While I was at the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Orlando, the Weinstein Company delivered Lee Daniel’s The Butler on a silver platter with a screening and a chance to meet the Academy Award nominated director, as well as leading actor and Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker.
Whitaker plays the main character Cecil Gaines, a White House Butler who serves under 8 presidents. The movie, based on a real story, tells the very personal story of Gaines over the backdrop of some of the most transformative moments in US history, including the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War.
When I had the chance to talk to Daniels about the film, I asked him why it was important to tell this story. He replied, “It’s our Forest Gump. It’s our history, and that’s the Civil Rights Movement.”
Forest Whitaker added, “The movie is about healing, feeling and love. The spirit of the house, Gaines’ house, was what was happening in the country.”
Nonetheless, I still had to ask Daniels about the skeptics out there who are wary of seeing another person of color playing a subordinate, subservient role in society, just as Viola Davis played in The Help.
“Did you really think that was the kind of movie I was going to make after Precious?” he asked.
Daniels added that so many movies about the Civil Rights Movement never really focused on Blacks who were doing what they could to break down barriers. He says his does.
And finally, what about the star power? The cast list reads like a Who’s Who in Hollywood. Oprah Winfrey plays Whitaker’s wife, Jane Fonda plays a spot-on Nancy Regan, and Robin Williams plays Dwight Eisenhower, just to name a few.
Daniels admits the film didn’t have a big budget to pay them. For these huge names, it wasn’t about the salary. “The actors in the film are not just celebrities. They’re political activists. They were doing this for the cause.”
The movie opens nationwide August 16th.
Robin N. Hamilton