'The Butler' Made Obama Cry. How About You?

News
by Tambay A. Obenson
August 27, 2013 7:51 PM
23 Comments
  • |
Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines in Lee Daniels’ THE BUTLER

"You know, I did see “The Butler,” and I did tear up.  I teared up just thinking about not just the butlers who have worked here in the White House, but an entire generation of people who were talented and skilled, but because of Jim Crow, because of discrimination, there was only so far they could go.  And yet, with dignity and tenacity, they got up and worked every single day, and put up with a whole lot of mess because they hoped for something better for their kids."

Words from President Barack Obama, speaking with Tom Joyner on his radio show, earlier today.

He also added that his favorite scene in the movie was the one in which Cuba Gooding Jr.'s character told some *interesting* jokes - jokes that couldn't be repeated on the air. If you've seen the film, you'll know what he's talking about here.

He also praised the acting in the film, stating:

"I thought Forest Whitaker was wonderful... And Oprah, my girl, she can act. She's just a wonderful actress, so I'm glad they did it."

And then he shared a little on his experience with the current White House butlers:

"When Michelle and the girls and I first arrived, they could not have been kinder to us and warmer to us," Obama said. "And part of it, I suppose, is they look at Malia and Sasha and they say, 'This looks like my grandbaby,' or 'This looks like my daughter.' I think for them to have a sense that we've come that far was a powerful moment for them, and certainly a powerful moment for us. We love them to death. They look after us just wonderfully."

In listening to the interview, which took place at the White House, I realized that, in the case of Lee Daniel's The Butler, we didn't have one of our usual after-opening-weekend talkbacks, which I usually post when it's a much-discussed film, the Monday after its theatrical premiere. So, with Obama's personal reaction to it now official (as well as Harry Lennix's), if you've seen the The Butler, what were your thoughts on it?

In short, I was underwhelmed. Despite good intentions by cast and crew, I found it lackluster, and hamfisted. It's conventional Hollywood biopic Oscar bait, lacking necessary subtlety that at times makes it seem like a parody of itself. 

I actually liked the rugged, grimy The Paperboy - Daniels' last film - much more than this one.

What did you think of The Butler? Did it make you cry like it did for Obama?

News
  • |

More: Lee Daniels

You might also like:
Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    

23 Comments

  • HomegirlBlog | August 31, 2013 1:54 PMReply

    I cried during the lunch counter training/execution scenes. And during the water hose an dog scenes. I enjoyed the film. The cast was stellar. I was so happy to see Oprah on screen again and lived for Yaya's performance. I'm still waiting for her to get a lead role. I've never seen her in a role she didn't do amazingly well in.

  • ernchamp | August 28, 2013 6:50 PMReply

    i fett nothing from the film.....i'm not much of a fan of daniels direction.

  • Robyn | August 28, 2013 2:46 PMReply

    I enjoyed it. I am glad a historical film with top performances is out there for the younger generation to see because there are not many films that can portray history in the way the Butler did. Also, the tension between the father and son and their experiences I think is something many people can relate to. It wasn't a perfect film, but I was happy with it and thought it was excellent. I was moved.

  • Mimi | August 28, 2013 1:22 PMReply

    I cried towards the end. I started becoming emotional when they showed Oprah as an older woman, because her mannerisms throughout the movie and especially then reminded me of my dear aunt, who also passed out at home in front of her husband and died shortly thereafter (just typing that made me cry).

    I also cried when Forrest and son watched Obama win, cause it reminded me of that day in 2008. My dad phoned me once the election was called, in tears himself, and he remarked how much Obama reminded him of my son, who has been abandoned by his African dad and being raised by his American mom and grandparents. I will always remember that moment of listening to my dad while watching CNN.

    The best part of the movie, for me, was the depiction of a working class, Black laboring family and community with southern roots. Those are my people, and it is rare that I get to see them in all of their beauty on the big screen.

  • Claudia Polley | August 28, 2013 12:37 PMReply

    Could it be that those who dislike this film did not live in its most portrayed time? The story struck deep and true to my generation and we hope now those of you who did not live in this time, will better understand from whence you cometh. This film portrays families I grew up with, and to a certain extent, was a part of in the 50s, 60s, 70s. The depiction of the tension and carriage of people who worked long hours doing jobs today's young consider demeaning and lacking in respect...is absolutely dead-on. The women are mothers, aunts, neighbors we al had back in the day, and there is nothing demeaning in the portrayal of them by Daniels. They are real. It was that time. The men were a little more Hollywood in some aspects, to my mind, but their dignity and comraderie was a world I knew to be true.

