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Trailer For Lee Daniels' 'The Butler' Suggests A Film That's Anything But A Lee Daniels Project

by Tambay A. Obenson
May 7, 2013 8:40 PM
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"The Butler."

In watching this trailer, I actually found myself missing the Lee Daniels I've become accustomed to. If I didn't know that Daniels directed this, I would've been shocked to find out that he did. 

This plays so straight and narrow, and thus drab, with the heavy traditional Hollywood trailer soundtrack music, and scenes oozing with earnestness. 

I don't know... I'm not motivated to see it based on what I see here.

The stories around the making of the film just may be more interesting than the film itself. For starters, you might recall Harry Lennix, who said he was offered a part in The Butler, after reading the script, called it "N*ggerfied... Historical Porn."

And there was the fuss over a love scene between Terrence Howard and Oprah Winfrey that is said to have gotten out of hand. Although, it's a PG13 movie, so it couldn't have gotten that much out of hand.

Daniels did warn at Cannes last year, when The Paperboy premiered, that:

"I’m trying to keep it [The Butler] PG13 which is not easy for me. It’s very un-Precious and un-Paperboy... I can’t go into my bag of tricks on this one [...] I felt like I directed the film in handcuffs and a muzzle."

It sure looks like it to me.

I'd rather have Daniels go back to making his smaller, independent, envelope-pushing movies, instead of Hollywood tripe like this. At least, I find him more interesting as an artist, when he's working within those limits.

Regardless, I'm curious to see what a handcuffed and muzzled Lee Daniels work might look like, so naturally I will see the film. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised. It is supposed to be a film that The Weinstein Company expects to push during awards season this year.

The Butler covers several decades in the life of Eugene Allen, the White House butler who served many presidents, and is loaded with a cast that includes: Forest WhitakerOprah WinfreyDavid Oyelowo, Colman DomingoJohn CusackAlan Rickman, Jane Fonda, Melissa LeoLiev SchreiberJesse Williams, Aml Ameen, Lenny Kravitz, Cuba Gooding Jr and many more.

Music for the film is composed by the legendary Quincy Jones.

Laura Ziskin Production, The Butler is produced by Pamela Oas Williams, the late Laura Ziskin, Lee Daniels, and Cassian Elwes. It's executive produced by Hilary Shor and Adam Merims; and co-produced by David Jacobson.

For our thoughts on the film's script, and casting, read Vanessa's script review HERE, and Natasha's casting close-up of the film HERE.

Watch the trailer below:

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  • rupert | August 19, 2013 8:39 AMReply

    The soundtrack isn't composed by quincy jones. It is composed by Rodrigo Leão.

  • admam | August 19, 2013 7:17 AMReply

    The blubbering regarding the title's clumsiness, along with the story's provenance. This representative, Shelter Daniels, is no drifter to awkward post titles.
    Watch Lee Daniels' The Butler online free

  • deb | August 6, 2013 2:03 PMReply

    I am being overwhelmed with constant racist rants from celebrities about white people, and the aftermath of the george zimmerman trial and now movies -- I am tired of it. If the black people don't like the whites then find another place to live. The white people I know have done nothing but support the black people, especially the ones that really are changing themselves and doing good in their communities. Come on people-- how about movies where white and black people get along and move forward in our lives, instead of always reliving the past!!!

  • cecily thomas | August 16, 2013 2:15 PM

    It happened, its history. Movies where white and black get along is not made in hollywood.
    For kids, adults, everybody, I think The Butler is just a really great reminder of the past. Embrace your history, dont be ashamed of it. Tthe purpose of the film throught the eyes of that Butler is show where we been - the struggle - to see how far we have come. "Those who are unaware of history are destined to repeat it." It is said that history repeats itself, but we are only doomed to relive our past if we fail to learn from it. "The past is not a map to where you are going, it's a record of where you have been. Its purpose is not to drag you back through emotional muck, but to serve you best by reminding you of lessons learned so you can avoid them in the future." My father told me one time, you don't know where you're going until you know where you've been". He is 75 and I am happy to take both of my parents to see this film.
    Learn from it.

  • Bobbert Hubbins | August 9, 2013 2:22 AM

    Please Hollywood, stop cranking out these mind numbing movies . The trailer alone with the Oprah drama and Forest Whitaker with hair is too much. I was soo elated when I thought she was retiring from media altogether but obviously she has come back to tell the harrowing story of how one white man went against the odds to have respect for black. Bravo, we keep needing reminded that everyone is racist and a few from our past were brothers from another mother . This movie was already nauseating when it was called "The Help". If people would just stop going to watch this garbage then they would stop making it Id assume. Stop the madness.

