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The Butler

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The Butler

The Butler
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Lee Daniels
Produced by Pamela Oas Williams
Laura Ziskin
Lee Daniels
Buddy Patrick
Cassian Elwes
Written by Danny Strong
Based on "A Butler Well Served by This Election" 
by Wil Haygood
Starring Forest Whitaker
Oprah Winfrey
Music by Rodrigo Leão
Cinematography Andrew Dunn
Edited by Joe Klotz
Laura Ziskin Productions
Windy Hill Pictures
Follow Through Productions
Salamander Pictures
Pam Williams Productions
Distributed by The Weinstein Company
Release dates
  • August 16, 2013 (2013-08-16)
Running time 132 minutes[1][2]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $30 million[2][3]
Box office $176.6 million[2]

The Butler (full title Lee Daniels' The Butler)[4][5] is a 2013 American historical drama film directed and produced by Lee Daniels and written by Danny Strong.[6] Loosely based on the real life of Eugene Allen, the film stars Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, an African-American who eyewitnesses notable events of the 20th century during his 34-year tenure serving as a White House butler.[7][8] The film also stars Oprah Winfrey, John Cusack, Jane Fonda, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Terrence Howard, Lenny Kravitz, James Marsden, David Oyelowo, Vanessa Redgrave, Alan Rickman, Liev Schrieber, Robin Williams, and Clarence Williams III. It was the last film produced by Laura Ziskin,[9][10] who died in 2011.

The film was theatrically released by The Weinstein Company on August 16, 2013, to mostly positive reviews[11][12] and grossing over $176 million worldwide against a budget of $30 million.[13]


In 2009, as an elderly Cecil Gaines recounts his life story, while waiting at the White House to meet the newly inaugurated president.

In 1926, at the age of seven, Gaines is raised on a sharecropping parents. One day, the farm's owner, Thomas Westfall, rapes Cecil's mother, Hattie Pearl. Cecil's father confronts Westfall, and is shot dead. Cecil is taken in by Annabeth Westfall, the estate's caretaker and owner's grandmother, who trains Cecil as a house servant.

In 1937, at age eighteen, he leaves the plantation and his mother, who has been mute since the incident and presumably dies of old age by the time the plantation shuts down. One night, Cecil breaks into a hotel pastry shop and is, unexpectedly, hired. He learns advanced skills from the master servant, Maynard, who, after several years, recommends Cecil for a position in a Washington D.C. hotel. While working at the D.C. hotel, Cecil meets and marries Gloria, and the couple have two sons: Louis and Charlie. In 1957, Cecil is hired by the White House during Dwight D. Eisenhower's administration. White House maître d' Freddie Fallows shows Cecil around, introducing him to head butler Carter Wilson and co-worker James Holloway. At the White House, Cecil witnesses Eisenhower's reluctance to use troops to enforce school desegregation in the South, then the President's resolve to uphold the law by racially integrating Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas.

The Gaines family celebrates Cecil's new occupation with their closest friends and neighbors, Howard and Gina. Louis, the elder son, becomes a first generation university student at Fisk University in Tennessee, although Cecil feels that the South is too volatile; he wanted Louis to enroll at Howard University instead. Louis joins a student program led by Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) activist James Lawson, which leads to a nonviolent sit-in at a segregated diner, where he is arrested. Furious, Cecil confronts Louis for disobeying him. Gloria, suffering from her husband's long working hours, descends into alcoholism and comes close to having an affair with the Gaines's neighbor, Howard.

In 1961, after John F. Kennedy's inauguration, Louis and a dozen others are attacked by the Ku Klux Klan while traveling on a bus in Alabama. Louis is shown participating in the 1963 Birmingham Children's Crusade, where dogs and water cannons were used to stop the marchers, one of the movement's actions which inspired Kennedy to deliver a national address proposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Several months after the speech, Kennedy is assassinated. His successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, enacts the transformative legislation into law. As a goodwill gesture, Jackie Kennedy gives Cecil one of the former president's neckties before she leaves the White House.

Louis is later shown participating in the 1965 Selma Voting Rights Movement, which inspired President Johnson to demand that Congress enact the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In the late 1960s, after civil rights activist Black Panthers. Upset at his son's actions, Cecil orders Louis and his girlfriend, Carol, to leave his house. Louis is soon arrested and is bailed out by Carter Wilson. Cecil becomes aware of Richard Nixon's plans to suppress the movement.

