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Weinsteins Take Daniels' 'The Butler' for 2013; Ziskin Pursued Project

Thompson on Hollywood By Anne Thompson and Sophia Savage | Thompson on Hollywood September 24, 2012 at 3:02PM

The Weinsteins have taken US rights to Lee Daniels' indie project "The Butler," which is currently in production in New Orleans. The film stars Forest Whitaker in the title role with Oprah Winfrey as his wife and David Oyelowo as their son. Icon International and IM Global handled foreign sales at Cannes, where the response was upbeat around the world' Weinstein Co. landed the film after first-look player Sony passed.
Forest Whitaker as 'The Butler'
Anne Marie Fox Forest Whitaker as 'The Butler'

Ziskin pushed "The Butler" up the hill independently by approaching a consortium of African American business people who cared about making a difference in the culture, inspired by Karem Abdul Jabar's quote: "If we want to change the culture we need to make the culture." Sheila Johnson, cofounder of BET, led the way among many other investors. Michael Finley came in as executive producer, joined by Buddy Patrick, Cassian Elwes, Hilary Shor and Adam Merims; David Jacobson is co-producer.

The independently-financed film is bankrolled by Follow Through Productions, Windy Hill Pictures, Salamander Media, Salloway Rubenstein Productions/Crystal City Entertainment, Earl W. Stafford, Starstream Films, Yogi Entertainment, and Inner Media Capital.

Daniels, who was hot after "Precious," was attached to "Selma"; Ziskin had worked on an earlier Martin Luther King film with Stephen Frears. When "Selma" never got off the ground, Ziskin wanted Daniels for "The Butler." With him on board, Whitaker and Winfrey signed on as the butler and his wife, along with David Oyewolo ("The Paperboy") as their son Louis, Lenny Kravitz, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Vanessa Redgrave. The real Allen worked with eight presidents, from Truman through Reagan. "Our movie takes historical events and keeps them accurate with a fictionalized butler's life," says Williams. "It's inspired by the real butler, but our character is fictional. We have him starting during Eisenhower through Little Rock and through Reagan. We skip over Carter and Ford, we were not able to do a three-hour movie."

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.