Why The Butler Totally Made My Brother Cry

I remember the first time I saw the trailer. I was spending my Friday night sloppily painting my nails and listening to the bad pop songs of my pre-teen years. I looked up to my television to see a really discombobulated Oprah pimp slapping what looked like a black panther and I knew right then that I had to see the movie. I mean, who doesn’t want to see Oprah serve up a million dollar beat down?

Soon I overheard my mom making plans with a friend to go see it; you can only imagine how forcefully I invited myself to the party of middle-aged black women. Luckily they didn’t seem to mind, in fact, my mom decided that it would be a good idea to take my brother too.

My brother, a rising tenth grader, is essentially a bigger kid than his large build gives him credit for. The only instances when I remember him asking to go to the movies was when he wanted to see Cloudy with a Chance of MeatballsMadagascar, and more recently, Disney Pixar’s Planes.

In fact, the only non-animated film he’s ever endured was Red Tails, and even then, he wasn’t too crazy about the minor swear words or bloody scenes that came to his attention. So of course when we asked him to go he made a firm decline, actually, many firm declines. After forty-five minutes of bartering, protests, and I-pad confiscation threats, he finally agreed to go but made it clear that he wasn’t going to enjoy it.

We finally met my mom’s friend at the theater, and after stocking up on junk food we took our seats near the front.

The Butler had a few elements that I immediately took interest in. The issue of conformity or nonconformity in the black community amongst whites was the main issue perpetrated throughout the movie, along with small doses of patriotism, teen-angst, family ties and fidelity.

I have to say, the beginning was a little rough for me, and when I say rough, I mean that I didn’t like it at all. The movie opened up with the central protagonist’s, Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), days as a slave. To me, the whole scene was very history book-ish because there was no dimension applied to any of the characters partaking in that stage of Cecil’s life. Cecil himself was pretty two-dimensional.

You had the 100% evil white guy who just went around raping women and killing people for no reason without regrets or hesitation. There was the semi-rude yet sympathetic old southern lady who didn’t really like the slaves but didn’t want to hurt them either. There was also Cecil’s mother(Mariah Carey) who was the quintessential damaged, submissive wench. The movie didn’t really take the time to explore and fill out these characters psychologically: How did Cecil feel? His mother?. Even Cecil’s rise to butler-hood was a little too quick and simple for me. And I feel like this might have been a key period of growth.

So there I was, sitting in the theatre with nacho cheese on my fingers and thinking about how the only thing that I was going to be enjoying in this movie was Forest Whitaker’s lazy eye, and I genuinely mean that.

(Tell me his face doesn’t warm your heart…)

Oh but then it got better… 

Honestly, it’s sort of impossible to make teenage rebellion completely uninteresting. There are so many things that teenagers can do wrong that making teen angst boring should be a professional skill.

Since he was introduced, Louis Gaines (David Oyelowo) was challenging the man. He had a longtime resentment for his father’s subservient role to the white house, or perhaps as Louis thought, to the white man. His issue with his father’s position shed light onto one of the most interesting subjects this movie takes on—the comparisons of African-American caricatures as portrayed by media.

The movie makes the point of highlighting the triumphs and faults of two caricatures—the domestic worker and the rebel.

The rebel, as represented by the black panthers has a high tendency to fight for what they feel like is the greater good. However they also have a tendency to morph what was a fight for good, into sheer animosity and hatred that goes just a little too far. This is why the mainstream black community generally feared the black panthers and their extremist—yet well meaning—views.

Then you have the black domestic worker, the maids, the waiters, cooks, and the butlers who generally work for white people who can afford their services. Many tend to look down on these workers claiming that they are perpetuating the idea that black people are still lesser than in comparison to white people. However, these workers have the special gift of being able to wear two faces. They are able to maintain a certain detachment and professionalism when doing these jobs. It’s not really that they like cleaning shoes, but surely enough they know how to hide their distaste, a skill that actually contradicts a lot of black stereotypes such as being loud, extremely defiant, in cooperative, etc.

Cecil and Louis work as two contesting forces that in the end come together, showing us that despite our different outlooks, we can still unite.

The civil rights movement is another topic that would be pretty hard to make boring. The scenes in which Louis is riding the freedom bus, doing sit-ins, and attending underground meetings at Fisk University are probably some of my favorite in the entire movie.

Cecil’s many interactions with the presidents was another priceless part of the movie for me. I admired the fact that Daniels threw in the toilet scene with LBJ. Honestly, he was known for talking away even when sitting on the toilet, so I found that to be a fun attempt at integrating odd-ball facts from history.

This really doesn’t have anything to do with my reflection on the movie, but I must say that James Marsden played a gorgeous John F. Kennedy and he looks like he smells like that coconut lime breeze lotion from Bath and Body Works.

There are so many more things that I could say about this movie but unfortunately, I would have to spoil the entire thing. I will say that at the end, watching Cecil live to see a black president was probably one of the most beautiful scenes in the movie.

Here was a man who spent several presidential terms catering to the white house, a place full of white people—listening to their conversations, serving them their tea, and never imagining that he could have been doing the same thing for a black man. It made me think of all of the older people in my life, and it made me realize what a blessing it might have been for them to see Barack Obama.

Even though racism is dying, it’s still not dead, and I will admit, sometimes young black people like me take that for granted. We belittle the triumphs of our ancestors just because we are so far from the problem now and we want to deny the fact that we might be treated unfairly because of our color.

The final scene was probably what did it for me. Maybe it’s because Forest Whitaker’s lazy eye really does add a sense of genuine sincerity to his face.

No really I think I’m gonna start sobbing…

Or maybe it’s the fact that an old butler is entering his workplace not as a worker, but as an honored guest. Or maybe it’s even because old people usually make me cry anyway. But, as Cecil Gaines started hobbling down the hall to meet the first black president as a dramatic presidential speech gently overlapped the audio of the scene, I started wailing—but not as much as my brother was.

I wiped my tears and chuckled as little as my brother was reaching over my lap, and asking my mom for napkins to dry his face with. It might not have been produced by Pixar, but if Lee Daniels’ The Butler can bring tears to a childish skeptic like my brother; I’m sure that it could bring tears to many more.

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