The Gaines' other son, Charlie, confides to Louis that he plans to join the Army in the master's degree in political science and eventually running for a seat in Congress.

Meanwhile, Cecil confronts his supervisor at the White House over the unequal pay and career advancement provided the black White House staff. With Ronald Reagan's support he prevails, and his professional reputation grows to the point that he and his wife are invited by President and Nancy Reagan to be guests at a state dinner. Yet at the dinner and afterwards, Cecil becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the class divisions in the White House. Finally, after witnessing Reagan's refusal to support economic sanctions against South Africa, he resigns. Afterwards, Cecil and Gloria visit the Georgia plantation where he was raised which by then had long been abandoned.

Gloria, wanting Cecil to mend his estranged relationship with Louis, reveals to him that Louis has told her that he loves and respects them both. Realizing his son's actions are heroic, Cecil joins Louis at a Free South Africa Movement protest against South African apartheid, and they are arrested and jailed together.

In 2008, Gloria dies shortly before Barack Obama is elected as the nation's first African-American president, a milestone which leaves Cecil and Louis in awe. One year later, Cecil prepares to meet the newly inaugurated President at the White House.


  • Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines,[6] the film's main character, who dedicates his life to becoming a professional domestic worker. Michael Rainey, Jr. and Aml Ameen portray Cecil at ages 8 and 15, respectively.
Gaines' private life
White House co-workers
White House historical figures
Civil rights historical figures

Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson are depicted in archival footage.[21][22]

Melissa Leo and Orlando Eric Street were cast as First Lady Mamie Eisenhower and Barack Obama, respectively, but did not appear in the finished film.[6][23][24][25]



Danny Strong's screenplay is inspired by a The Washington Post article "A Butler Well Served by This Election".[12][26][27] The project received initial backing in early 2011, when producers Laura Ziskin and Pam Williams approached Sheila Johnson for help in financing the film. After reading Danny Strong's screenplay, Johnson pitched in her own $2.7 million before getting in several African-American investors. However, Ziskin died from cancer in June 2011. This left director Daniels and producing partner Hilary Shor to look for further producers on their own. They started with Cassian Elwes, with whom they were working on The Paperboy. Elwes joined the list of producers, and started raising funding for the film. In spring 2012, Icon U.K., a British financing and production company, added a $6 million guarantee against foreign pre-sales. Finally the film raised its needed $30 million budget through 41 producers and executive producers, including Earl W. Stafford, Harry I. Martin Jr., Brett Johnson, Michael Finley, and Buddy Patrick. Thereafter, as film production started Weinstein Co. picked up U.S. distribution rights for the film. David Glasser, Weinstein Co. COO, called fund raising as an independent film, "a story that's a movie within itself."[3][28]

The Weinstein Company acquired the distribution rights for the film after Columbia Pictures put the film in turnaround.[29][30]

The film's title was up for a possible rename due to a Motion Picture Association of America claim from Warner Bros., which had inherited from the defunct Lubin Company a now-lost 1916 silent short film with the same name.[9][31] The case was subsequently resolved with the MPAA granting the Weinstein Company permission to add Daniels' name in front of the title, under the condition that his name was "75% the size of The Butler".[32] On July 23, 2013, the distributor unveiled a revised poster, displaying the title as Lee Daniels' The Butler.[33]


Principal photography started in 2012 in New Orleans. Production was originally scheduled to wrap in early August 2012 but was delayed by the impact of Hurricane Isaac.[34]


Box office performance

In its opening weekend, the film debuted in first place with $24.6 million.[35][36] The film topped the North American box office in its first three consecutive weeks.[37][38] The film has grossed $116.6 million in Canada and the United States, it earned $51.1 million elsewhere, for a total of $167.7 million.[2]

Critical response

The Butler received mostly positive reviews from critics, with a 73% rating on the film critic aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, based on 164 reviews. The site's consensus says, "Gut-wrenching and emotionally affecting, Lee Daniels' The Butler overcomes an uneven narrative thanks to strong performances from an all-star cast."[39] Another review aggregator, Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 top reviews from mainstream critics, calculated a score of 66 based on 47 reviews, indicating "generally positive reviews".[40]

