THE BUTLER: one insight into racism

the butler

We saw the movie, Lee Daniels, The Butler last night.  We had been watching the trailers for the past month or so, and had determined that this was one we didn’t want to miss.  I’m glad we didn’t miss it.

From my perspective, this is not one of the best movies ever made.  There are glitches in it which don’t make for great cinematography.  But that was not the arena which captured the “must see” comment from us.   It is a very moving, poignant, and disturbing film which is timely.

Our nation is in the throes of sorting out our racism and trying to get to the bottom of that which causes us to cling to a racist behavior.   As I have said in previous blog postings, the racism we see in America today is subtle.   It is not as overt and gut-wrenching as the scenes we saw in this movie.    But both my wife and I had the same reaction to the timing of the film.  We lived through every era which was depicted in the film.   The clips which were inserted into the film are clips we actually saw live on television on the days when they occurred.  There was no “back before our time” sensation; it was our time.

While there is an upbeat and positive character to the success of the primary character, played by Forrest Whitaker, it comes at a cost.   Even the humor which is present at various points in the film is strained, having been sifted through events which were cruel and unbecoming to a country which claims “liberty and justice for all.“    Black people in the sixties were not given equal rights, privileges, or benefits.   It is blatant, not subtle.   The use of derogetory terms to describe them, signs which directed them to separate facilities, and public addresses by national leaders were offensive and cruel.

Getting to the point in history where we are today was not a cake walk for people of color.  And it is still difficult  many ways.    Yes, there are black people who have attained financial success and public recognition.   But, for the most part, people of color are still denied rights, privileges and benefits.  The recent spate of voting regulations speaks clearly about the less-than-subtle restrictions that are constructed in states where population patterns frighten many white voters.

It was an amazing cast of performers who told the story of Cecil Gaines, a black man who became the personal butler to seven Presidents of the United States during their residence in the White House.    He was respected, befriended, and honored by the First Families who lived there.   But he was still a man of color, and the few times he slipped his desire to be neutral in politics were problematic.   His sons, one of whom served in Vietnam and the other who joined the Black Panthers, prove to be sources of conscience stimulation.   His wife, played by Oprah Winfrey, struggles with her own battles  but emerges as a profound articulator of civil rights.

It is a film worth seeing because it is a film about us…the people of this generation.  It is as if a huge mirror was constructed for us to gaze into, seeing things about ourselves that make us uncomfortable.   And rightly so.

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Photo Credit: ABC

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