‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’ serves as a powerful lesson in history

08/14/2013 5:27 pm0 commentsViews: 18

By Olu Alemoru, Staff Writer

Lee Daniels, who a reporter vividly remembers promoting his directorial debut “Shadow Boxer,” looking sweat-stained and disheveled as if he had literally just got out of bed, nevertheless seems to have the Midas Touch for getting out-standing performances from his actors.

Monique’s Oscar-winning and Gabourey Sidibe’s heart-wrenching turns in “Precious” won’t be forgotten in a hurry and Daniels has mined that intense well once again in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” a sweeping historical drama of a fictional Black butler who served seven presidents from 1957 to 1986.

Based on Will Haygood’s 2008 Washington Post article about real life former White House butler Eugene Allen, this dramatical account stars Forrest Whitaker as Cecil Gains, who witnesses the shocking racist death of his father on a plantation in the South and journeys north to eventually find his dignity in servitude at the most famous address in America, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Adapted by Danny Strong (HBO’s “Game Change”), the film stars Oprah Winfrey as his fiercely loyal, but emotionally flawed wife Gloria Gaines, David Oyelowo (Louis Gaines), his militant son and a host of former presidents, Dwight Eisenhower (Robin Williams), John F. Kennedy (James Marsden), Lyndon B. Johnson (Liev Schreiber) and Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman).

The film takes audiences through America’s painful history of  lynchings in the Jim Crow South in the 1920’s, to school de-segregation, the heinous murder of Emmet Till, 60’s civil rights, the Black Power movement and opposition to the Vietnam War, the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

Daniels and Strong seamlessly weave in archive footage of real events as they play out in real time as you’re watching the movie unfold, none more so than when Oyelowo becomes a freedom rider and their bus is ambushed and firebombed in Mississippi by the Ku Klux Klan.

None more so when Oyelowo becomes a Freedom Rider and their bus is ambushed and firebombed in Mississippi by the Ku Klux Klan.

Whitaker, who won an Oscar for portraying Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland” is every bit as good here, internalizing a lifetime of rage in stoic deference until a defiant act right at the end.

However, it’s Winfrey, returning to acting after decades long absence, who is a revelation and unless you ask a Swiss Confectionary clerk will receive widespread plaudits for a memorable study of the power of Black womanhood.

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Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker star in the sweeping historical drama. Anne Marie Fox/The Weinstein Co.

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