  • NO BRAINER | May 10, 2013 4:15 PMReply

    Not bad, Mr. Daniels. I wasn't a fan of Precious but this may work for me.

  • regi | May 8, 2013 3:07 PMReply

    lol. while i'm not as despairing as tambay, perhaps that because i'm not as affectionate for the "old" lee daniels as he is. i agree tho' that, based on the trailer, this looks like the same kind of pc-approved, liberal, make-liberal-wht-folks feel better historical "fiction" that hollywood loves to turn out: see "blind side", "the help", "42", and on and on, ad nauseum.
    the most eccentric thing about it, for me, is the casting of the presidents: james marsden as jfk, alan rickman as reagan(!), and i'm taking a wild guess that robin williams is supposed to be truman (surely he can't be lbj?!)

  • Eric | May 8, 2013 2:46 PMReply

    You have got to be kidding me. There are millions of stories of amazing African Americans in our history but yet the story we highlight and give credence to is one of a butler? Seriously, let that sink in for a moment… a butler, someone with janitorial and subservient job requirements. Much respect to the man, but in the end he had very, very, very little if any effect on politics, issues, bills etc.

    Going to see this film is condoning the white executives decision who green lighted this film in the first place.

    Think about this for a second, how many films about White butlers, janitors, maids, drivers, etc. have been made?

    Please save your money, don’t go see this film. Instead check out Fruitvale Station.

  • Campbell | May 8, 2013 1:34 PMReply

    Ah, yes.
    Assimilation has reared its ugly head toward the dear brother Lee Daniels.
    Bless the brother.
    He's been fighting the good fight, and avoiding it for years, with his provocative fair, but, alas....
    In order to succeed in these United States, one must assimilate to some degree or another. The key is to do so on one's own terms.

    Who's next?

  • Spirit Equality | May 8, 2013 1:31 PMReply

    SMH @ "Everything you are and everything you have is because of that butler".

    No way I'll ever see this movie.

    It's the typical two-dimensional portrayal of history: Kennedy is the "new white boy (who is) smooth" and (seemingly) helps out a Freedom Rider while simultaneously knowing that the FBI is wiretapping every civil rights activist in the country. I'm pretty sure the latter won't get included in this movie, because that would add the layer of complexity that Hollywood is never going to allow to disturb well set narratives like "Northern Democrat = good/Southern racist = bad".

  • browneyesblue | May 8, 2013 12:19 PMReply

    The trailer looks interesting. I want to see this.

  • Peggy | May 8, 2013 10:02 AMReply

    It looks ok to me. I'm a good judge of movies by looking at the trailer and this trailer is very good. Of course the makeup on the white folks sucks and the movie does look a little HBO-ey, but I'll go see it just by the sheer number of excellent actors in it. And also because crazy Terrence was feeling up Oprah's big 'ol titties.

  • Tired of the same | May 8, 2013 9:31 AMReply

    (In my Suge Knight voice) "If you tired of playing butlers, maids, and slaves in every movie that comes out of Hollywood; GET BEHIND MY MOVIE!" Iniquities on Indiegogo, be a part of the movement."

  • Spirit Equality | May 8, 2013 1:27 PM

    That was the best piece of self-promotion I've seen in almost 20 years online.

  • mawon | May 8, 2013 10:09 AM

    But Lee Daniels, who is black, is behind this. It's not as simple as that when you have to pander to white audiences.

  • collins | May 8, 2013 8:21 AMReply

    I hope somewhere in this movies the guy comes across as a hero because I see no other reason to make a film like this. Black people are tired of the past being thrown in their faces, we know what our ancestors endured and sacraficed in order for us to be where we are today. So let's get with the program and start making hero films for our brothers and sisters. Will Smith can't be the only black person out there who can slay aliens and save the world from distruction.

  • Bobbert Hubbins | August 9, 2013 2:34 AM

    Hey, dont forget Shaft!!

  • FilmGuy | May 8, 2013 6:41 AMReply

    Take note black folks. You can make films in Hollywood, as long as it depicts black folks as servants of the benevolent white overlords. That, or despicable criminals only capable of savagery with no redeeming qualities.

    Anything positively depicting black people on their own will get bought up and shelved, ignored, or dismissed without much fanfare. You can be mad about it, but that's the game that's being played.