Todd McCarthy praised the film saying, "Even with all contrivances and obvious point-making and familiar historical signposting, Daniels' The Butler is always engaging, often entertaining and certainly never dull."[41] Richard Roeper lauded the film's casting in particular, remarking that "Forest Whitaker gives the performance of his career".[42] Rolling Stone also spoke highly of Whitaker writing that his "reflective, powerfully understated performance...fills this flawed film with potency and purpose."[21] Variety wrote that "Daniels develops a strong sense of the inner complexities and contradictions of the civil-rights landscape."[43] USA Today gave the film three out of four stars and noted that "It's inspiring and filled with fine performances, but the insistently swelling musical score and melodramatic moments seem calculated and undercut a powerful story."[44] Miles Davis of the New York Tribune gave the film a negative review, claiming the film to be "Oscar bait", a cliche film designed to attract Oscar nominations.[45]

Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times was more negative; "An ambitious and overdue attempt to create a Hollywood-style epic around the experience of black Americans in general and the civil rights movement in particular, it undercuts itself by hitting its points squarely on the nose with a 9-pound hammer."[46] Several critics compared the film's historical anecdotes and sentimentality to Forrest Gump.[47][48][49][50]

President Barack Obama said, "I teared up thinking about not just the butlers who worked here in the White House, but an entire generation of people who were talented and skilled. But because of Jim Crow and because of discrimination, there was only so far they could go."[51]


Award Category Recipients and nominees Result
AARP Annual Movies for Grownups Awards[52] Best Supporting Actress Oprah Winfrey Won
BAFTA Awards Best Actress in a Supporting Role Oprah Winfrey Nominated
BAFTA Award for Best Makeup and Hair Debra Denson, Beverly Jo Pryor, Candace Neal Nominated
Hollywood Film Awards Best Director Lee Daniels Won
Spotlight David Oyelowo Won
Critics Choice Awards Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress Oprah Winfrey Nominated
Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Cast Mariah Carey, John Cusack, Jane Fonda, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Lenny Kravitz, James Marsden, David Oyelowo, Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Redgrave, Alan Rickman, Liev Schreiber, Forest Whitaker, Robin Williams, and Oprah Winfrey Nominated
Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Makeup Nominated
NAACP Image Award[53] Outstanding Motion Picture Nominated
Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture Forest Whitaker Won
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture David Oyelowo Won
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture Cuba Gooding, Jr. Nominated
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture Terrence Howard Nominated
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Oprah Winfrey Nominated
Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture Danny Strong Nominated
Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture Lee Daniels Nominated
People's Choice Awards Favorite Dramatic Movie Nominated
Favorite Dramatic Movie Actress Oprah Winfrey Nominated
Phoenix Film Critics Society Best Actress in a Supporting Role Oprah Winfrey Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Award Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture Mariah Carey, John Cusack, Jane Fonda, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Lenny Kravitz, James Marsden, David Oyelowo, Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Redgrave, Alan Rickman, Liev Schreiber, Forest Whitaker, Robin Williams, and Oprah Winfrey Nominated
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role Forest Whitaker Nominated
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role Oprah Winfrey Nominated
Satellite Awards Best Actor in a Motion Picture Forest Whitaker Nominated
Best Actress in Supporting Role Oprah Winfrey Nominated
Best Art Direction & Production Design Diane Lederman, Tim Galvin Nominated

Departures from the facts of Allen's life

Regarding historical accuracy, Eliana Dockterman wrote in added for dramatic effect.... Though tension between father and son over civil rights issues fuels most of the drama in the film, [Eugene Allen's son] Charles Allen was not the radical political activist that Gaines's son is in the movie."[54]

Particular criticism has been directed at the film's accuracy in portraying President Ronald Reagan. While actor Alan Rickman's performance generated positive reviews, the screenwriters of the film have been criticized for depicting Reagan as indifferent to civil rights and his reluctance to associate with the White House's black employees during his presidency. According to Michael Reagan, the former president's son, "The real story of the White House butler doesn't imply racism at all. It's simply Hollywood liberals wanting to believe something about my father that was never there."[55][56][57] Paul Kengor, one of President Reagan's biographers, also attacked the film, saying, "I've talked to many White House staff, cooks, housekeepers, doctors, and Secret Service over the years. They are universal in their love of Ronald Reagan." In regard to the president's initial opposition to sanctions against apartheid in South Africa, Kengor said, “Ronald Reagan was appalled by apartheid, but also wanted to ensure that if the apartheid regime collapsed in South Africa that it wasn't replaced by a Marxist-totalitarian regime allied with Moscow and Cuba that would take the South African people down the same road as Ethiopia, Mozambique, and, yes, Cuba. In the immediate years before Reagan became president, 11 countries from the Third World, from Asia to Africa to Latin America, went Communist. It was devastating. If the film refuses to deal with this issue with the necessary balance, it shouldn't deal with it at all."[58]

