Black his­tory, seen from White House

Lee Daniels’s new film charts life of the but­ler who served eight US pres­i­dents

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODMOVIES - PA­TRI­CIA REANEY

Tsaid. The film is out in South Africa on Fri­day. While Pre­cious ze­roed in on the world of an over­weight black teenage girl, The But­ler of­fers a broad view on race through dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters’ view­points.

“This is truth. This is like a scab that is be­ing ripped off you and you are look­ing at some­thing for the first time, and it is mak­ing us as black peo­ple, as white peo­ple, look at racism in Amer­ica in a way we haven’t be­fore.”

The But­ler stars Academy Award-win­ner For­est Whi­taker, 52, in the ti­tle role of Ce­cil Gaines, the ded­i­cated, dig­ni­fied White House ser­vant who, while his­tory un­folds be­fore him, also wit­nesses it from be­hind the scenes in the Oval Of­fice.

Oprah Win­frey is his chain-smok­ing, hard-drink­ing wife, Glo­ria. Lov­ing but dis­con­tented, she is caught be­tween her hus­band and their strong-willed ac­tivist son, Louis, played by David Oyelowo.

While Ce­cil strives for a bet­ter life and to change opin­ions about race through his hard work and con­sis­tency, Louis opts for a more rad­i­cal route through protests, sitins at seg­re­gated lunch coun­ters and free­dom bus rides through the South.

Whi­taker de­scribed Ce­cil as one of the most com­pli­cated roles he had ever en­coun­tered. He did the most work of his ca­reer in break­ing down the char­ac­ter and ad­mit­ted he was scared about tak­ing on HIS film be­gan as a story about a fa­ther and son set against the back­drop of the US civil rights move­ment, but Lee Daniels’s The But­ler grew into a sweep­ing his­tor­i­cal drama about love, fam­ily and racial equal­ity.

In­spired by the life of Eugene Allen, an African-Amer­i­can White House but­ler who served eight US pres­i­dents, the film chron­i­cles the chang­ing po­lit­i­cal land­scape and race re­la­tions from a deeply di­vided South in the 1920s, through the bat­tles for de­seg­re­ga­tion, to the elec­tion of Barack Obama, the first African-Amer­i­can pres­i­dent.

“It was a ho­mage to my son and me and my fa­ther and then it took on its own life be­cause I started re­al­is­ing there is now other stuff,” Daniels, the Os­car-nom­i­nated di­rec­tor of the 2009 drama Pre­cious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sap­phire, the role that spanned decades.

“But fear is good be­cause it pushes you to get bet­ter if you walk through it,” he said. “At some point you just fall into the char­ac­ter and hope by sur­ren­der­ing that he will come to you and help you through the whole process.”

Win­frey had her own reser­va­tions about re­turn­ing to the big screen af­ter so many years away, but had no doubt that Whi­taker nailed the part. “He was some­how able to touch the soul and the spirit of that guy, and through that al­low us to feel the spirit of the coun­try,” said Win­frey.

The talk show host and tele­vi­sion net­work owner had all but given up on act­ing, find­ing it dif­fi­cult to jug­gle it with all her other com­mit­ments, but the role of Glo­ria and Daniels’s per­sis­tence per­suaded her.

“I think that the story of the grow­ing mid­dle- class African Amer­i­can, from coloured to Ne­gro to black to AfricanAmer­i­can fam­ily, is a story that hasn’t been told with the level of ten­der­ness and care and love that you see dis­played on that screen,” she said.

The film also stands out for its large sup­port­ing cast, in­clud­ing Os­car-win­ners Cuba Good­ing Jr, Jane Fonda and Vanessa Red­grave, as well as Lenny Kravitz, Alan Rick­man and Ter­rence Howard.

Di­rect­ing a big film cov­er­ing a long time span with a large sup­port­ing cast was a chal­lenge for Daniels.

“I was ter­ri­fied be­cause I didn’t know if I could fo­cus for so long. I think God put this story in mo­tion and landed it at a time just when it was sup­posed to be.” – Reuters

The But­ler.

NEW LIGHT ON THE US: Ophra Win­frey as Glo­ria and For­est Whi­taker as Ce­cil in

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