Lessons on Race and History in The Butler

Race in America through a man who tended Presidents

In November 2008, an octogenarian African American named Eugene Allen--a White House butler through eight presidential administrations--witnessed Barack Obama's election in joyful disbelief and became the subject of a poignant Washington Post story. A version of his life, shifted into dramatic overdrive, is told in director Lee Daniels' The Butler, a saga of 20th century civil rights as seen through the professional and domestic struggles of the fictionalized butler Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker, never better), whose job was to be invisible in one of the most visible places in the world. Wildly operatic and occasionally too obvious, The Butler is nonetheless,...

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