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Oprah Winfrey's Butlers - Lee Daniels and Tyler Perry

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by Tanya Steele
August 21, 2013 2:02 PM
66 Comments
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I have a knot in my heart. It was in my throat, it moved along. Eventually, I am sure it will suffocate me if I don't get this out. Black women, listen, we've got to stand up. We need to be mad as hell and not take it anymore.


Please indulge me because I am, admittedly, angry. And, before anyone starts rolling their eyes, I am not an angry black woman (whatever the fuck that is). I put compassion and understanding at the center of all things. Having survived sexual abuse as a child. And, rape as an adult, I have a right to be angry. But, no, I have decided that compassion is essential if I am to walk amongst humans. Because human beings do some foul shit.

The first person I encountered outside of the theater, as I went in to see 'The Butler', was a young black woman with a dishrag in her hand. She waited, patiently, for the men to exit the toilets so she could clean the bathroom. People like this woman and the butler have not been on black folk's agenda for decades. So, why now? Is it simply a good story, provides a good arc and has potential for an Oscar run?

I watched Oprah's talk show, continuously, for many years. Struggling after film school, I watched one of her home makeover shows. On the show, a lamp was apart of the makeover. She said something along the lines of "If you can't afford this lamp, you are not doing something right." The lamp was $20. I couldn't afford it. And, I was one of those black people who had done everything right. I also thought about my family, in rural North Carolina, that lived in a trailer. At 23, I went to find my father's family. They knew nothing about me (this is a story for another day). Anyway, fearless, I wanted to know this side of my family.

One cousin lived in a trailer. Children were everywhere. I mean, everywhere. And, the women were, what is considered, dark, overweight and opinionated.  At 4pm, all of the women and children gathered around the television. I wondered what was going on. I asked what was coming on. "Oprah", my cousin said. She then gave me a side eye and asked, "You got any children?" I knew a 'no' was going to bring harsh judgment. But, I gripped the couch and, barely, uttered the word, "No." Oprah's show began, thank goodness. No one in that room, in full support of and offering unconditional love to Oprah, could afford that lamp.

We cannot underestimate her influence on American culture. We cannot yet determine how her presence has impacted the landscape. Unlike my mother's generation, I grew up hearing conversations about child molestation, abuse against women, all of the things that remained in the shadows for centuries. Oprah brought all of that to the center of the conversation. She made it visible. In this regard, she is a heroine of the highest order. To speak, in spite of the shame that sexual violation rains upon you, is serious. And, she did it before the world. And, she did it in triumph.

I watched Oprah's performance in 'The Butler' and I thought about her 'lamp' statement. I wondered if the character she portrayed could have afforded that lamp. Would that lamp have been a priority for her character? And, yes, probably. The film is an homage to the middle class. It honors hard work, discipline, loyalty to family, black men who put family before "running the streets". Unfortunately, we are never inside of the Butler's head. We don't experience what he thinks or feels about the unique situation he is in. This is a script issue. The writer didn't see the world through his eyes.

I am not anti-'The Butler'. I do not feel that 'The Butler' is the male version of the 'The Help'. I do think Lee Daniels is thoughtful about his work. I do think he has an agenda. What that is, I don't know. I think the Butler's story is a moving one. Do I think Lee pulled it off in this film, no. I think it is Lee's best film to date. So far, he has directed 'Precious' and 'Shadow Boxer'. You can determine if this being his "best film" is significant in light of his track record.

I am, however, anti-Precious. The film was exaggerated horror and poverty pornography. Like Sapphire, I knew the population that she worked with. I, too, worked with girls in group homes. Girls that have survived unthinkable horrors. And, let me tell you, like Oprah, they are some of the most creative, complex and extraordinary girls on the planet. I have known girls that got their heads bashed into the sidewalk by their mother and could dress up in a fierceness that would shame a Parisian runway. Trauma does not equal despair, fatigue or isolation. Depression is not the only result.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was in consideration to write the screenplay for 'Push'. Ultimately, Lee made his choice. And, it would have been a much different movie had I penned it. But, I went to see it with an open mind and heart, hoping the best for Lee Daniels. Because, in my eyes, black representation trumps all. It is not about me, it is about the images that, ultimately, wind up on the screen. And, to me, Precious was beyond disappointing. But, you see, it received "the stamp" from Sundance, etc. A stamp that was misplaced because white liberals wouldn't know an "authentic" black narrative if it hit them in the face. It is easier to accept the idea that black people are depraved, grotesque and horrifying than to understand our nuance. But, Lee Daniels got what he wanted- a platform for his demons. 

Where am I going with this? Here. And, perhaps you can help me. For the life of me, I cannot understand why Ms. Winfrey supports black filmmakers whose work denigrates black women. Yes, I am referring to Tyler Perry and Lee Daniels. Help me to understand this. Madea?! Madea. Really?!

Now, mind you, I have had to make sense of Madea for myself. Clearly, black people are underrepresented in cinema. Elderly black women, especially. Church going women as well. I get it. There is an emotional connection to the "idea" of Madea that black people may be responding to. Unfortunately, it is hyperbolic and exaggerated. Kind of like Precious, but, the opposite. I've watched Tyler Perry's stage shows on youtube. Only because I needed to understand what people were watching. Okay, I get it. Where in American culture, are you going to hear someone crooning Vandross or Phil Perry? There is an emotional connection, a validation of experience in Tyler Perry's work that folks can't get elsewhere.

And, I believe in freedom of expression. So, here's mine. We have to expect better. We have to do better. We have to stop making a joke out of black women. We have to stop looking at black women as the shrew. Which is what Oprah was in the butler. Oprah was in a Tennessee Williams play while everyone else was in the movie 'The Butler'. Oprah appears to be angling so hard for an Oscar that she cut off from the rest of the cast and did her own thing. The moments where she showed serious chops were when she was in step with the cast.

Oprah was in a film where the two lead black women were foul (although Yaya DaCosta was a beautiful representation of a black woman from that period). Lee, ultimately, maligned Yaya's character. He built up this amazing black woman only to undercut all that he had done in one, ridiculous, moment. The two women then go on to detest one another. The black men in the film, however, take care of each other.

Honestly, the best thing about 'The Butler', well, other than Forest Whitaker's sublime performance, was the camaraderie of the black men. That was a thing of beauty. And, it was good to see a relationship between a black man and a black woman that unfolded over time. But, honestly, for most of the film, I wondered why the butler was with such a, glaringly, haunted woman. It made no sense. Oprah's character could have been sister to the mother in Precious. Did Oprah and Mo'nique share the same acting coach? Oprah has gifts that are unique to her that were not called upon. Oprah's charm, wit and intellect are her light. Blinded by trinkets like 'The Oscar', we got regurgitated Mo'nique. 