    We're in the era of white rule. It sucks for those with aspirations to be kings and queens, but our role this go round is that of the lower class. It'd be best to modify yourselves to be the best servants you can be if you want to etch out a career for yourselves and your family.

    This is their time to rule. Everyone has their time. And as long as you understand this, and agree to uphold it, you will be successful.

  • Black Sun Tzu | May 8, 2013 3:25 AMReply

    Judging from the trailer, Forest Whitaker is heading to another Oscar nomination.

  • CC | May 8, 2013 2:18 AMReply

    "its not made for a black audience just as the help wasn't either "

    If that statement didn't come from my man Darkan, I'd throw caution to the wind. I mean, could someone please tell me what constitutes "a film for black folks"? Seriously, should I breakout the trite phrase "We are not a monolithic group"? Hell, what group of black folks is this not made for?

    Come on y'all, do those cautionary words make any sense? How does that work? Lets see, the film has a black director, a black cast and a black story, so what am I missing? Please, don't even try it, please don't tell me it's the boogieman sending subliminal messages of white superiority. And please don't blame it on Oscar? Think about that... how does that work? I get it, if a film is considered Superior to all films in a single years, it wasn't intended for black folk's eyes - huh? Yeeeaaah riiiiiight, get the...

    So please, one more time, what constitutes a film "for a black audience?" Hell, I just watched LUV starring Common, Dennis Haysbett and Danny Glover. Is that the right model? I mean, there was black folks, guns, drugs and a corny story, so that probably hit the spot - huh?

    Then again, maybe this non-target black audience is wearing dashikis and black leather gloves? Anyway, this notion that a film with a black director, black central character and a black cast, is not suited for a black audience -- is arguably the most ridiculous suggestion of the month.

  • Josh | May 8, 2013 11:08 AM

    I have to disagree on Glory. I know there is a feeling that Shaw was in it too much but the story was written from his memoirs and he was buried in a mass grave with his men. The movie also show's far more of the lower ranks then any other Civil War movie, which makes it one of the finest in my opinion.

  • Darkan | May 8, 2013 11:05 AM

    Thank you for giving CC clarity on this subject ESHOWOMAN. Through my ignorance and pride of knowledge I didn't give that part of the understanding in my initial post as I assumed that most blacks in the film community knew how these things worked. I admire you for your rebuttal CC.

  • CC | May 8, 2013 9:49 AM

    @ ESHOWOMAN, excuse me while I turn my back. I can't stand the pain of you seeing me cry. Yes, I have to admit you've throttled me. I am speechless, I have no rebuttal, I am lost for words.

    But I think I see a crack in the door.

  • Eshowoman | May 8, 2013 3:02 AM

    Films about black people that are not made for black people usually have one or more of the following characteristics. These films are made to bring the white audience into the theatre.
    1-Films that appeal to the white idea that all racial business is a thing of the past and that we live in post-racial, color blind world.- The Blind Side.
    2- Films that gloss over the horrific past of African Americans. - The Help,
    3- Films that exaggerate the roles whites had ending slavery or Jim Crow. -Mississipi Burning, Amistad
    4- Films that make black people the background in their own history. - Glory
    5- Film where slavery, Jim Crow, ect are played for jokes or over senationalized violence. - Django Unchained.
    I hope this is helpful/

  • mawon | May 8, 2013 1:57 AMReply

    There ain't nothing wrong with movies about Butlers, maids or drivers. But this happy-to-serve-white-folk shit is tired. And it will get all the awards and it will boom at the box office because white people loooooove to see black folk serving them with a smile. Look at that man shaming his black panther son, defending his president that don't give a damn about black progress. It's funny this trailer comes out around the same time the FBI decides to up the ante on the Assata Shakur hunt.

  • NO BRAINER | May 10, 2013 4:30 PM

    "Look at that man shaming his black panther son, defending his president that don't give a damn about black progress." -- MAWON

    Let's just see where they're going with the story first, shall we? There might be a reason for all this.

  • Joseph | May 8, 2013 1:18 AMReply

    Every time a black director becomes too successful it's always a problem. Crabs in a barrel Whatever.

  • Lauren | May 8, 2013 12:44 AMReply

    I find this refreshing compared to the swill of imagery I've been subjected to in Mr. Daniels previous works. The trailer hits all the marks. It is what it is and it looks like a commercially viable film. It's called show "business". Hope it makes a lot of money so hopefully more projects without the name Tyler Perry above the title black folks will get green lit.

  • Lauren | May 8, 2013 12:45 AM

    *with black folks...

