I write this a little high from the Johnnie Walker Double Black I drank with dinner, so if my writing is a bit off, hey, now you know why.  “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” is based on a true story (my definition of “based on a true story” is 10% is true and 90% is Hollywood b.s.) of a black man who served as a butler in the White House from the Eisenhower administration to the Reagan administration.

Forest Whitaker plays this butler, and we see him growing up in the South where blacks are brutalized on a regular basis.  Those years have formed much of his attitude on how to live his life: work hard, don’t rock the boat, don’t fight white society, and make yourself useful and non-threatening to white people.   Whitaker moves up North and winds up working in the White House; and through his eyes we see the plight of black people in America as they fight for their right to be treated equally with whites.

Whitaker, of course, doesn’t do much regarding the Civil Rights protests; but his son, played by David Oyelowo, bravely puts himself in harm’s way as he fights for better treatment of blacks in America.  The different natures of father and son are striking.  Each are set in their ways on how to live life.   One is happy with the status quo, wanting to play it safe.  The other wants more, and will not tolerate the oppression his father went through.  Their differing views tears them apart, and it is hard to watch because Whitaker and Oyelowo love each other but each has taken a hard line stance on what should be done.   There is no middle ground.  Not yet.

“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” is a movie that is worthy of your time.   It pulls no punches regarding the atrocities America has committed against black people; and it offers hope.  The acting, the story, and the direction are all solid.  Entertaining as well as educational.

One of my most memorable, movie moments of “…The Butler” is the sequence when Martin Luther King Jr. is educating Oyelowo on why he should be proud of Whitaker.  King states that butlers shouldn’t be seen as Uncle Toms; but as another way black people can be viewed positively by whites.  A good butler works hard, speaks more eloquently than the ones working in the fields, is trusted with the household, and sometimes has the ear of his white boss.   In other words, a butler can be more subversive than the Civil Rights marchers.

Another memorable moment of this movie is the scene when Lyndon B. Johnson is making a speech on t.v. regarding the plight of the Negroes.   Cuba Gooding Jr. says something like, “since when did we become Negroes?  That nigger says nigger more than I do!”

My most memorable, movie moment of “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” is the scene when a bus full of Civil Rights protestors are trapped by the KKK, and the windows are smashed and a Klansman throws a molotov cocktail inside the bus, killing many within.  It’s an extremely horrifying scene, and it is a great reminder of the sacrifices and suffering many have made and endured so that we can have the rights we enjoy today.

So, my fellow Americans, don’t be too hasty in giving up your rights in exchange for promises of safety.  Our right to speak our mind, our right to unreasonable search and seizure, our right to a fair trial, our right to vote, our right to keep and bear arms, our right to protest…we have these rights because so many people fought and suffered and died to get them.    Don’t give them away, because you may not get them back.

M

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