Why is Oprah supporting these "filmmakers" who have shown very little respect for black women? Is the dream of 'the Oscar' and the cash flow all that important? Perhaps it is. As Oprah stated, she still has dreams. One of them, it seems, is to get an Oscar. And, let me tell you, these black folks are going to get that Oscar if it kills them. Even if they have to pay for it. That's cool, that's the marketplace. But, in the midst of the journey, can we show some love to black women? Oprah knows our story. Oprah is aware of the particular pains that black women experience. Is it fair to burden her with "proper representation"? No, I am not asking for that. I love drama. I love haunted characters. I believe in exalted drama. It is possible to work with people who write the hell out of the black experience with sensitivity and depth. Find them! Ms. Winfrey, have a black woman write the Henrietta Lacks story because NO ONE, NO ONE, will write her life like a black woman writer. A black woman who understands what it is to be violated in the most intimate regions of our being. 

Recently, a friend sent a video interview to me. In the interview, Oprah asks Tyler Perry (of all people), "Why is it, that you think, Hollywood doesn't see a consistent space for roles for black women?"  The real question is, why don't you two see a consistent space for talented black women writers and filmmakers? That's the question. Why aren't you all employing and lifting us up?! Black women will flock to the theaters if Oprah began to create portraits of black women that sing us true. The way to make this happen is to hire black women to tell our fucking stories. And, if you don't know where to find us ask Lee Daniels, he knows. 

As we prepare for the 50th anniversary of the 'March on Washington' let us all remember, ain't nobody cared about the butler or the woman cleaning the toilets -for generations. The Black 1% has to learn to lift up all black folks -not just the ones whose stories have the potential to garner an Oscar or a bright new shiny lamp.


Follow Tanya Steele on Twitter at @digtanya. Or on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SteeleInk. Or visit digtanya.com.

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66 Comments

  • Guest | April 15, 2014 12:42 AMReply

    Also, it's a shame oprah chose to support this movie and lee daniels because he basically slandered the butler's wife - she was never an alcoholic and there was never an affair.

    i assume that because the man this movie is about had died prior to the movie release, daniels felt it ok to slander his wife, a black woman. now that's hatred of black women, for you - from both daniels and oprah.

    thus, expect nothing from hollywood. do research and find out the real stories of these people.

  • Guest | April 15, 2014 12:42 AMReply

    Also, it's a shame oprah chose to support this movie and lee daniels because he basically slandered the butler's wife - she was never an alcoholic and there was never an affair.

    i assume that because the man this movie is about had died prior to the movie release, daniels felt it ok to slander his wife, a black woman. now that's hatred of black women, for you - from both daniels and oprah.

    thus, expect nothing from hollywood. do research and find out the real stories of these people.

  • Guest | April 15, 2014 12:32 AMReply

    sorry for the multiple duplicate comments! when i hit submit, the page froze and malfunctioned, i guess.

  • Guest | April 15, 2014 12:31 AMReply

    You cannot expect much from ANYBODY in Hollywood, black or white. They're all programmed to promote black mediocrity, deficiencies, and inferiority because that's what white supremacy demands. One day, the negatively stereotyped is black men, the next it's black women. It swings back and forth all the time, and black filmmakers have internalized this negative thinking as much as their white counterparts, so I expect almost nothing from Hollywood when in the perspective of telling "our histories".

    I personally have always felt that Oprah doesn't really like black women or herself very much, and - although critical of black men - is craving their love and respect because of how she was treated by them when she was you. Her abuse at the hands of black men (battered woman syndrome and subconscious acceptance of misogyny), her southern upbringing during Jim Crow (internalized racial hatred and colorism for herself but respect for whites), and her rags-to-riches history (guilt of the rich who come from impoverished backgrounds) makes her unable to truly see the positives of being black, even though she may try.

    Thus, she operates out of the same extreme stereotypes about black people as everyone else in America - black women are either miserable and abused or harpies that should hitch their coattails to the opinions of black men and white people, no matter what. I believe oprah really does try to fight against colorism and misogyny, but she actually doesn't really believe black women deserve such a fight (unless they're light-skinned) - thus why she always reserved most of her shows for the upliftment of white women. I don't think she necessarily knows she's doing that, but she is. I liked the movie "Color Purple", but that movie plays to all kinds of extreme stereotypes about black people, both men and women, as well. So her catering to Daniels and Perry is really not shocking. Notice how few black women Oprah ever really worked with in any big way.

  • Guest | April 15, 2014 12:31 AMReply

    You cannot expect much from ANYBODY in Hollywood, black or white. They're all programmed to promote black mediocrity, deficiencies, and inferiority because that's what white supremacy demands. One day, the negatively stereotyped is black men, the next it's black women. It swings back and forth all the time, and black filmmakers have internalized this negative thinking as much as their white counterparts, so I expect almost nothing from Hollywood when in the perspective of telling "our histories".

    I personally have always felt that Oprah doesn't really like black women or herself very much, and - although critical of black men - is craving their love and respect because of how she was treated by them when she was you. Her abuse at the hands of black men (battered woman syndrome and subconscious acceptance of misogyny), her southern upbringing during Jim Crow (internalized racial hatred and colorism for herself but respect for whites), and her rags-to-riches history (guilt of the rich who come from impoverished backgrounds) makes her unable to truly see the positives of being black, even though she may try.

    Thus, she operates out of the same extreme stereotypes about black people as everyone else in America - black women are either miserable and abused or harpies that should hitch their coattails to the opinions of black men and white people, no matter what. I believe oprah really does try to fight against colorism and misogyny, but she actually doesn't really believe black women deserve such a fight (unless they're light-skinned) - thus why she always reserved most of her shows for the upliftment of white women. I don't think she necessarily knows she's doing that, but she is. I liked the movie "Color Purple", but that movie plays to all kinds of extreme stereotypes about black people, both men and women, as well. So her catering to Daniels and Perry is really not shocking. Notice how few black women Oprah ever really worked with in any big way.

  • Guest | April 15, 2014 12:31 AMReply

    You cannot expect much from ANYBODY in Hollywood, black or white. They're all programmed to promote black mediocrity, deficiencies, and inferiority because that's what white supremacy demands. One day, the negatively stereotyped is black men, the next it's black women. It swings back and forth all the time, and black filmmakers have internalized this negative thinking as much as their white counterparts, so I expect almost nothing from Hollywood when in the perspective of telling "our histories".

    I personally have always felt that Oprah doesn't really like black women or herself very much, and - although critical of black men - is craving their love and respect because of how she was treated by them when she was you. Her abuse at the hands of black men (battered woman syndrome and subconscious acceptance of misogyny), her southern upbringing during Jim Crow (internalized racial hatred and colorism for herself but respect for whites), and her rags-to-riches history (guilt of the rich who come from impoverished backgrounds) makes her unable to truly see the positives of being black, even though she may try.

    Thus, she operates out of the same extreme stereotypes about black people as everyone else in America - black women are either miserable and abused or harpies that should hitch their coattails to the opinions of black men and white people, no matter what. I believe oprah really does try to fight against colorism and misogyny, but she actually doesn't really believe black women deserve such a fight (unless they're light-skinned) - thus why she always reserved most of her shows for the upliftment of white women. I don't think she necessarily knows she's doing that, but she is. I liked the movie "Color Purple", but that movie plays to all kinds of extreme stereotypes about black people, both men and women, as well. So her catering to Daniels and Perry is really not shocking. Notice how few black women Oprah ever really worked with in any big way.

