Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Redbox and Lee Daniel's The Butler For the Win

I wish I saw Lee Daniel's The Butler in a theater. Buying a copy via Redbox and then viewing it on my laptop did not have the same effect. A powerful film, even with a embellished story line, can really be an eye opening experience for a public audience; particularly if that audience reflects different races, genders, generations. This movie, which has quite the star studded cast, is a reminder of a America's racist bigotry. Some might say it is a reflection of the present (read: Donald Sterling). The movie portrayed an uncomfortable number of contradictions and ironies that black Americans faced before and during the civil rights movement. The protagonist, Cecil Gaines, is trained as wait staff for a white family as a youngster. He later moves north and settles in Washington, D.C. for a 'better' life. The opening scenes are dramatic and since I am not a fan of major spoiler alerts, so in that vain I have abbreviated the movie's sequence of events. 

At that time, D.C. was 'less racist' compared to the gritty South.  Cecil excels at his work and gets noticed. Fast forward a bit and he earns a spot with the White House kitchen staff. I was pretty pleased to see Lenny Kravitz and Cuba Gooding Jr. work alongside Forest Whitaker's character. I thought they both did great. My favorite performance came from the one and only, Oprah Winfrey. I forgot how amazing she is as an actress. Wow! Two thumbs up, Mrs. Winfrey. 

I am sure the predominantly black kitchen staff found it peculiar that they were serving their President and therefore their country, all the while earning less pay and recognition than their white counterparts. Never mind they were U.S. citizens with certain unalienable rights. The real Cecil Gaines, Eugene Allen, served eight presidents throughout his 34-year year career. If that is not service, I do not know what is. 

The Washington Post brought Mr. Allen's story to light in a front-page news story back in 2008. Ironically, I distinctly remember reading that article and coming away with a profound appreciation for that writer sharing this very unique life story with the world. Soon thereafter, Columbia Pictures bought the right to Allen's life, according to Wikipedia. And the rest, as they say, is history. 

I sometimes wonder how I would have managed, survived, dealt with living in a segregated life. Literally, the opportunities I have had in the past would not be possible in an age and society in which my worth was less than because my skin color. That's not to say, racial or discriminatory situations have not presented themselves. They have and they will most likely be a part of my life - for better or worst.
Certain scenes in the movie were very difficult to watch. A few times, I found myself looking away from my screen. Sometimes you cannot handle the truth. If nothing else, the movie is a not-so-friendly reminder of how far we have come and how far we need to go.

I am forever indebted to countless everyday heroes like Eugene Allen. I am fully aware that to much is given, much is expected.

If only everyone thought the same. If only...
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