The Butler is based on the real life story of Cecil Gaines, an African-American who served as a butler in the White House through eight administrations. Cecil, played by Forest Whitaker who always disappears into whatever role he’s inhabiting, here takes on the part of a man whose job is to please by not making his presence felt; as he’s told by one employer–the room “should feel empty” when you’re in it.

The Butler starts out with Cecil as a young boy in the 1920s working on a cotton plantation in the South. From the very beginning the story is set up to tug at your heart strings and what human being with a heart and mind wouldn’t be affected by the horrors of the brutal racism of the time. The film is emotionally affecting and will make you tear up but it’s hard to escape the feeling you’re watching a movie meant to do just that.

Despite this undercurrent of manipulation the life of Cecil Gaines is extraordinary and certainly worthy of a film. The changes that occurred in American society in general, and specifically in terms of civil rights during the more than 30 years Cecil worked in the White House, and his proximity to the seat of power and history give the film weight. Continue reading »

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