  • Guest | April 15, 2014 12:31 AMReply

    You cannot expect much from ANYBODY in Hollywood, black or white. They're all programmed to promote black mediocrity, deficiencies, and inferiority because that's what white supremacy demands. One day, the negatively stereotyped is black men, the next it's black women. It swings back and forth all the time, and black filmmakers have internalized this negative thinking as much as their white counterparts, so I expect almost nothing from Hollywood when in the perspective of telling "our histories".

    I personally have always felt that Oprah doesn't really like black women or herself very much, and - although critical of black men - is craving their love and respect because of how she was treated by them when she was you. Her abuse at the hands of black men (battered woman syndrome and subconscious acceptance of misogyny), her southern upbringing during Jim Crow (internalized racial hatred and colorism for herself but respect for whites), and her rags-to-riches history (guilt of the rich who come from impoverished backgrounds) makes her unable to truly see the positives of being black, even though she may try.

    Thus, she operates out of the same extreme stereotypes about black people as everyone else in America - black women are either miserable and abused or harpies that should hitch their coattails to the opinions of black men and white people, no matter what. I believe oprah really does try to fight against colorism and misogyny, but she actually doesn't really believe black women deserve such a fight (unless they're light-skinned) - thus why she always reserved most of her shows for the upliftment of white women. I don't think she necessarily knows she's doing that, but she is. I liked the movie "Color Purple", but that movie plays to all kinds of extreme stereotypes about black people, both men and women, as well. So her catering to Daniels and Perry is really not shocking. Notice how few black women Oprah ever really worked with in any big way.

  • Guest | April 15, 2014 12:31 AMReply

    You cannot expect much from ANYBODY in Hollywood, black or white. They're all programmed to promote black mediocrity, deficiencies, and inferiority because that's what white supremacy demands. One day, the negatively stereotyped is black men, the next it's black women. It swings back and forth all the time, and black filmmakers have internalized this negative thinking as much as their white counterparts, so I expect almost nothing from Hollywood when in the perspective of telling "our histories".

    I personally have always felt that Oprah doesn't really like black women or herself very much, and - although critical of black men - is craving their love and respect because of how she was treated by them when she was you. Her abuse at the hands of black men (battered woman syndrome and subconscious acceptance of misogyny), her southern upbringing during Jim Crow (internalized racial hatred and colorism for herself but respect for whites), and her rags-to-riches history (guilt of the rich who come from impoverished backgrounds) makes her unable to truly see the positives of being black, even though she may try.

    Thus, she operates out of the same extreme stereotypes about black people as everyone else in America - black women are either miserable and abused or harpies that should hitch their coattails to the opinions of black men and white people, no matter what. I believe oprah really does try to fight against colorism and misogyny, but she actually doesn't really believe black women deserve such a fight (unless they're light-skinned) - thus why she always reserved most of her shows for the upliftment of white women. I don't think she necessarily knows she's doing that, but she is. I liked the movie "Color Purple", but that movie plays to all kinds of extreme stereotypes about black people, both men and women, as well. So her catering to Daniels and Perry is really not shocking. Notice how few black women Oprah ever really worked with in any big way.

  • Guest | April 15, 2014 12:30 AMReply

    You cannot expect much from ANYBODY in Hollywood, black or white. They're all programmed to promote black mediocrity, deficiencies, and inferiority because that's what white supremacy demands. One day, the negatively stereotyped is black men, the next it's black women. It swings back and forth all the time, and black filmmakers have internalized this negative thinking as much as their white counterparts, so I expect almost nothing from Hollywood when in the perspective of telling "our histories".

    I personally have always felt that Oprah doesn't really like black women or herself very much, and - although critical of black men - is craving their love and respect because of how she was treated by them when she was you. Her abuse at the hands of black men (battered woman syndrome and subconscious acceptance of misogyny), her southern upbringing during Jim Crow (internalized racial hatred and colorism for herself but respect for whites), and her rags-to-riches history (guilt of the rich who come from impoverished backgrounds) makes her unable to truly see the positives of being black, even though she may try.

    Thus, she operates out of the same extreme stereotypes about black people as everyone else in America - black women are either miserable and abused or harpies that should hitch their coattails to the opinions of black men and white people, no matter what. I believe oprah really does try to fight against colorism and misogyny, but she actually doesn't really believe black women deserve such a fight (unless they're light-skinned) - thus why she always reserved most of her shows for the upliftment of white women. I don't think she necessarily knows she's doing that, but she is. I liked the movie "Color Purple", but that movie plays to all kinds of extreme stereotypes about black people, both men and women, as well. So her catering to Daniels and Perry is really not shocking. Notice how few black women Oprah ever really worked with in any big way.

  • Guest | April 15, 2014 12:30 AMReply

    You cannot expect much from ANYBODY in Hollywood, black or white. They're all programmed to promote black mediocrity, deficiencies, and inferiority because that's what white supremacy demands. One day, the negatively stereotyped is black men, the next it's black women. It swings back and forth all the time, and black filmmakers have internalized this negative thinking as much as their white counterparts, so I expect almost nothing from Hollywood when in the perspective of telling "our histories".

    I personally have always felt that Oprah doesn't really like black women or herself very much, and - although critical of black men - is craving their love and respect because of how she was treated by them when she was you. Her abuse at the hands of black men (battered woman syndrome and subconscious acceptance of misogyny), her southern upbringing during Jim Crow (internalized racial hatred and colorism for herself but respect for whites), and her rags-to-riches history (guilt of the rich who come from impoverished backgrounds) makes her unable to truly see the positives of being black, even though she may try.

    Thus, she operates out of the same extreme stereotypes about black people as everyone else in America - black women are either miserable and abused or harpies that should hitch their coattails to the opinions of black men and white people, no matter what. I believe oprah really does try to fight against colorism and misogyny, but she actually doesn't really believe black women deserve such a fight (unless they're light-skinned) - thus why she always reserved most of her shows for the upliftment of white women. I don't think she necessarily knows she's doing that, but she is. I liked the movie "Color Purple", but that movie plays to all kinds of extreme stereotypes about black people, both men and women, as well. So her catering to Daniels and Perry is really not shocking. Notice how few black women Oprah ever really worked with in any big way.

  • Guest | April 15, 2014 12:30 AMReply

    You cannot expect much from ANYBODY in Hollywood, black or white. They're all programmed to promote black mediocrity, deficiencies, and inferiority because that's what white supremacy demands. One day, the negatively stereotyped is black men, the next it's black women. It swings back and forth all the time, and black filmmakers have internalized this negative thinking as much as their white counterparts, so I expect almost nothing from Hollywood when in the perspective of telling "our histories".