    Did I cry, oh yes there were tears at many scenes which brought back memories of people and place of those days. Of families that showed their support for the civil rights movement in many different ways because they felt constrained by their position in community to speak out in favor of those who took on evil face-to-face. James Baldwin wrote most eloquently and rightly about that period, and the generational pride of black folks on what was going on, in his essay "A Letter to My Nephew", which was the genesis of his extraordinary tome "The Fire Next Time". Read it people...maybe then you will better understand "The Butler". http://progressive.org/archive/1962/december/letter

  • BluTopaz | August 31, 2013 2:14 PM

    Claudia thank you for posting that link to Mr. Baldwin's piece, he is one of my favorite writers. I particularly love this passage which is applicable to a story like The Butler:

    "Well, the black man has functioned in the white man's world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar, and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations."

  • Jon Flores | August 28, 2013 12:16 PMReply

    I was moved by the film. Particularly powerful for me were the lunch counter scenes and the training that the protesters went through to prepare for that moment.

    I also thought Oprah did an outstanding job, and I'm not that much of an Oprah fan.

  • NO BRAINER | August 28, 2013 11:55 AMReply

    Nice imagination CAREYCAREY.

    However, the lack of subtlety is the least of the film's problems for me. My biggest problem with any film is one featuring a protagonist who seems passive. Unfortunately for this story, it was how the protagonist survived. The only times he did anything was when he escaped from the plantation, confronted the powers that be for pay raises and when he met with his son in the end. What about the rest of the over 2 hour film? It all made for a slow movie that couldn't end fast enough. If it wasn't for the Butler's son, there wouldn't be a story. It would've been just them watching events unfold on TV. Maybe it should've been more the son's story?

    I need to see protagonists of any story actively pursuing a goal, whether subtly or noisily. That's my biggest problem with this film.

  • CareyCarey | August 28, 2013 7:15 PM

    NO BRAINER, that's an interesting and valid point. AND, I agree, there were parts of the movie that were sloooow. And, as you noted, if it were not for the "controversy" within the family unit, which many seem to conveniently forget, what was left?

    I tell you what's left, which many refuse to accept or identify, that is, cheap pandering to our emotional memories. Listen, crying is okay, it's a form of catharsis that soothes our souls, however, don't use some of the greatest moments (flashbacks) in the history of the black man's struggles in America (i.e., Martin Luther King speech, President Barack Obama Inauguration speech) to invoke precious memories, and then call it a great movie. More importantly, again as you noted, those images that tugged at our heartstrings were juxtaposed against the backdrop of the other less-than positive images of the black experience.

    Take out the rebellious son. Take out Oprah's adulterous alcoholic character. Take out the skewed images of the Black Panther Party. Take out the implied Angela Davis character and Oprah's perception of her... "that low class bitch". Take out Terrence Howard's character of the fornicating womanizing black man who was shot in another man's bed. Take out the scenes of black citizens being violated in the most extreme fashions... and I repeat, what IS left for our amusement?

    I'll tell you, take out all of the above, what remains is tear-jerking flashbacks and scenes of a lonely passive black man as he grieves the passing of his wife, both of which pandered to our dearest memories.

  • shay_lafemme | August 28, 2013 11:52 AMReply

    i didn't love it. the portrayal of Black women is a betrayal. where there are plenty of real characters to play antagonist, Lee Daniels sets up the Black woman as the Black man's evil nemesis. it's Tyler Perryisms buffed up with a little more shine. i would have given it to Lee Daniels if the Butler's wife was an alcoholic and/or adulterer or son's friend/GF was sooo belligerent in real life, but apparently, they were wholly creations of Lee Daniels (see ‘The Butler’ Fact Check: How True Is This True Story? on The Daily Beast). i understand there is a need for tension to give the story arc, but i just have issues with the trend of Black women being portrayed ... sooo grotesquely (hyper evil) ... by Black men.

