As Cecil Gaines serves eight presidents during his tenure as a butler at the White House, the civil rights movement, Vietnam, and other major events affect this man's life, family, and American society.
An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960s decides to write a book detailing the African-American maids' point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis.
Cecil Gaines was a sharecropper's son who grew up in the 1920s as a domestic servant for the white family who casually destroyed his. Eventually striking out on his own, Cecil becomes a hotel valet of such efficiency and discreteness in the 1950s that he becomes a butler in the White House itself. There, Cecil would serve numerous US Presidents over the decades as a passive witness of history with the American Civil Rights Movement gaining momentum even as his family has troubles of its own. As his wife, Gloria, struggles with her addictions and his defiant eldest son, Louis, strives for a just world, Cecil must decide whether he should take action in his own way. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Greetings again from the darkness. So many personalities! Yes, there are a staggering number of characters played by a who's who of actors, but it's the movie itself that flashes the most personalities. It is quite a mixture of historical events, the Civil Rights movement, family drama, generational differences, Presidential evolution, emotional wrangling, and Oscar posturing.
Forest Whitaker portrays Cecil Gaines, the man who worked his way up from being a childhood plantation slave to the highest level of butler within The White House ... a gig that spanned 34 years and eight Presidents. The story is based on the real life story of Eugene Allen, who had a front row seat to dramatic historical events and major social changes ... all while wearing white gloves and tuxedo.
While the movie has plenty of emotional moments, in my opinion it could have been even stronger had it committed more time to either Cecil's long run in The White House or the father-son generational struggles between Cecil and his desperate-for-change son played with fire by David Oyelowo (from Freedom Rider to Black Panther). Instead there is much wasted time on superficial Presidential interactions and a needless side story of adultery involving Cecil's wife (Oprah Winfrey) and his friend (Terrence Howard).
Director Lee Daniels obviously has many friends who wanted to be part of this one. The incredible cast includes Mariah Carey (making up for Glitter), Alex Pettyfer (as a brutal slave owner), Vanessa Redgrave (Cecil's first serving trainer), Clarence Williams III (Cecil's ultra cool mentor), Nelson Ellis as Martin Luther King, and Cuba Gooding Jr and Lenny Kravitz (as fellow White House butlers). The most blatant slap in the face of Conservatives comes from the casting of extreme Democrat John Cusack playing Richard Nixon and Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan. Other Presidents are played by Robin Williams (Dwight Eisenhauer), James Marsden (John F Kennedy), Liev Schreiber (LBJ), and Alan Rickman (Ronald Reagan). The constant game of spot the star is a bit distracting at times, but not as much as one might guess. It's just a shame that most get very little story or screen time.
As for Oprah Winfrey, she is getting much love for her performance including some Oscar chatter. What I saw was a performance that was solid, but distracting due to the lack of aging in comparison to her husband (Whitaker). She changes very little (except for costumes) from the beginning until the very end when she definitely goes into heavy make-up for the Obama election. On a personal note, watching 1970's era Oprah shaking her booty to "Soul Train" was an image I did not need.
Again, my favorite scenes were the ones between father and son ... Whitaker and Oyelowo. Seeing these two generations struggle so much to understand each other and interpret the world in such different ways proved quite powerful. It's always painful and embarrassing to re-live the horrible manner in which African-Americans were treated, but even moreso when it's tied to a father-son relationship.
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