    I personally have always felt that Oprah doesn't really like black women or herself very much, and - although critical of black men - is craving their love and respect because of how she was treated by them when she was you. Her abuse at the hands of black men (battered woman syndrome and subconscious acceptance of misogyny), her southern upbringing during Jim Crow (internalized racial hatred and colorism for herself but respect for whites), and her rags-to-riches history (guilt of the rich who come from impoverished backgrounds) makes her unable to truly see the positives of being black, even though she may try.

    Thus, she operates out of the same extreme stereotypes about black people as everyone else in America - black women are either miserable and abused or harpies that should hitch their coattails to the opinions of black men and white people, no matter what. I believe oprah really does try to fight against colorism and misogyny, but she actually doesn't really believe black women deserve such a fight (unless they're light-skinned) - thus why she always reserved most of her shows for the upliftment of white women. I don't think she necessarily knows she's doing that, but she is. I liked the movie "Color Purple", but that movie plays to all kinds of extreme stereotypes about black people, both men and women, as well. So her catering to Daniels and Perry is really not shocking. Notice how few black women Oprah ever really worked with in any big way.

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  • CAM Jr | October 7, 2013 9:34 PMReply

    I ENJOYED the film. And THOROUGHLY enjoyed OPRAH's performance! No need crying over spilled milk, TANYA. Keep writing. Some day, maybe Lee or Oprah or Tyler will hire you to write something else. Or...maybe you'll do like MANY other filmmakers and beg, borrow and "steal" enough money to film YOUR OWN screenplay. Hmm, actually filming your own screenplay. That's a novel idea, isn't it????

  • keanamalia | October 3, 2013 3:41 AMReply

    So sad Lee Daniels trashed the reputation of Helene Allen to get Oprah an Oscar. Pretty
    mediocre movie.

  • Said in Los Angeles | September 15, 2013 7:57 PMReply

    Great article. Nice flow.

  • Mcgee06 | September 11, 2013 12:23 PMReply

    I to am growing tired of these kinds of stories. I personally not the biggest fan of neither Oprah or Tyler Perry. I can't remember the last time Oprah backed something the was actually positive. It seems like she only puts her effort in showing these loyal servant or "The Help" roles. I know for a fact that Spike Lee has wanted to do a real telling of Huey and the Panthers, but simply can't find the funded. The chance of Oprah backing that film is slim to none, because it doesn't help here " we're good people, ...honest" routine she's worked so hard to portray for longer than i've been alive. Don't get me wrong there is absolutely nothing wrong with films like these once in a while, but when minorities are in a business were they are never really shown, having these same recycled roles shoved down our throats a few times a year gets old. I don't NOT like Oprah and Tyler, for they have made huge strides for minorities in film, but with money and success come some type of responsibility.

  • Guest | April 15, 2014 12:36 AM

    well, she did back spike lee's malcolm x

  • Guest | April 15, 2014 12:36 AM

    well, she did back spike lee's malcolm x

  • moviegoer90 | September 10, 2013 11:00 PMReply

    Although I am a huge Oprah Winfrey fan, I must say that in most or possibly even all of her roles, she rarely ever plays characters that relate to her actual personality. Winfrey always seems to partake in roles in which the character suffers some form of physical or emotional abuse which causes depression and overall sadness, i.e. The Color Purple and The Women of Brewster Place. Although her character in the Butler was more vibrant, I could have done without the alcoholism, the assumed infidelity, and the "b-word" that was so harshly aimed at another black woman in the film. All of these things diminish the character's potential, and support ugly stereotypes about black women.

    I agree that I would love for Oprah to endorse more talented black actresses and filmmakers. It's quite surprising that someone as influential and successful as she is, wouldn't be eager to support more roles that mirror that. I would also love to see more black writers, or writers in general creating more roles where black female characters are portrayed as smart, sophisticated, maybe even smiling for a change!! It seems like most of the black female characters lately are just downright unhappy and suffering.

  • Donella | August 23, 2013 9:01 AMReply

    I got this from Ebony.com
    I got the following from Ebony.com:

    During the filming of The Butler in New Orleans, Haygood was on the set. It was a giddy experience, chatting with Oprah and accepting an invitation to spend the evening with Forest Whitaker. The actor told Haygood [writer of original article on Eugene Allen] it was the most challenging and complex role of his career — a strong statement from an actor who played the dictator Idi Amin. Whitaker wanted to capture the complex emotions of a man who kept the White House running, yet had to be the man of his own house in an era of sweeping change.

    Charles Allen visited the movie set too. He knew what he was seeing wasn’t real life. Some events had been fictionalized — Forest Whitaker's character only served five presidents, and he had a son who was a Black Panther. It was Hollywood, and the discrepancies didn’t bother Charles. “Come on, you know it is not going to be a documentary,” he said.

    But what felt so utterly real to Charles Allen was Whitaker’s portrayal of his father, especially in his later years. The actor had picked his brain about Allen, and it showed.

    “He was so much like my father, it was eerie,” Charles said. “The movie was bittersweet and surreal. Without Wil, it would have never happened.”

  • IR | August 22, 2013 8:51 PMReply

    Omg, I was mad at Oprah for years over that lamp comment! She had that Berkus dude on the show and it was actually a lamp kit, I am so glad that I wasn't the only one upset about that.

  • Celluloidread | August 22, 2013 2:53 PMReply

    A few more interesting anecdotes from the episode of "The Charlie Rose Show" with the Whitaker, Winfrey, Daniels and Strong:

    1) Oprah Winfrey describes how at the first invitation only screening of the film in which the family was present, Gaines' son stood up and stated that the filmmakers "through his mother under the bus." Winfrey was taken aback by this and became very worried, but she didn't say how she and Daniels addressed this. They also admitted that Gaines' wife was not an alcoholic and she did not have an affair with the neighbor.

    2) Daniels confessed that these elements and the addition of a younger son were done to create more conflict and drama in Gaines' family thus creating more conflict with Gaines'.

    3) They all admitted that they fictionalized various aspects of his life, but what they didn't talk about was how these changes would impact the true story/history of this individual.

    I think we all know that Daniels' is a somewhat heavy-handed director and he likes these kinds of elements in his films. Gettin' dirty is how black people win Oscars.

  • Donmama | August 22, 2013 2:23 PMReply

    I am cool with the piece as written. If the film hit Tanya like that, then so it is. she is where she is at with all her experiences and the film hit her that way. I have a problem however with the line, "Every-time a black writer writes a article criticizing successful Black filmmaker decisions on what motion picture they produced ,wrote, directed etc you are slowly killing the doors that some day you yourself would like to walk thru..." The world is already in a coma do we need to stifle criticism? The press is already bought out by money. Do we really want true feelings like this sisters stifled? You feel that will close doors? My sister make your own do and if need to talk about all the doors in the father's mansion.

  • Carey | August 22, 2013 2:04 PMReply

    Let's get something straight, this is NOT a critique, per se, of Lee Daniels' "The Butler".

    Listen, the author opens by telling us she's not normally an angry person but, she confesses that there's a knot in her heart which will eventually suffocate her if she didn't get it out.