  • ALM | May 7, 2013 11:53 PMReply

    Oprah is slapping folks and throwing that hair!


  • Courtney A. | May 7, 2013 11:20 PMReply

    Actually, I loved the trailer, it mades me want to go and see it. However, he did play it safe, any one's name as a director could have shot it. Very typical HOLLYWOOD.

  • julius hollingsworth | May 7, 2013 11:06 PMReply

    I like it so far.

  • Jay | May 7, 2013 11:00 PMReply

    Oprah looks glamorous as hell *drops mic*

  • saadiyah | May 7, 2013 10:48 PMReply

    This trailer is calling me to the theater!

  • JUJU | May 7, 2013 10:36 PMReply

    NOOO!! This trailer is awesome. I really want to see this film, I can't wait. As of right now I'm still on Team 12 Years A Slave for the Oscars!

  • CareyCarey | May 7, 2013 10:22 PMReply

    This looks like a hit but Tambay... you're not going to appreciate it.

    As I've said many times, a person gets what they're looking for, so based on your predispositions on The Help and Django, here we go again. You didn't have anything good to say about those films before nor after their release, and I don't believe you're a Lee Daniels's fan. I mean, although you said "I'd rather have Daniels go back to making his smaller, independent, envelope-pushing movies, instead of Hollywood tripe like this"... I can't remember you having kind words for Precious, The Paper Boy nor Shadowboxer. Granted, The Paper Boy and Shadowboxer were not the "best" films but they did have some redeeming qualities which you seldom mention.

    Now here you are throwing shade on The Butler before the film opens. Yep, you trotted out the big oak trees (THE BIG LUMBER) in your attempt to sway the minds of the unsuspecting, just as you did in your pre-Django and pre-The Help write-ups. In this "set-up" you wasted little time. Three lines in you called this "DRAB". Oh lord, and then you went straight for the juggular... "Harry Lennix, called it N*ggerfied... Historical Porn." Damn-damn-damn, noyoudidn't drop the big RACE CARD? But I understand 'cause you were propping up the readers for the Big Bolo Punch... " The Love Scene Between Terrence Howard and Oprah Winfrey"!!!

    OH LORD, FEET DON'T FAIL ME NOW.... drab niggerfied porn with baby voice and Sophia doing the nasty, suffering succotash, exit stage left. And unfortunately, some readers followed you... right on cue.

    So go ahead, step on this film before it comes out and you will get what you're looking for. But wait, I can only assume what that might be but what about the actors? Will your predisposition to hate this film impede your ability to champion their work? There's some big hitters up in there. Will you throw your hands in the air and holler like you just don't care - or...

  • NO BRAINER | May 10, 2013 4:24 PM

    "Yep, you trotted out the big oak trees (THE BIG LUMBER) in your attempt to sway the minds of the unsuspecting" -- CAREYCAREY

    Yeah. My issue with Tambay and his blog. But I agree with him about Daniel's previous films. I'm not a fan of any of them.

  • CareyCarey | May 8, 2013 10:22 AM

    Well Joseph, I think I know what you're saying and I'd tend to agree, but we have to be careful with the word "popular". Many folks wrap their arms around popular affair when it's convenient. Take for instance the series Scandal, it's basically a slave flick on a new plantation. There's no Mr. Candy or Broomhilda but there is Massa and his brown bunny. So some black folks love garbage if it's wrapped in a shiny package. Yep, it's popular, but as you can clearly see, it all depends on whose eyes we're looking through.

  • Joseph | May 8, 2013 1:25 AM

    The people here don't like anything if it's considered popular. The best thing about film is it's for people to tell the stories they want to tell. If it was meant to be made in your vision, you would have made it, Tambay.

  • Alex | May 7, 2013 9:49 PMReply

    This looks like one of those film parodies that Tracy Jordan did in 30 Rock. I actually can't.

  • mawon | May 7, 2013 11:07 PM

    Omg, you're so right. Lord, have mercy.

  • No | May 7, 2013 9:48 PMReply

    It'll be interesting to see how this plays. Has lot of established and new actors in the mix. I would prefer to see this than another "Tyler Perry's..."

  • NO BRAINER | May 10, 2013 4:22 PM

    I agree NO.

  • Vanessa Martinez | May 7, 2013 9:38 PMReply

    I really hope the actual film doesn't have an overpowering soundtrack throughout. Yeah, it definitely looks to be positioned and packaged to be an "epic" Hollywood film as far as the trailer is concerned; I need to see more. LOL @ Kirk below..

