The Butler: A Glorified Documentary

The publicity poster of Lee Daniels' The Butler
The publicity poster of Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Never has there been a historical drama more comparable to a documentary than Lee Daniels’ The Butler.

A good historical drama should seamlessly integrate its audience into a historical event. Audiences should not feel as if they are watching an elaborate history lesson, which is what historical films really are. The Butler fails to achieve this.

In The Butler, the audience is blatantly fed historical information. The film does not feel like a movie, it feels like a documentary with celebrities as actors in reproductions.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler revolves around the life of Cecil Gaines, a black sharecropper turned house servant turned White House butler. Cecil butlers the White House through eight presidencies and various historical events, including the Civil Rights Movement. Though he works at the center stage of all political bustle, Gaines has no direct interactions with the Civil Rights Movement. Most historical events are presented through nostalgic news stories or through Cecil’s son, Louis, which makes the movie documentary-esque.

Cecil’s son, Louis Gaines, is a Freedom Rider, Civil Rights activist, and Black Panther member. His point of view is one of the major ways in which the Civil Rights Movement is presented. Louis’s part in the film is the most entertaining part of the movie, but his characterization makes him a hassle. Louis’s constant neediness makes him quite a nuisance, which makes his character one of the most unlikeable in the film.

One of the main conflicts of the movie is Louis’s estrangement from his dad. Cecil is ambivalent during the Civil Rights Movement, yet his son is an extreme activist, which creates conflict-of-opinion between the two. This component is one of the best parts of the movie; it makes it relatable. Another pro of the movie is that it shows that not every African-American was pro-Civil Rights during the movement. With all of the documentaries of the Civil Rights Movement, common opinion is that every African American was for the Civil Rights Movement. The Butler makes viewers remember that this was not true.

The cast of Lee Daniels’ The Butler is star-studded. Mariah Carey, Oprah Winfrey, Jane Fonda, and John Cusack are a few of the esteemed members of the cast. On opinions of performances, the cast was magnificent. Forest Whitaker, portraying Cecil Gaines, is realistic as the butler and troubled father. His performance is without a doubt Oscar-worthy.

Oprah Winfrey’s performance, portraying Cecil’s wife Gloria Gaines, is also impressive. Winfrey is commendable as the worrisome mother and wife of the Gaines family. Her character is one of the most likeable of the film.

However, the star of the film is David Oyelowo, portraying Louis Gaines. Oyelowo is perfect as the conflicted son. His performance is realistic through all stages of Louis’s characterization. Oyelowo outshines all of the other actors.

For opinions on the other cast members, all that can be said is that it is refreshing to see realistic presidential portrayals. With the exception of JFK, each character looked as a doppleganger of the real deal, and all characters nailed the mannerisms of the presidents.

On a scale of 1-5 stars, Lee Daniel’s The Butler, achieves a strict 3. The film was quality but not entertaining. At most parts, the audience can find themselves bored. The film is too obviously historical and does not give the drama a film needs. People who are debating on watching the film should save their money and wait for it to get on Redbox. This movie is one of those historical dramas that you can wait to see.