    Well, come to find out, that knot in her throat, which moved to her heart, was a thick piece of "BEEF" she has with Oprah, Lee Daniels and Tyler Perry. Although the title froze us... and one might say, tricked us with the word "Butler", the devil is in the details of the article.

    Don't get me wrong, I am a huge admirer of Tanya's work so I was hooked from the start, but I was having a hard time identifying the gist of her pissed off-ness? I mean, I loved the story about her trip down home, but could a not-so-expensive lamp get a woman that mad? Seriously, I was confused because Tanya was not taking any prisoners and this wasn't about no damn butler.

    Hell, although she was fairly kind to Lee Daniels (in a backhand sort of way), when she said he had "demons" I knew she harbored no love for that man. But when she jumped on Madea's back I knew The Butler didn't do it, this did--> "For the life of me, I cannot understand why Ms. Winfrey supports black filmmakers whose work denigrates black women. Black women, listen, we've got to stand up. We need to be mad as hell and not take it anymore"

    OH LORD! At first I didn't catch that message but someone did: "Oprah has a habit of ruining black women's narratives (The Wedding, There Eyes Were Watching God, Women of Brewster Place) and Lee Daniels has never written a black woman character he did not degrade" ~ ESHOWOMAN

    Yep, I thought Helen Reddy's "We Are Women Hear us ROAR" would start playing in the background.

    Anyway, inquiring minds want to know, who or what exactly got Tanya so mad, so angry, so pissed off. That's right, Tanya's piece reminded me of that guy from the movie "Network". Now work with me. Since Tanya doesn't mind dropping a few cuss words, I visualized her sitting in front of the camera saying Howard Beale's (Peter Finch's) lines, with a few revisions:

    Tanya Steele takes a seat in front of the studio camera: "I don't have to tell y'all things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a jungle out here. Black women writers are out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's worth of nothing.

  • CareyCarey | August 22, 2013 2:01 PMReply

    Some loocal newspaper tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and madea can be found carrying a pistol and smoking a freakin' blunt, as if that's the way it's supposed to be.

  • CareyCarey | August 22, 2013 1:55 PMReply

    We know things are bad — worse than bad. They're crazy. A black *coughmancough* keeps making this niggerfied porn BS but we give him a pass, calling it "art". Oprah's running around showing her ass in the most undignified ways, as she chases after Oscar's ass. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is: "Please Mr. Hollywood, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster, my 20 dollar lamp and my TV and my black president and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone."....

  • CC | August 22, 2013 1:51 PMReply

    .........
    Anyway, inquiring minds want to know, who or what exactly got Tanya so mad, so angry, so pissed off. That's right, Tanya's piece reminded me of that guy from the movie "Network". Now work with me. Since Tanya doesn't mind dropping a few cuss words, I visualized her sitting in front of the camera saying Howard Beale's (Peter Finch's) lines, with a few revisions:

  • CareyCarey | August 22, 2013 1:48 PMReply

    ....
    Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get MAD like me! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot — I don't want you to write to your congressman, because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write... dumb mfers ain't listen anyway. I don't even know what to do about some of my fellow filmmakers. All I know is that first you've got to get mad. You've got to spit that beef outta your mouth. You've got to say: "I'm a human being, I am a black woman god-dammit! My life has value!"

    So, I want you to get up now. Stick your head out the window, and yell: I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS SHIT ANYMORE!"

    Yep, that's what I heard Tanya saying. But, was this a "critique" of the film The Butler? Or, did Factchecker catch the real issue that's not being said... "I believe that art, and commerce, can coexist". Hmmm... does Tanya desire stories about black women that are largely absent of "negative" undertones?

    I don't know but I wish Tanya would come back and clear the air. She generally drops down in the comment section to address a few concerns, so what about a time called now?

  • Donella | August 22, 2013 9:44 AMReply

    I ran across an interview on ET Online with Charles Allen, the son of Eugene Allen who inspired Forest Whitaker's fictionalized portrayal--Cecil Gaines.

    Some quotes:

    "He very closely captures my father's essence and personality," says Charles Allen of Whitaker's performance. "He did a magnificent job."

    "Capturing that relationship with my parents, I mean, it was almost 100 percent spot on," says Allen. "I have a first cousin named Millicent who is like a sister, and they almost had to carry her from the theater, she got so emotionally overwrought watching the thing."

    As far as talk of Academy Award love for the film, Allen beams, "The Oscar buzz, as far as Forest and Oprah and other people in the cast, it's going to be hard to keep that little gold statue out of their hands. I believe with a certainty that they're going to get nominated."

  • chez lopez | August 22, 2013 3:44 PM

    BlutoPaz, should be PlutoPaz because you are on another planet. Read Celluloid Dread's post above. And, watch that Charlie Rose interview. Clearly, Miss Steele's instincts are spot on. Have a nice day. I'm out!

  • BluTopaz | August 22, 2013 3:13 PM

    @ chez--Maybe you should listen to the words from the SON of the subject.

    And you don't have any points to miss. I already stated "If Oprah's character and performance are 'spot on' in their depiction of Mrs. Allen, then I think perhaps Tanya might want to re-think her article" ..etc.

    If your tmz/bossip geared mind cannot fully read because you're stuck on using the default "hatin'" retort of your ilk, my convo with you is done.

  • chez lopez | August 22, 2013 12:12 PM

    blutopaz, maybe you should speak when you see the movie. you are too busy trying to spread negativity that you miss the point. Oprah's characterization is all about the mother being an alcoholic and having an affair. If those things aren't true then the characterization is false. honestly, stop hating! you are attempting to attack this author for no good reason.

  • BluTopaz | August 22, 2013 11:48 AM

    @ chez--

    1) People like yourself have a vocabulary that does not extend further than "hatin, haterz," etc. It's not your fault that your critical thinking skills are lacking, work on that.

    2) The text that you posted only refutes Oprah's character having an affair with a neighbor and her struggles with alcoholism. It does not say her entire characterization is untrue. Actual quotes from the son of the subject (look it up on the site) of this movie trumps the summarization of another writer who did not know the family.

  • chez lopez | August 22, 2013 11:06 AM

    blutopaz is hating. "almost 100%". read carefully people! miss steele's instincts appear to be spot on. from the slate article- 'how true is the butler'. read the last sentence - The butler’s family:

    Allen had one son, Charles, who served in Vietnam, just as Cecil’s younger son (also named Charles) does. Allen’s son survived the war, while his fictional counterpart does not. The real-life Charles is still alive, and has seen and approved of the new movie, according to Haygood.

    The invented older son, Louis, serves as the main source of conflict in the narrative of Cecil’s life, in an attempt to highlight the clash between the older and younger black generation. Louis, who’s ashamed that his father is content with serving white people, is himself present for several important historical moments, including the attack and burning of a Freedom Riders bus in 1961; he’s also imprisoned in the same jail as Martin Luther King, Jr. after a protest.

    Gloria Gaines, the butler’s wife, has an affair with a neighbor (Terrence Howard) and struggles with alcoholism. These storlines appear to be fictional.