Political commentator Ben Shapiro wrote: "There is no question that the film itself is full of historical inaccuracies. The Butler has virtually nothing in common with its source material, the life of White House butler Gene Allen, except for the fact that the main character of the film and Allen were both black butlers in the White House. The film's title character, Cecil Gaines, sees his father murdered and his mother raped by a white landowner; that never happened to Allen. The movie's title character has two children, one who goes to the Vietnam War, the other who becomes a Civil Rights pioneer; Allen actually had only one son."[59]

See also


  1. ^ (12A)"THE BUTLER".  
  2. ^ a b c d "Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 25, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b "Why 'Lee Daniels' The Butler' Has 41 Producers". Hollywood Reporter. August 14, 2013. Retrieved August 15, 2013. 
  4. ^ Lee, Chris (July 20, 2013). "MPAA permits Weinstein Co. to use 'Lee Daniels' 'The Butler' title". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 2, 2013. 
  5. ^ McNary, Dave (July 23, 2013). Lee Daniels' The Butler' Gets First Posters Following MPAA Ruling"'". Variety. Retrieved September 2, 2013. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Nordyke, Kimberly (May 7, 2013). The Butler' Trailer: Oprah Winfrey Plays 'Proud' Wife to Forest Whitaker (Video)"'".  
  7. ^ Child, Ben (May 9, 2013). "The Butler trailer: Oprah Winfrey in the White House".  
  8. ^ Roberts, Roxanne; Amy Argetsinger (May 8, 2013). "Trailer for 'The Butler,' based on life of the White House's Eugene Allen".  
  9. ^ a b Fleming, Mike, Jr. (July 6, 2013). "UPDATE: David Boies Charges Extortion As He Returns Fire In 'The Butler' Spat Between Warner Bros And The Weinstein Company Directly".  
  10. ^ Rosen, Christopher (May 9, 2013). "'The Butler' Trailer: Lee Daniels' 'Forrest Gump'".  
  11. ^ Williamson, Caroline (July 20, 2013). "The Butler to be re-titled – but only slightly – following dispute over name".  
  12. ^ a b Feinberg, Scott (August 17, 2013). The Butler' Builds Oscar Credentials With Strong Critical, Commercial Debut (Analysis)"'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 19, 2013. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b c d e f g Scott, A.O. (August 15, 2013). "Black Man, White House, and History". The New York Times. Retrieved August 17, 2013. 
  15. ^ "Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013)".  
  16. ^ a b c d e f g "Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013)". The New York Times. Retrieved August 17, 2013. 
  17. ^ a b c Johnson, Terence. "Awards Profile: The Butler". Awards Circuit. Retrieved May 12, 2013. 
  18. ^ a b c d e f g Labrecque, Jeff (May 8, 2013). The Butler': The new trailer showcases Oscar-winning actors tackling history – VIDEO"'". PopWatch (column) ( 
  19. ^ Ingram, Bruce (August 16, 2013). "'"Fame comes second for Evanston actor starring in 'The Butler. Sun-Times Media. Retrieved August 17, 2013. 
  20. ^ Wirt, John (August 16, 2013). "N.O. native Walker joins The Butler cast". The Advocate. Retrieved August 17, 2013. 
  21. ^ a b Travers, Peter (August 15, 2013). "Lee Daniels' The Butler". Rolling Stone. Retrieved August 16, 2013. 
  22. ^ Makarechi, Kia (August 1, 2013). Lee Daniels' The Butler' Celebrated By Oprah, Forest Whitaker, Gayle King & More In New York"'". The Huffington Post. Retrieved August 19, 2013. 
  23. ^ Williams, Kam (August 15, 2013). "'"Two-time Oscar-nominee talks about his latest film Lee Daniels' 'The Butler. The Bay State Banner. Retrieved August 19, 2013. 
  24. ^ Child, Ben (July 4, 2013). "Lee Daniels pleads with Warner Bros to retain title of The Butler". The Guardian. Retrieved August 19, 2013. 
  25. ^ The Butler' Poster: Lee Daniels' New Film Fits Massive Cast List On New One-Sheet"'". The Huffington Post. June 3, 2013. Retrieved August 19, 2013. 
