To See or Not to See (“Lee Daniels’ The Butler,”) that is the Question

There is a lot of hoopla surrounding the new movie, Lee Daniels’, The Butler that was released this past Friday. Some of the discussion is positive, while some, eh not so much. The bad actually has me kind of floored but I’ll go more into detail concerning that a bit later.

For those who do not know the storyline, the movie is about Cecil Gaines, played by Forest Whitaker, who basically worked in the White House as a butler. Whitaker’s character is actually based on the real life events of Eugene Allen. There are some who have seen the movie already and have expressed how much they enjoyed it. Others, like myself, have not seen the movie yet but have every intention to do so. Then there are some who have stated adamantly that they refuse to see the movie. Like I said, this film has stirred up a lot of hoopla.

Now I usually do not blog about such controversial matters. I think that there are plenty of bloggers who adequately cover these issues, but seeing that I just published a Historical Fiction novel myself not too long ago, I needed to understand the objections because it’s pretty scary to think that someone won’t even give my book a chance at all because of the material. Just when I had gotten a handle on one issue in an effort to try to understand, another angle on the outrage was thrown out for me to analyze. As I explained it to my husband, mother, and sister, the people who have something to say about Lee Daniels’ The Butler fall into five camps (actually I told them about four, but I found that there is yet another group and the numbers may continue to rise).

1. The First Camp are people who say they will see this movie regardless. They believe that these are the stories that must be told and are teaching moments for the future generations. I mean how awesome would it be to see a story based on real life where a Butler received a position in the White House and holds that position for over three decades? Can you imagine being in the political epicenter during a time when the most notable of historical events have occurred? Being a butler is more than doing the obvious tasks, like answering the door, being a servant, and the overall management of the household. There there are the unspoken jobs of being seen and not heard, being a confidant, and remaining composed in difficult situations. A butler knows all the dirt in the house (pun intended). Do the children of our generation know how to be subtle or is it more important to them to “get someone told” in order to save face? Movies like Lee Daniels’ The Butler teaches us that we have survived because of the strength of those that came before us.

2. The Second Camp are people who think that there are too many stories about butlers, maids, slaves, and the broken Black American family home, and not enough movies about strong stable Black families (because we do actually have those) and heroes. I agree that there should be more movies that shine a positive light on people of color. The question is should we just have one and totally throw out the other? Or should we keep those movies that talk about those hard things but make more of an effort to include a movie where people of color have a storyline with a more positive storyline.

3. The Third School of Thought said, “Okay yes, we have to have stories about maids, slaves, and families that are torn apart, but do they have to be so violent?” People in this camp believe that these films show too much brutality to the point where it’s overkill. In fact, I found out that people call these movies, “Historical Porn.” Too much screaming. Too much blood hitting the screen. Too much humiliation. Too much. Oh really? Too much? Well tell that to the people who were whipped, hanged, raped, drowned, castrated, tarred and feathered, burned alive, drawn and quartered, shot, dismembered, watched their family killed, blown away with a fire hose, bludgeoned… shall I continue?

4. The Fourth Camp were tired of these scripts written by – let’s just say – not “us.” I understand that outrage. For me however, it’s just one more thing I don’t have the energy to complain about. Does no good anyway. So instead, I choose to pick up a pen and get to writing.

5. The Fifth Group is one to which I can relate. These people avoid these type of movies like Lee Daniels, The Butler for the same reason I refuse to see Precious or For Colored Girls. It is the reason I walked out of the room on Antwan Fisher. These types of movies awaken emotions that can be difficult for me to handle, so I just as soon avoid it.

Personally, I respect the fact that people have different opinions concerning movies like Lee Daniels’ The Butler, although I may not necessarily agree. And no, I do not think that anyone has an obligation to see this movie because it is a Black film. Frankly, if you feel that you won’t enjoy the storyline of this movie or any movie, then by all means, please save your $10.25. What I do not like however, is when big named people try to mess with other people’s money by being negatively vocal about something someone else has created. We spend so much time complaining about how POC do not get a fair shot on the big screen, so why is it that when a movie does come out with a Black cast some people have to publicly berate them? That, I do not respect. Not at all.

Anyway, I will see the film. It may not be in a theater, but I will see it because as a teacher, student, and writer of history, this a movie that interests me. And I will continue to write historical fiction because it interests me, and I want to share it. Based on these five schools of thought, people will either read my book or they won’t. I know I cannot please everyone, although I do try. All I ask is for a chance and the hope that someone will find interest in the story that I want to tell.


3 responses to “To See or Not to See (“Lee Daniels’ The Butler,”) that is the Question

  1. Great post! I agree with all of it, though I believe that there could be more groups. Maybe a 6th – the one who could care less about anything deep or esoteric as they just want to be entertained.


    • Thanks. I’m happy you enjoyed it. Yes, the “just entertain me” types can definitely be added to the list. As these discussions continue, I may have to write a part II.


  2. Well, I saw the movie, if for nothing else the list of heavy hitters that were in it. As I was telling a friend earlier this week, it wasn’t all that I thought it would be. Maybe I was tired (I had a long day on Sunday) or maybe it was mediocre or maybe I was expecting more… In any event, I will say it was a great movie. I may get it on DVD. The make-up artists were SUPERB, and Oprah was very convincing as an 80 something year old woman.

    And I feel you on “Precious” and “For Colored Girl”. I do own FCG, but I will not and have no plans to purchase “Precious”. I saw it in the theatres and do not need to see it again.


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