  • BluTopaz | August 22, 2013 10:02 AM

    Glad you posted this, because I haven't seen the film and don't know anything about the relationship of the Allen family. But I wonder if Ms. Steele has any knowledge about their family dynamics at all, considering the info you posted here. If Oprah's character and performance are 'spot on' in their depiction of Mrs. Allen, then I think perhaps Tanya might want to re-think her article.

  • blah, blah | August 22, 2013 6:31 AMReply

    What's wrong with critiquing black film? So because Hollywood only allows for a certain amount of films a year, we should always be like, "thanka sir..." and if we know they could be better? Screw that! Critique away, I say. We are always going to be beholding to Hollywood's ideas of who we are - and still have to go hat in hand, begging for financing, just to tell their stories of who we are - as long as we keep accepting what they give us.

  • Mandla | August 22, 2013 3:32 AMReply

    "At 23, I went to find my father's family. They knew nothing about me (this is a story for another day). Anyway, fearless, I wanted to know this side of my family."
    Why is it in the back of my mind a voice saying? " Oh, I so hope she's writing THIS screenplay."

    Having not seen the film I can not comment on it but you're general idea as to ("Why is Oprah supporting these "filmmakers" who have shown very little respect for black women?"), I too would pose that query.

  • deborah gregory | August 22, 2013 1:52 AMReply

    why don't you make your own movies then, so we can watch them, instead of wasting your time criticizing the hand full of black people who can get movies made in hollywood.

  • Raquel | August 22, 2013 12:21 AMReply

    Steele Ink I strongly disagree with your article . My main issue that I have which I am always debating with other filmmakers is the BLACK IMAGE. Why does the Black Filmmaker can not tell its FICTIONAL or TRUE story with the language of choice without upsetting the be criticized by Black writers who write for media outlets.?Why are you guys trying to censor the work of Black Filmmakers? Tyler admitted he based the character Madea ( I hope exaggerated ) on his mother and aunt. There are so many American Black American experiences. Some are good and some are bad. Your experiences as a Black Woman past and present will be different from everyone Black Woman worldwide. Maybe you will share some experiences but overall it will be different. Every-time a black writer writes a article criticizing successful Black filmmaker decisions on what motion picture they produced ,wrote, directed etc you are slowly killing the doors that some day you yourself would like to walk thru as a screenwriter. I want you to watch this. There are 4 parts. I am posting number 3. However I recommend you watch all 4. It's how Black people complaining caused the production to dry up for Black films being produced in the 70's. Now 40 years ago a new breed of journalist is slowly attacking successful filmmakers . Checkout Doc Badass Cinema Doc on youtube or Netflix.

  • olmom2 | August 22, 2013 12:01 AMReply

    Sure, Oprah, Tyler and Lee might have some issues and by no means perfect but let's be honest, this Butler" is one of those situations that could be like your relatives being hooked on Oprah. Just admit to yourself that your ego got a little bruised. Maybe this wasn't the vehicle for you or it wasn't your time or project. You were tripping on your relatives being hooked on hope. Maybe there is a message in all this for you.

  • Jay | August 21, 2013 11:38 PMReply

    I agree and disagree with some of your points. However the theme that I see in a lot of critiques of 'The Butler' relate to 'Precious' even in Lennix's critique. I'm waiting for the article: "Will People Ever Forgive Lee Daniels for 'Precious'?" However Daniels seems content upon saying offensive and inaccurate things in interviews left and right.

  • Mark & Darla | August 21, 2013 11:23 PMReply

    Let the movie be, for god sake let the movie be.

    "Precious" come and gone.
    "For Color Girls" come and gone.
    "The Help" come and gone.
    "Django Unchained" come and gone.

    Soon "The Butler" will come and go and life will go on, unti the next controversy black related movie comes out.

    Chill out.

  • Lambaman | August 21, 2013 9:31 PMReply

    Really?.....no......REALLY??? It concerns me that you're a film maker. The prospect of you injecting your bitterness and rage into projects that could potentially be experienced by millions of people truly, truly concerns me. The only thing that gives me solace is that that will probably never happen. For starters, you are flat out publicly bashing those who would be your colleagues , mentors and supporters, and in such a tawdry fashion (You're a writer? And can't articulate yourself without profanity?). People, the FIRST thing that must be understood about the uplifting of our race is that we can not, NOT EVER gain momentum while fighting and tearing each other apart. It doesn't work. Nothing you said would cause Oprah (it's a stretch to believe she'd ever read this) to change or even consider addressing what you feel is an issue. You are stirring up feelings of animosity and resentment, and for no reason whatsoever.

    I agree that Lee Daniels is not the best story teller, but it is clear to anyone who has seen "The Butler" that he did his best to make a quality and respectful film. You'd have to be a fool to deny that. And note, that since Greek tragedy, we have had "the villain"! There's one (or more) in EVERY drama. How do you suggest casting a predominantly Black film without someone being shady? Oprah's character had flaws but for God's sake, how could she have dimension without shortcomings? Ultimately, she was a Black woman who STOOD BY HER BLACK MAN and you have no idea how profound those images can be for our community. Comparing her to Mo'nique in "Precious" causes me to wonder if you've seen either movie, or if you're a few bulbs short of a chandelier. Oprah's character was a mother who loved her children fiercely, and headed a functioning Black family unit. Being an alcoholic hardly overshadows that.

    If I were not working on my own projects at the moment, I'd take your article line by line and expose you're folly, but I have to get back to real life now, and as I mentioned, it would not help to tear you down. But you should know that Black presence, Black money, Black directors, Black actors in Hollywood, help us ALL. Especially when the images are not extremely demeaning or belittling. And until you put up your own money to fund an entire institution specifically for the purposes of educating and uplifting Black women (I'm referring to Oprah's school), please keep your mouth closed on the issue. Like....completely shut!

  • Sean Jackson | August 22, 2013 3:43 AM

    Exactly!

  • Amina | August 21, 2013 8:31 PMReply

    Harry Lennix, a seasoned black actor turned down a role in the movie. He states that he's tired of folks "ni**erfying" these biopics. Helene (wife of Eugene Allen) was far from a boozer or adulteress and although some are acknowledging it as well as marginalizing how that colors the actuality of their lives; remains a mystery to me. Different facets of the "black community" aren't exhibits of pathology as these films like to promote. I think Tanya has written a significant assessment here and I'm sure she had some idea of the flak she'd receive because of it. Courage and integrity are wonderful traits!

  • FactChecker | August 21, 2013 7:27 PMReply

    I understand some of the author's discontent, but every time you/she writes a post it seems like it comes from a place of envy, anger, hatred, and depression, and based on a personal agenda, as opposed to thoughtful, critical analysis. ... And if you think that Cecil Gaines' voice was suppressed in the movie then I don't know what movie you saw last weekend. ... Like our country, Hollywood isn't perfect, nor are the people who inhabit it. I didn't see Gloria's character as being denigrated, but rather as being a flawed human being who was dealing with a lot of personal issues (like most people!). And I agree with Zaida that Oprah is, and has, produced entertainment to uplift black women, and the race. ... Now, other than bitching, and griping, what the hell have you done for us, lately? ... While I believe that art, and commerce, can coexist, at the end of the day it's called SHOW BUSINESS for a reason.

