‘The Butler’ serves up US civil rights history

Oprah Winfrey back in advocacy film also starring Forest Whitaker

BECAUSE IT HAPPENED. 'Why don't these stories get told more?' says Whitaker. Screen grab from the trailer

LOS ANGELES, USA – Spanning more than 50 years of history and a long roster of presidents, “The Butler” spotlights the US civil rights struggle through the life and career of a White House servant.

Inspired by Eugene Allen, who held the post for 34 years, the film hits North American theaters Friday and is already seen as a serious contender for the Oscars.

Director Lee Daniels, known for “Precious” and “The Paperboy,” used Allen’s persona to create a character called Cecil Gaines, played by Forest Whitaker.

Through Gaines, viewers are taken from the cotton fields of segregationist Georgia to the 2008 election of Barack Obama as America’s first Afro-American president.

Allen died in 2010 at the age of 90.

From segregation and the Freedom Riders to Martin Luther King and the Black Panthers, the film deals with major chapters of the civil rights movement at the risk of touching on them only superficially.

Still, the film succeeds in anchoring its message on its solid cast of characters.

There’s not only Cecil but also his wife Gloria, portrayed by talk show queen Oprah Winfrey.

Winfrey recently made the news for what she claims to be an encounter with racism in Switzerland.

READ: Oprah: No apologies needed 

Then there are sons Louis (David Oyelowo) and Charlie (Elijah Kelley). The two are polar opposites, with one a radical activist and the other enlisting in the Vietnam War.

“There’s something that’s not said, which is: Why don’t these stories get told more?” Whitaker recently told the “New York Times.”

“Sometimes people are afraid to look at the face of what’s going on. So the fact of the matter is that many of these social issues are still being addressed.”

Watch the trailer here:

In the same interview, Winfrey (who last appeared on the big screen in Jonathan Demme’s 1998 film, “Beloved”) recalled that actress Viola Davis was taken to task for playing a domestic in the 2011 film, “The Help.”

“Why do you have to tell that story? Why do we have to keep being maids?” Winfrey said.

“Because it happened, and none of us would be here were it not for them. My mother was a maid, my grandmother was a maid, her mother was a maid.”

READ: Oprah Winfrey back in film with ‘The Butler’

Nominated for an Academy Award for her supporting role in Steven Spielberg’s 1986 film, “The Color Purple,” Winfrey stood her ground vis-a-vis Daniels, in particular over a scene that follows the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy.

“He had her being such a bitch that I said, ‘Lee, I lived through the assassination,'” Winfrey told the “Times.”

“I go: ‘You young buck, the assassination did to this country what 9/11 did to this country. The country was in mourning, and so she would have to have some empathy.'”

The film is produced by the Weinstein brothers, who walked away with 5 Oscars for “The Artist.”

“The Butler” also appears poised to pick up a number of prizes.

There are already hints of an Oscar nomination for either Winfrey or Whitaker, who took home a statuette for his portrayal of dictator Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland.”

“The Butler” also features big names in secondary roles, including Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz, Robin Williams, Vanessa Redgrave, John Cusack, and Liev Schreiber.

Jane Fonda is also in the film, portraying Nancy Reagan. – Rappler.com

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