Tuesday, September 10, 2013

SEEING "THE BUTLER"

A couple of weeks ago, Grandpère and I went to the theater to see "The Butler".  People were talking about the film here because scenes from the movie were filmed in this area, in Houma, Louisiana, and at Laurel Valley plantation outside Thibodaux.  The movie makers built a false front to a building in downtown Houma and blew it up.  The early scenes from Cecil Gaines' childhood in the film were set in Macon, Georgia, but Louisiana is close enough, right?

Forest Whitaker's portrayal of Cecil Gaines is excellent.  Gaines erved as a butler in the White House beginning in the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower into the presidency of Ronald Reagan.  Cuba Gooding, as head butler, does a fine job of acting, as does Oprah Winfrey, as Gaines' wife Gloria, somewhat to my surprise.

If you heard or read of the outrage of Reagan admirers at the casting of Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan, which I found quite amusing (After all, Fonda is an actor and was playing a role, and why not the role of Nancy?), you can think of it as a good joke on the part of the filmmakers or as brilliant casting.  Whatever their intention, the result was brilliant.  Fonda was Nancy Reagan, or so close as to be surpassed only by the reincarnation of Nancy Reagan.

Real footage from the civil rights struggle was painful to watch and brought back terrible memories of the horror of the times.  I sat in my seat cringing and squirming, wanting the scenes to be over.  Gaines son Louis (David Oyelowo) becomes active in the struggle, which causes a breach between him and his father, who disapproves of his activism and prefers to work quietly to achieve equality in wages for the African-Americans on the White House staff, who earn less than the white employees.  As Gaines goes about his work, he hears discussions about the demands of African-Americans and the "problem" of the fight for civil rights, but, of course, he cannot react in any way.

While there was much that was good about the movie, Tom and I both came away feeling a bit unsettled and questioning.  The movie seemed to lack a point of view.  Who was the hero?  Was it Cecil, who did his job, serving faithfully in the White House and caring for his wife and children?  Or was it Louis, who was active in the fight for civil rights?  Both?  Were we meant to be left to decide for ourselves? Anyway, we walked away shaking our heads.

There you have it.  I hope I've succeeded in writing my impressions of the movie without spoiling the film for those who have not seen it.

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