  • Baderinwa Fola | August 21, 2013 10:02 PM

    Why is it that when a Black person critiques the work or behavior of a celebrated Black figure, they are charged with having ulterior motives, such as jealousy, envy, hatred? Why can't it simply be one conscience Black artist, or activist critiquing a work against the backdrop of this White Supremacist society?

  • Sean Jackson | August 21, 2013 6:50 PMReply

    After discovering the author is actually a fb friend, I looked her up on IMBb. Found three names that matched and none of them had any current credits. Why aren't you putting your energy toward realizing your own visions? Ohhh...wait, it's much easier and safe to complain about what another filmmaker is doing. I have a prediction; five years from now you'll be complaining about some other filmmaker and your own film credits will be right where they are now.

  • Neema Barnette | August 21, 2013 6:06 PMReply

    Thank you Tanya for your brilliant article!
    I agree with you and appreciate your detail in expressing
    The views if many of us!
    I also sincerely thank Shadow And Act for printing
    Tanya's important voice!

  • CareyCarey | August 21, 2013 5:45 PMReply

    Nope Tanya, not this time. Granted, this time, unlike your beautifully written Trayvon Martin post, this piece will not have a "Trojan Horse" affect. It will not leave nor attract racist cowards who were unknowingly invited to the party, but you have kicked shit on the wrong somebody - this time.

    Out of the box, starting with the title "Oprah Winfrey's Butlers -- Lee Daniels and Tyler Perry" you missed the mark. A butler's position, as with Lee Daniels' butler, is generally one of servitude without a voice nor opinion, that does not speak to the relationship Oprah has with the two black filmmakers. A butler does not collaborate with his superiors on projects of great importance, nor does the superior get down and dirt, hand in hand with the help. Oprah, Lee Daniels and Tyler Perry are business partners and in this film Ms. Winfrey was not running the ship, she could be viewed as Lee Daniels' "help". So I questioned where you were going with this piece and your motivations.

    Well, it appears that in this "guilt by association" article, which reads much like school yard sandbox fodder, you let your emotions and personal agenda rule you. How else can you explain associating Oprah and Lee Daniels with the pain you harbor from your personal experiences with sexual abuse and the woes of being a black woman? Were those issues the only messages you received from watching The Butler and Precious? Well, for most folks, I doubt they were the only rewards/issues/messages they received from watching either film. Besides, understanding that Oprah is an actress and an investor, why do you feel justified in attaching blame at her doorstep? She did not write any of the scripts in question. And, isn't it woefully shortsighted to marginalize her many accomplishments and endeavors geared toward the betterment of the black female with this one-sided attack on her character?

    That reminds me, isn't it awfully presumptuous of you to suggest Oprah's involvement was solely motivated by a lust for an Oscar? Mind you, and least we forget, Oprah is an actress, a producer, an investor and a friend of Lee Daniels and Tyler Perry. Some people fertilize their friendships by being there for -- their friends, helping them whenever they can.

    You may not have enjoyed Oprah's performance for reasons all your own, but as with your opinions on Precious, Mo'Nique and "exaggerated horror and poverty pornography" (whatever in the hell that is, but I'll get back to that ambiguous phrase) millions will disagree with you... and be justified in doing so.

    Now, in reference to the phrase niggerfied and poverty porn, if you were given the opportunity to write Precious (or The Butler), how would you write the screenplay? From my perspective they were written as art imitating life. I mean, as you testified, women are raped, brutalized, used and abuse, so would you delete those messages? And, most people have seen dysfunctional characters just like Mo'Nique's "Mary Jones". Many have lived in that house. Would you gloss-over or whitewash those true heart-wrenching issues?

    Granted, much of The Butler was fictionalized. In reality, Allen's wife, Helene, did not have a problem with alcohol nor did she have an affair. The biggest liberty taken, however, was giving Cecil two sons in the film. There was only one child, Charles. Charles did serve in Vietnam, but is still alive. Louis, the older son in The Butler and a Freedom Rider and early member of the Black Panther Party, is the lens through which much of the film's depiction of the civil rights movement is seen—he was invented for the film. So Tanya, tell me, if it was your screenplay, not Danny Strong's, while trying to maintain an entertaining and connected film, what fictionalized accounts would leave in, the black panther or Oprah's "Tennessee Williams"? Or, maybe, you'd simply clean-up the Butler's wife so all black women wouldn't look so bad, huh? Yep, then that mean self-serving usurper, Oprah Winfrey, who's insensitive approach to the struggles of the black female wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell of plying her crafts, huh. That would suit you just fine, wouldn't it? Kill the messenger and fu*k art, right?

  • Sean Jackson | August 21, 2013 5:30 PMReply

    Ummmm...You should be working on your next screenplay instead of writing a ridiculous article like this. You missed a few Lee Daniels movies (The Paperboy was great.) Sour grapes it sounds like. And how does complaining about other black filmmakers help you get your film done, or your script sold? We do this to each other way to much! YOU write the scripts and make the movies YOU want to make and stop worrying about others. Maybe you'll be less angry.

  • Theodora | August 21, 2013 4:55 PMReply

    Sorry to disappoint you further but Lee Daniels did not write the Butler, here's who did http://racismws.com/2013/08/17/is-lee-daniels-the-butler-really-a-black-movie-2/

  • Celluloidread | August 21, 2013 6:12 PM

    Depending on how anyone feels about Lee Daniels this may or may not matter very much but, based on the hour long interview with Daniels, Winfrey, Whitaker and screenwriter Danny Strong on Charlie Rose, Daniels collaborated directly with Strong in the development of the screenplay. Strong actually thanks Daniels for providing him with the necessary insights to take the screenplay to the next level and give it authenticity. Not taking a stand, just sharing info. Haven't seen the film.

  • BelovedKAT | August 21, 2013 4:43 PMReply

    Why? Because, you went. You already knew in your heart of heart what you would see but you had to see it ONE MORE TIME! We keep going back & they keep bringing it back, because it sells! You went. And so did millions others I'm sure. Myself excluded. I gave up on media in thsi country a decade ago. It has not changed but you know what, they have not got my money to thank for that.
    The real question is... how many chances do you give before you give up? You couldn't PAY me to go to an American made film that is suppose to "represent" blacks as a complex, creative & compassionate race. Inevitably SOMETHING will be lacking or falsely portrayed, or portrayed & presented to American culture as what, "black" is. Considering that most folks DO NOT have many friends out of their own race, if the ONLY thing Caucasians are seeing to know what I as a black woman am like, they still have not even the foggiest of ideas. I would not pay to see a film about black people in this country. It ALWAYS has to show race & how we struggle for acceptance (like that crap is in the past, rolls eyes), it always has to show us poor or depraved (very few exceptions to these ALWAYS). It almost always shows negative relationships & bittersweet (if we are lucky enough to get that much "sweet" in our endings). The ending is almost always questionably happy but there is ALWAYS a loss too. None of thsi crap happens on a ALWAYS basis in Caucasian films. So the question is really, why don't WE get it? Why are we still going? Why are we paying, first with our money & then with the misconceptions then used to determine what & why we do anything. Black media still has A LONG way to go. We are not there yet. Not in this America, today. But, maybe someday.

