IF you must winnow the grains of truth from the chaff of this film’s inventions about the black American who served as a butler in the White House during the tenures of eight US Presidents, I wish you luck.
The real name of the character played by Forest Whitaker was Eugene Allen, who did indeed buttle at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for 34 years. The film’s inspiration was Wil Hayward’s “Washington Post” article in 2008 chronicling Allen’s life.
Danny Strong’s screenplay for Lee Daniels’s film calls him Cecil Gaines and gives him a family designed to facilitate the story’s re-visiting of high points in the civil rights struggle. Vignettes about Cecil’s origins, youth and White House career provide a matrix that puts a black employee in a position from which to observe political figures from a more intimate viewpoint than the regular media enjoyed, of the development not of the civil rights movement but how a series of Presidents handled its issues.
Fact or invention aside, “The Butler” is pleasant enough, wearing its heart on its sleeve and trying hard to persuade us of the verity of its verifiable moments.
The recreations and archive film of the major events in the civil rights saga have not lost their emotional impact. For them alone, the film deserves a look. They’re too easy to forget.
At all cinemas