Hold it together people. It is about time an educational movie made some money.
The Butler, starring the talented and somewhat underused Forest Whitaker, spanned seven presidential administrations beginning in 1953 with the Dwight D. Eisenhower presidency. Whitaker’s character Cecil Gaines was primly placed to witness the growth of a nation. From educational segregation to groundbreaking civil rights legislation, Gaines witnessed how the system works. Whether the system worked correctly or incorrectly, Mr. Gaines had a front row seat.
In Forest Gump-esc fashion, The Butler follows Gaines and his son through their very different styles of social change. The lead character is a man described by his militant son as a sell out. His son Louis claims that his father’s lifelong line of work has been counterproductive to the cause. It was particularly poignant that the writer put the words that corrected Louis in the mouth of Martin Luther King Jr. King informs Louis that his father was not only providing for a family but also helping to break a damaging stereotype. Though the film had substantial violence in it, the message that nonviolence and earnest purpose can change a nation applies now as much as it did then.
Not to belittle the message with comedy, but this movie showed that the country has hope by topping the One Direction (we’re already rich so make a movie about us) movie. Thank whatever God you wish but do it because there was a chance that the touching story of how the United States bettered itself might not have out-grossed the teen musical. Lee Daniel’s film cost $30 million and made roughly $25 million in the first weekend. By yesterday morning the total gross was $74 million.
Considering this wasn’t a film devoted to spandex heroes or 3D-anything, The Butler did phenomenal financially. Last night I sat in a packed house over a week after the movie came out. I found myself applauding along with the crowd mid-film. Indeed we laughed, we cried and we cheered. It has been quite some time since I’ve had that experience in a theater.
Though it made serious bank, it’s still a sleeper hit. I predict The Butler will have the same cultish and mass appeal as a Forest Gump or a Schindler’s List. Like these two movies, The Butler shows the world through the eyes of someone living in it.
To be preachy and cornball…the leading characters in these movies are us. They make us ask questions like, “What would I have done?” Or if you are of a certain age, these films transport you to back to the time. As a critic and an American I give this film 5 stars, two thumbs up, or whatever your preferred measuring system is. See this movie, learn something new or remember something that touched you. If nothing else you will leave the theater entertained and having an unavoidable sense of respect for the power of the human spirit.
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