  • Kevin | August 21, 2013 4:24 PMReply

    Ms. Steele, have you considered directing? Perhaps on the stage? I ask because you have a very bold, distinct voice.

  • ZAIDI | August 21, 2013 4:05 PMReply

    Live some more, and come back and speak your mind. Oprah's out there in the world trying to make a difference. What are you doing? Bashing Oprah. That's time wasted on what you could be doing and achieving for yourself! Do something great for yourself and the world, so that someone, such as yourself, can bash on you!!

  • Lauren | August 21, 2013 5:26 PM

    Zaidi, you missed it.

  • RMD | August 21, 2013 3:58 PMReply

    I have to disagree with some of the points you bring up. I especially disagree with your statement "Unfortunately, we are never inside of the Butler's head. We don't experience what he thinks or feels about the unique situation he is in. This is a script issue. The writer didn't see the world through his eyes." There are many examples which I can think of where we are in The Butler's head (most of the film is narrated by him for goodness sake). One good example is when The Butler is invited to a presidential dinner as a guest and he is conflicted about whether he's there for show while other injustices are occurring outside of the white house (injustices that his son usually brings to the forefront of his mind). I actually thought The Butler was a very well developed character that felt authentic for a man who is grappling with current issues and the generational gap between him and his son. As for Oprah's character, maybe I'm not seeing what you're seeing since I'm a black man. And I totally agree that more full, complex representations of black women are in need. But, I actually found Oprah's character to be quite full and VERY far from Mo'Nique's character in Precious. I don't think that's a good comparison at all because I felt Oprah's actions were more motivated as someone who is also grappling with the generational gap and progress vs. the safety/love of her son. Now I don't think the Butler was perfect, but it was definitely better than I expected it to be and what you put forth here in this article. But maybe I'm just not seeing what you're seeing.

  • CJG | August 21, 2013 3:38 PMReply

    Dear Ms. Steele,

    An interesting piece, especially for this white man in the mainstream film business. However, when you write in closing that "The Black 1% has to learn to lift up all black folks -not just the ones whose stories have the potential to garner an Oscar or a bright new shiny lamp" I have to call that not only naive but self-destructive. The Black 1% is no more likely to support the African-American 99% than the White 1% is going to support the artists of its own race and culture. Unless there's money to be made or a reflected glory to be had. Sure, Ms. Winfrey or Robert Johnson or Magic Johnson could bankroll a low budget film with the interest they just earned on one of their bank accounts during just the time it took me to write this sentence. But they don't -- or, at least, they never will frequently enough to create a vibrant indie Black Cinema.

    I think any indie cinema these days demands more and more crowd-sourcing and/or micro-budgeting like Shane Carruth's $7,000 PRIMER. The power will come from below, never from on high...

    Best,

    CJG

  • Lori | August 21, 2013 3:24 PMReply

    All that is left for you to do is drop the mic. Well said my sister!!!

  • D.A. | August 21, 2013 3:21 PMReply

    I believe in the idea of "respect going both ways". I refuse to believe that we can expect an Oprah or a Tyler Perry to "lift us up" when we constantly feel the need to vilify them for whatever they get involved in. This post came off terribly one-sided to me, as if Oprah were supposed to be God, and isn't supposed to have her own set of problems and past traumas that contribute to what she involves herself in today. Was it not too long ago that we found out that she, herself, didn't have much of a wonderful upbringing?!?! The last I checked she wasn't born with a silver spoon, and even silver spoons don't guarantee happiness. And lets not forget no matter how many "butlers" she may have, she is still looked at as a NIGGER to those who don't know her but by the color of her skin (Switzerland anyone?!?!?!!). Would it be great that the roles she supported weren't perceived to be so demeaning to black women?! Yes, of course. But we cannot afford to nitpick at everything that doesn't go our way on the big screen, we can easily opt out of purchasing the movie tickets or turning on the tv (it's REALLY not that hard.... and you can keep Oscar, I'll be just as fine with my NAACP Image Award!!!). ESPECIALLY when we don't take the effort to support those projects that showcase a nuance to the black female (or black american) experience. I feel that Oprah supports what not necessarily represents every black woman in the country, but what relates to her and her experiences. We should never expect of her what we as individuals expect from ourselves. It's pointless, and I personally feel that it's redundant. The same goes for Harry Belafonte and his criticism (on mainstream media, mind you) of Jay-Z and Beyonce. That much effort to criticize 2 pop stars should have gone towards his efforts of recognizing voter disenfranchisement, something I'm sure he's just as passionate about. Was what The Carter's do with their money that big of a deal in comparison to you getting affordable health care, or even the very right to vote!?!?! seriously.

  • Akim | August 21, 2013 3:03 PMReply

    Are you kidding me?! Oprah's performance is nothing like Mo'nique's! They are two completely different characters. You are truly whacked Ms. Steele. You clearly have an agenda of your own.

  • anon | August 21, 2013 2:49 PMReply

    maybe, denigration of black women is what lee, daniels and winfrey have in common. they just to it in different ways, and oprah's is less noticeable because she's female and uses consumerism, and not sexism to achieve that?

  • Rajiv Pandit | August 21, 2013 2:41 PMReply

    Don't forget Lee Daniels also directed "The Paperboy" with a stellar cast to underwhelming results. His instincts as a former casting director often are at odds with the performances he gets as a director.

  • nasajmp | August 21, 2013 2:36 PMReply

    Spike Lee recently posted a revised version of his essential whatever list that concerns a black female director who had to basically go around all kinds of crazy corners to get her film made, and when it was released people basically called it a masterpiece. I'm not saying that it's not a problem for women in general to get their films made, especially African American women, because it is. What I am saying is that this woman said fuck off and did it herself, which is bad ass, which is the essence of art and independent cinema, not this current "hire a recognizable star for your movie but make it for under 5 mil" independent. Orpah's rich. Plain and simple. She's not the representative of culture that she thinks she is and neither is Tyler Perry or Lee Daniels. It's always been the people who don't get their dues. I don't know about many out there, but that's my fault because I haven't looked hard enough. Maybe in a few decades the Hollywood Video version of film publishing will start feeling more like the local independent video store that's still standing after all the chain rental places went out of business. It'll happen, and Oprah will be waiting to jump on whichever side wins in the end.

  • Eshowoman | August 21, 2013 2:13 PMReply

    Oprah has a habit of ruining black women's narratives (The Wedding, There Eyes Were Watching God, Women of Brewster Place) and Lee Daniels has never written a black woman character he did not degrade. The real wife of Eugene Allen was not an adulterous alcoholic.

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