The Butler: The Personal is Political

23 Aug

OPRAH WINFREY and FOREST WHITAKER star in THE BUTLER 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.

8 Responses to “The Butler: The Personal is Political”

  1. Central Oregon Coast NOW August 23, 2013 at 8:05 am #

    Reblogged this on Central Oregon Coast NOW.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt August 23, 2013 at 8:06 am #

      Nancy, thank you for reblogging this article. If you have not already seen the movie, I hope you do.

  2. Central Oregon Coast NOW August 23, 2013 at 8:06 am #

    I’m hoping it is now playing at one of our local theaters and see it in the next couple of days. It sounds wonderful!

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt August 23, 2013 at 8:10 am #

      Nancy, if you get to see it soon, let me know what you think? I think it does an amazing job of addressing the past and current racial tensions in the United States. My fear is that it will be blocked from the Academy Awards as The Color Purple was.

  3. le artiste boots August 23, 2013 at 10:06 am #

    Thanks for the Butler review and your tie-in with today. We need clear voices like yours.

    I met Bayard Rustin at a Student YM-YW conference where he was one of the staff. It was pre-Civil Rights movement as Martin Luther King and I were still in college or had just graduated.

    My long term friend knew him better and understood his thinking far better than I did at my meeting. Either he was ahead of his time or I was trying to find solutions the traditional way of blending. Hard to know. Keep your explanation going so we can give him the credit.


    Sent from my iPad

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt August 23, 2013 at 10:09 am #

      Bettye, Oh my goodness!!! I am so envious that you got to meet Bayard Rustin. My hope is the movie will encourage deeper and respectful conversations around race and encourage people to learn how we can all stand in solidarity with targeted populations. On a personal note, I have to say a huge thank you to you, Bettye. Your voice for social justice inspires many of us!

  4. Ruth G. Inniss August 24, 2013 at 1:20 pm #

    You touched on every important subject portrayed in the movie, there but so many topics that can be covered in film without making it too long. I see three Oscar winners, but I know this will not happen. It will be interesting come the night of the Academy Awards.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt August 24, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

      Ruth, thank you for the spot on comment. Yes, we should see three Oscar winners here, but I fear the dominant culture will prevent that from happening. A friend of mine replied to me: “Michael, the movie is just too black.” I contained my frustration and anger and replied: “Are there movies that are too white?”

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