  • Gilchristsays | August 28, 2013 11:45 AMReply

    In response to the question "did it make you cry?"... The only point at which I teared up was when Cecil and his son watch Obama win the 2008 presidential election. I remember wishing that my grandparents had lived to see that particular moment in history because of all they went through as black people from Nicols, South Carolina. It would have been one of their best moments because of all that they went through and witnessed growing up in the 1920s southern U.S. Other than that, there were definitely a few moments that tugged at my emotions but did not actually move me to tears. I liked the film but, as much as I wanted to, I did not LOVE it. I am awed by Forest's performance and hope he gets an Oscar for it. I had some issues with the writing and some of the scenes seemed a bit clumsy. All of that being said, I still hope it is recognized at Oscar time and that someone from the team takes home a statue. I haven't taken my mother (67 yrs old) to see it yet but am very interested to hear her take on it when I do.

  • CareyCarey | August 28, 2013 7:51 AMReply

    VINDICATION IS MINE! Heaven must be like this... it must be like this, the editor of S&A and I, see eye to eye.

    "HAMFISTED! It's conventional Hollywood biopic Oscar bait, lacking necessary subtlety that at times makes it seem like a parody of itself."

    Damn, Tambay took the words right out of my mouth. Well, actually I've been searching for an appropriate word to describe Lee Daniels' The Butler... and HAMFISTED says it all. I was leaning more toward calling it a red light special of melodrama-mammy but that would have been too negrofied. I mean seriously, "lacking subtlety" is a mild way of saying Lee Daniels borrowed from Tyler Perry's play book. In short, The Butler was hamfisted-mammyfied-negrofied-hokeyfied-melodrama to the tenth degree... and it worked. Many folks got emotionally attached.

    Did I cry? Okay, cry, like what... tears of joy? I mean, I don't quite understand. Was tears of compassion, sorrow or sympathy for hokey movie characters, the call of the day? Hell, I should have cried out for the police, but it's kind of embarrassing to admit being stuck-up by the Weinsteins. What was I going to tell them, two white guys took my money and they didn't even have a gun, just game? Who likes to admit that they've been used, bamboozled and pimped?

    But... free at last, free at last, great God ol' Mighty we's free at last!

    **Tambay and Carey are seen sobbing in each others arms as the Weinsteins chuckle while creeping out a back door. The slick and savvy investors are carrying large sacks labeled "BLACK FOLKS MONEY" **

  • Mark & Darla | August 28, 2013 12:24 AMReply

    Enjoyed the movie immensely however, didn't like that Jimmy Carter Administration was skip over. Forest and Oprah Oscar performance was a delight to watch.

  • Michelle Materre | August 27, 2013 10:35 PMReply

    I think this is the first time I've ever disagreed with you about a film, Tambay, and it's not a bad thing! I believe it's definitely a cultural and generational difference of opinion. I was pleasantly surprised that Daniels didn't make this film only for white folks...he kept the integrity and significance of the contributions of many African Americans at the forefront, from all walks of life, depicting how we gained the rights we have today...Not that we have achieved everything Dr. King spoke about 50 years ago by any means, but for our parents and grandparents, those of us who were born on this side of the pond would not be in the many positions, like President of the United States, if it weren't for the butlers, and others who gave their lives and paved the way...

  • Amari | August 27, 2013 9:33 PMReply

    I felt, if you are looking for an accurate depiction of the Civil Rights movement, then this in naturally not for you. As with the inspiration for the Butler, the whole story is inspired. It took facts about what happened, used a man's life to depict a different point of view, and I think did well.

    Not to say I was fond of them glossing over everything and having the usual showing of the Black Panthers as some militant group looking to cause trouble, but it was nice to see a family's view on the civil rights movement. In a way, I wished they took the whole White House butler part out and just made it about a man trying to understand the changing times. The White House element brought in a nice batch of actors in, but outside painting them as ignorant or perhaps racist, their place didn't do much.

    Still, like quite a few people, I found myself crying as hard as I did when I was of age to get an ass whooping. My mouth was hurting from how much crying I was doing.

  • FactChecker | August 27, 2013 9:02 PMReply

    I cried throughout. I don't know what's wrong with those of you who didn't. I tried to envision and embrace what it must have really felt like, for example, for the young freedom riders on the bus. And I, like our President, thought a lot about all of the men and women who were unable to reach their potential because of Jim Crow. I still think about that, and get angry, especially when people like Jay Z, Lil Wayne, and Russell Simmons thoughtlessly parody, and disparage, our civil rights icons. They trample, with no regard, for all that was fought, on our history. They have no respect or regard for Black people. And that makes my stomach turn. And it makes my stomach turn even more that too many young black people are like sheep who look up to people like them, and other pathetic people who call themselves artists and don't know the first thing about free speech, their history, or the price of the blood that was shed so that they can spew their vile, disgusting, misogyentistic filth.

