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5:35 PM Tue, Oct. 23rd

Reel Watchers: Lee Daniels' The Butler

Forrest Whitaker stars in Lee Daniels' The Butler

Forrest Whitaker stars in Lee Daniels' The Butler

This is not a political movie. Just wanted to get that out of the way.

This movie is about a child of the cotton fields in the South whose mother was raped by the white plantation owner and whose father was murdered before his eyes becoming the dignified head butler at the White House during the era of the Civil Rights movement in the United States. The butler, Cecil Gains (Forrest Whitaker) serves seven presidents over 34 years. They are all represented in this film, but it goes by rather like the history in "Forrest Gump," sometimes in vignettes.

The focus is on Cecil Gains' personal and professional life against the backdrop of lynchings, the Woolworth's counter, the Freedom Riders, the federal government enforcing Brown v. Board of Education, the Black Panthers and the Civil Rights Act. This is all interspersed with scenes of black students being beaten by police as well as the Ku Klux Klan, shot, verbally assaulted, spat on, sprayed by fire hoses, and firebombed.

The star-studded cast is amazing: Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Mariah Carey, John Cusack, Jane Fonda, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Lenny Kravitz, James Marsden, David Oyelowo, Vanessa Redgrave, Alan Rickman, Liev Schreiber and Robin Williams, to name a few. Many are in only a scene or two, but it was fun to discover a familiar face here and there.

Forest Whitaker is sublime as the traditional father wanting his children to have it better than he did. He escaped the South only to watch his son go back willingly to court danger. Whitaker's Cecil Gains works consistently and unfailingly for equality within the system while his son pursues the same goals in a more in-your-face manner via civil disobedience and demonstrations. After having huge painful fights and not speaking for decades, Cecil comes to terms with this.

I enjoyed this movie, partly for the history lesson, partly for the dramatization, partly because it was very well done. For all those reasons, I give it 3.5 miners.