redgrave. This all-star cast did not let anyone down. While all of them give fantastic performances, I have to say that Whitaker and Winfrey give nothing less than Academy Award winning performances. Some may remember that Whitaker earned an Academy Award for his stellar performance in the Last King of Scotland. However, sadly Winfrey was robbed of an academy award for her stellar performance as Sofia in one of my favorite movies of all time, The Color Purple.
The Butler does a marvelous job of weaving threads of fiction and non-fiction to create a compelling story of one man’s awakening to the realization that the personal is political against a backdrop of our nations’ ugly history around race. If only race relations could be relegated to the past, but they cannot be yet — we still have so far to go. Everything we do and in every way we live our lives, we are making a political statement.
The movie does a phenomenal job capturing the series of presidents under which Cecil Gains (Forest Whitaker) serves. While LBJ was not someone I would want to my house for dinner, he was a great president and one of his greatest legacies was the Voting Rights Act of 1964, which has now been gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court. Sadly, the movie also exposes the great flaws of the Reagans and how Reagan’s stand on apartheid put him on the wrong side of history. Fonda does an amazing job of portraying Nancy Reagan.
I loved that the movie delved into the Freedom Riders and the need for the Black Panther movement. However, I was sad that Bayard Rustin was not mentioned at all. I am glad to see that both Rustin and Winfrey will be receiving awards later this year.
Winfrey is just as amazing in The Butler as she was in The Color Purple. Her character, Gloria, is a complex alcoholic grappling with a husband working as a subversive — albeit he does not know his job is in and of itself subversive — and losing a son to the Vietnam War. (Another waste of human lives for a war that should never have been.)
Just to prove how much we need this movie, a theater in Kentucky has refused to screen The Butler. So much for freedom of speech. My esteem (while already quite low because of Rand Paul) just dropped even further.
We were glued to our seats during the entire movie and I so hope most people in the United States see this movie. The Civil Rights Movement is not over–we still have a long way to go and we still so desperately need people like John Lewis. Let me know what you think of the movie.