    I thought Forrest and Oprah were wonderful! And I loved the REAL family dynamic between them and their sons. Even though life was difficult during the era it doesn't mean people didn't laugh, and socialize, and have a good time. Everything wasn't all doom and gloom. And I believe Lee Daniel's captured that wonderfully. Forrest and Oprah will definitely receive Oscar nods for this, as they should; and I believe Daniel Strong will receive a nod for screenplay adaptation and Daniels for best director.

    This is a movie every school-aged child between 12 and 18 should be shown. followed by numerous past, and current documentaries, to provide context.

  • Jay Z | August 27, 2013 8:46 PMReply

    I didn't tear up but I definitely was deeply moved by the scenes of the courageous young folks who sat at the lunch counters and on the freedom buses with no weapons of any kind but courage. I know I could not have done that. They're the heroes for me as much as the butler for his resoluteness. I looked at it less as a film (not so great) and more as the visceral history lesson I want my kids to observe. I think far too may of us forget what was done in our name and for future generations by the sacrifices of so many that were so much more difficult than a few lines mentioning their acts in our history books (if they're even mentioned!).

  • Donella | August 28, 2013 6:00 PM

    This was the part that got me too.

  • alysha | August 27, 2013 8:15 PMReply

    Of course, I cried. The movie is a tear-jerking. I made it until the end without crying, until the scene when Cecil sees his son at the protest for Nelson Mandela and he says to his son, "I'm here to protest with you." And I don't just mean I shed a few. I was WEEPING at the strength of what that scene represented for a father and son, and the many sacrifices our ancestors made so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today.

  • NO BRAINER | August 27, 2013 8:19 PM

    best scene of the movie...

  • Dankwa Brooks | August 27, 2013 8:14 PMReply

    I had a moment like this.
    ""When Michelle and the girls and I first arrived, they could not have been kinder to us and warmer to us," Obama said. "And part of it, I suppose, is they look at Malia and Sasha and they say, 'This looks like my grandbaby,' or 'This looks like my daughter.' I think for them to have a sense that we've come that far was a powerful moment for them, and certainly a powerful moment for us."

    Now mine wasn't as "powerful" as walking in as the First Family of color walking into the White House, but I went to college at a PWI and on graduation day as we lined up to go march into the ceremony the black custodians were in the hallway and gave me a head nod and smiles as I went by. You could tell they were proud to see someone who "looked like them" to be getting their degree. That was my first proud graduation moment and I hadn't even crossed the stage yet!

    About 'Lee Daniels The Butler' I liked it and I thought the civil rights aspects were the best parts. I can totally see how Tambay feels the way he does too and some of what he says is valid.

    Oprah Winfrey really surprised me though with her level of performance. I didn't expect her to pull off being so saucy!

    FOR REAL, FOR REAL THOUGH if you want to see another film about civil rights check out the EXCELLENT & POWERFUL 2011 film by Stanley Nelson 'FREEDOM RIDERS' about the REAL Freedom Riders as depicted in 'The Butler'. 'Freedom Riders' really almost made me cry. So powerful.

  • Dee | August 27, 2013 8:13 PMReply

    not only did it not make me cry, i was pissed. From the way the portrayed black liberation fighters as immoral people with armpit hair that burp, to skipping Jimmy Carter (lol) I was not impressed. Even the lighting irritated me, as some scenes that were not key to cecil's life seemed abandoned- i wrote about it on a blog http://nenaworld.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/the-butler-versus-black-august-liberal-tunnel-vision-of-historical-radical-traditions/

  • NO BRAINER | August 27, 2013 7:58 PMReply

    I have to admit, I was moved at the end. It was Whitaker's performance that delivered it home. But the rest of the movie was boring.

Follow Shadow and Act

Email Updates

Most "Liked"

  • Brazilian Filmmaker Vicente Ferraz Will ...
  • Watch New NSFW Spring Break-Inspired ...
  • Feature Doc On Quixotic Life Of NYC ...
  • Black Movie Trivia - Congrats to our ...
  • Watch 4 Clips From 'Draft Day' + Chadwick ...
  • Take A Trip Through Morgan Freeman's ...
  • International Black Women's Film Festival ...
  • Check Out The Soccer Films Line-Up At ...
  • Taraji P. Henson Drama 'From The Rough' ...
  • Interview: Marlon Wayans Talks Career, ...