  • Glory Days | May 7, 2013 10:01 PM

    Vanessa, when I was in high school, I knew a girl with your same name. She was always put together real nice and clearly took pride in her appearance; she never really spoke too loud, never was rude or brash. She never dressed provocatively, like the girls do today and she made straight A's, far as I could tell. She had a maturity beyond her age, and some might even have called her shy, but we could all tell she a ROCKIN hot body under those turtleneck sweaters and high collars. Was that you?

  • kirk | May 7, 2013 9:27 PMReply

    Who....who...who......who's gonna luv me?

  • Nadia | May 7, 2013 9:27 PMReply

    The Help 2013. Actually, The Help looked better than this when I saw the trailer. This looks like a TV movie. The cinematography, the music, Oprah. I can't!

  • August | May 7, 2013 9:21 PMReply

    Mixed feelings at this point, I will reserve judgment until i see more of the film.

  • Michaboa | May 7, 2013 9:17 PMReply

    Looks like a lifetime movie.

  • LeonRaymond | May 7, 2013 9:12 PMReply

    The reason it might be or feel restraint is that please pay attention to who was a key producer on this- Laura Ziskin She is in unfamiliar terrain. And she is use to only Big Budget Hollywood productions. so to feel more comfortable you tighten everything down so you can have more control and understanding. She is a great producer but she is more at home with SPIDER MAN than Black folk in a Historical film. And she more than likely needed to make sure it was shot right to the script. No improvised scenes, no scenes out of the script, and a story board as big a studio apartment that he had to adhere to!!

  • NO BRAINER | May 10, 2013 4:20 PM

    But, again, she is dead. The producers had to make adjustments by the time production started with the new director.

  • LeonRaymond | May 8, 2013 11:14 AM

    @UM -Your I should have used the word past tense. I am referring to the folks who still work in and under her as producers. And that he made a film that is not typical for him. She would have been proud but I hope it get lots of eye balls. He was working in a real heavy duty collaborative environment which is superb. I have no idea how he felt about it but the end result looks good. This was a tough film to pull off in my opinion respectfully speaking

  • UM | May 8, 2013 5:08 AM

    You need to use the past tense, Mr KnowItAll. Laura Ziskin is deceased. A long time champion of this material and I think she'd be proud that it got made.

  • Darkan | May 7, 2013 9:09 PMReply

    It's got plenty of names in it that's for sure. Lee Daniels is trying to win an Oscar and I can tell you for sure despite what black people feel this film will make lots of money and recieve a lot of Oscar attention. Frankly and to be honest, its not made for a black audience just as the help wasn't either so whether black people support or bootleg best believe white people will go to theaters in droves to support and watch this film. Can we say media blitz is on the way. Forrest Whitaker and the Weinstiens are having a hell of a year. First Fruitvale station now this. Just you wait and see!

  • NO BRAINER | May 10, 2013 4:18 PM

    I agree DARKAN. And who knows, Black Nativity might be good as well.

  • Ace Boon | May 7, 2013 9:53 PM

    @Darkan, you sho is right, I aint mean to say nuthin gainst no one, nawsuh. Massa gon win that Oscar, yessuh. PLEASE dont tell Massa I said nuthin, now, looky here, we kin all be friends, caint we?

  • Nadia | May 7, 2013 9:28 PM

    Yup, you said it. This isn't made for black people. Watch it make $100 million at the box office and Forest Whitaker wins the Oscar for Best Actor.

  • Burp | May 7, 2013 9:22 PM

    Totally agree..he is going for that golden statue... the trailer even has that triumphant oscar music playing in the background.

  • Adam Scott Thompson | May 7, 2013 9:07 PMReply

    "You is kind... you is smart... now go fix me a mint julep."

  • Someotherspring | May 7, 2013 8:56 PMReply

    I'm incapable of paying $$$ to see anything with Terrance Howard in it anyway. Cuba Gooding is nausea inducing too , but at least he's got acting chops. But yes: Bootleg City. I gotta guy uptown :)

  • Miles Ellison | May 7, 2013 8:47 PMReply

    Maybe there will be an unrated director's cut where Oprah urinates on Terence Howard.

  • spassky | May 7, 2013 10:18 PM

    Yeah, this comment definitely made me laugh out loud. thank you for that.

  • kirk | May 7, 2013 9:26 PM


  • jeftcg | May 7, 2013 8:47 PMReply

    I'll be first in line for the bootleg.

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