Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013)

Yes, this is “The Butler”. No, you can’t call it that. Why? Well, long story short, there was a silent film back in 1916 titled “The Butler”. The Weinstein Company was going to be fined for using the same name and eventually they had to settle on calling the film, Lee Daniels’ The Butler! How Tyler Perry-esque.

Now that you’re informed, we can get down to business about this movie. Lee Daniels’ The Butler follows the life of Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) as he grew from working on a cotton plantation to serving as a butler in the White House. During his time in the White House, he served under Presidents: Dwight D. Eisenhower (Robin Williams), Richard Nixon (John Cusack), John F. Kennedy (James Marsden), Lyndon B. Johnson (Liev Schreiber) and Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman). Throughout the film, we see Cecil serve these Presidents and weigh his opinion and thoughts on the Civil Rights Movement. As interesting as that is, we only get a few minutes to see each President and Cecil doesn’t offer them much conversation.

Also, along his incredible life’s journey, Cecil marries Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) and has two sons, Louis and Charlie (David Oyelowo & Elijah Kelley). As Cecil works in the White House with his butler buddies Carter Wilson and James Holloway (Cuba Gooding Jr. & Lenny Kravitz), his eldest son Louis travels the country and is a part of almost every Civil Rights Movement there was. This film follows the lives of both Cecil and Louis and how they’re each on the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to the Civil Rights Movement. On Louis’ side, we see the harsher reality of sit-ins, freedom rides, the black panther party and how racism stared him and many others right in their faces. Some of the scenes are very hard to watch, but they’re true to what really happened.

Speaking of staying true to reality, Lee Daniels’ The Butler is 50% based on fiction. Cecil is based on of Eugene Allen who got a job at the White House as a pantry-man and worked his way up to butler. In the film, Cecil is selected to be a butler based on his skills in a hotel. Also, Louis, who is like Forest Gump (in the sense that he appears at EVERY Civil Rights Movement  event) isn’t based off of anyone. Allen had one son that fought in Vietnam (as Charlie does in this film), but that’s it. I liked Louis’ side of the story and I thought it made the story very interesting and very real, but I just don’t like the fact that they had to make up a character to make the film (that’s based off of a true) better.

This is a star-studded film with only one amazing performance. Not that the others are bad, but one reigns down over all of them. That performance belongs to… Oprah Winfrey! Yes, the T.V star who is also an incredible actress. What’s curious is that she isn’t even close to being the film’s lead. Regardless, she elevates every other great performance in this film and makes it more enjoyable. I see Oscar possibility in her future. She and the cast are what makes this film work, but as a story it’s not great. If you’re still debating on seeing this interesting film, keep reading for my Top Ten Thoughts on Lee Daniels’ The Butler!

Forest Whitaker may be the film's lead, but Oprah Winfrey clearly outshines him in an incredible performance. I dare say that it's "Oscar worthy."

Forest Whitaker may be the film’s lead, but Oprah Winfrey clearly outshines him in an incredible performance. I dare say that it’s “Oscar worthy.”

What I Enjoyed

What I Didn’t Enjoy

This might be the best ensemble cast I’ve seen all year.

The cast saves this movie. Without them, the movie wouldn’t work nearly as well.

Oprah Winfrey delivers an Oscar-worthy performance.

The editing in this film is very choppy. Scenes are spliced together that ultimately shouldn’t be.

David Oyelowo is fantastic in this movie!

David Oyelowo’s character isn’t real. He was created for the story’s sake…

For the most part, the Presidents in this film were pretty convincing.

I didn’t buy Robin Williams as President Eisenhower. He’s the weakest link, President wise.

It’s really great to see Cuba Gooding Jr. in a big movie. It’s been a while, but he’s almost gotten funnier.

 Personally, I didn’t enjoy the fact that the most interesting part of this movie is one that was completely fabricated.

The depictions of racism in this film hit you like a brick wall. They’re very accurate and very gut-wrenching.

 The film bills Whitaker as its lead, but as far as a lead role goes, he doesn’t do wonders. His story is the least interesting of the two.

The look inside of the different events during the Civil Rights Movement was very interesting and realistic.

 The Direction in this film isn’t great. Daniels did well with Precious, but this film is all scattered and cluttered with too many subplots.
 Lenny Kravitz is the coolest guy ever. He makes every scene that he’s in a bit better than it was.  This film tries to include too much in too short a time (granted, 2 hours isn’t short). It would have made a great miniseries.
 This movie holds importance because it doesn’t hold back with its more “risqué” scenes involving racism.  As amazing as she is, Oprah Winfrey isn’t as pivotal a role as I wish she would have been. She certainly outshines everyone else, including Whitaker.
 Despite its shortcomings, Lee Daniels’ The Butler works because of its stellar cast and it realistic display of the Civil Rights Movement.  While the cast may be great, Lee Daniels’ The Butler suffers from poor direction and from trying to incorporate too much history into this movie.


Lee Daniels’ The Butler has had some Oscar buzz, but the only thing that screams “Oscar” in this film is Oprah Winfrey. She delivers an amazing performance that, when combined with the film’s other great characters, makes up for the lack of direction and story. Half the story is fictitious and the other half is somewhat uninteresting. The film attempts to tackle the many different presidents that Gaines (Allen) worked for, but it would have worked better as an HBO Miniseries. Go see this film for its great cast, but keep in mind that it’s very long and can become uninteresting at some points.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler Trailer

3 STARS!!!

3 / 5 stars     

6 thoughts on “Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013)

  1. I’m sure that the film is good, but it includes one of the most traitorous people of the 20th Century. Jane Fonda deserves no time in the public eye…especially playing Nancy Reagan. I won’t add to her coffers by spending one penny on this movie…

    • The movie is a big letdown, for me at least. It totes a mostly impressive cast but is also 70% made up. In my most recent Podcast, I discuss my distaste for Jane Fonda and the fact that she’s playing Nancy. It’s just unbelievable.

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