  26. ^ Haygood, Wil (November 7, 2008). "A Butler Well Served by This Election". The Washington Post. 
  27. ^ "'"No, President Obama isn't doing a cameo in 'The Butler. The Washington Post. August 6, 2013. Retrieved August 8, 2013. 
  28. ^ "Lee Daniels' The Butler: The film with FORTY ONE producers: How a host of stars and entrepreneurs raised $30m to fund The Butler". Daily Mail. August 15, 2013. Retrieved August 15, 2013. 
  29. ^ Brevet, Brad (September 24, 2012). "New Look at 'The Butler' as the Weinstein Co. Picks It Up for Distribution". Ropes of Silicon. Retrieved May 10, 2013. 
  30. ^ Kit, Borys (November 19, 2008). "Columbia tells White House butler story".  
  31. ^ Johnson, Ted (July 9, 2013). "Harvey Weinstein Has Already Won 'The Butler' Battle (Opinion)".  
  32. ^ "TOLDJA! Weinstein Co. Can Title Its Movie 'Lee Daniels' The Butler', If It Wants".  
  33. ^ The Deadline Team (July 23, 2013). "Weinstein Co Unveils New Poster For 'Lee Daniels' The Butler' To Comply With MPAA".  
  34. ^ Scott, Mike (August 27, 2012). "Tropical Storm Isaac chases 'The Butler' away, as film suspends production". The Times-Picayune. 
  35. ^ Kilday, Gregg (August 18, 2013). "Box Office Report: 'The Butler' Tops the Field With $25 Million". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 19, 2013. 
  36. ^ Mendelson, Scott (August 18, 2013). "Weekend Box Office: 'The Butler' Opens To $25m, 'Kick-Ass 2', 'Jobs', And 'Paranoia' Crash". Forbes. Retrieved August 19, 2013. 
  37. ^ Cunningham, Todd (September 2, 2013). "Oprah Winfrey's 'The Butler' Powers Past 'One Direction' for 3rd Straight Box-Office Win". The Wrap. Retrieved September 2, 2013. 
  38. ^ McClintock, Pamela (August 25, 2013). "Box Office Report: 'The Butler' Wins Again With $17 Million, Crosses $50 Million". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 26, 2013. 
  39. ^ (2013)"Lee Daniels' The Butler".  
  40. ^ "Lee Daniels' The Butler". Metacritic. Retrieved August 16, 2013. 
  41. ^ McCarthy, Todd (August 9, 2013). "Lee Daniels' The Butler: Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 16, 2013. 
  42. ^ Roeper, Richard. "Lee Daniels' The Butler". Richard Roeper & The Movies. Retrieved August 16, 2013. 
  43. ^ Foundas, Scott (August 8, 2013). "'"Film Review: 'Lee Daniels' The Butler. Variety. Retrieved August 16, 2013. 
  44. ^ Puig, Claudia (August 15, 2013). The Butler' is mannered and moving"'". USA Today. Retrieved August 16, 2013. 
  45. ^ "The Butler Review", New York Tribune, 2013.
  46. ^ Turan, Kenneth (August 15, 2013). "Review: 'Lee Daniels' The Butler' significant but often contrived". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 16, 2013. 
  47. ^ Anderson, John (August 15, 2013). Lee Daniels' The Butler' movie review"'". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 16, 2013. 
  48. ^ Rodriguez, Rene (August 15, 2013). Lee Daniels' The Butler' (PG-13)"'". Miami Herald. Retrieved August 16, 2013. 
  49. ^ Williams, Joe (August 15, 2013). "'"Forest Whitaker shines as 'The Butler. St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved August 16, 2013. 
  50. ^ Burr, Ty (August 15, 2013). The Butler' examines civil rights history from a new perspective"'". The Boston Globe. Retrieved August 16, 2013. 
  51. ^ Child, Ben (August 28, 2013). "Barack Obama 'teared up' watching Oscar-tipped drama The Butler".  
  52. ^ "AARP Names ’12 Years a Slave’ Best Movie for Grownups". AFI. January 6, 2014. Retrieved January 6, 2014. 
  53. ^ Aaron Couch, Arlene Washington (February 22, 2014). "NAACP Image Awards: The Winners".  
  54. ^ Dockterman, Eliana (August 16, 2013). "The True Story of The Butler: Fact vs. Fiction in Lee Daniels' The Butler".  
  55. ^ Bond, Paul (August 26, 2013). "'"President Reagan's Son Attacks 'Lee Daniels' The Butler. The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 28, 2013. 
  56. ^ "The Butler falsely portrays Ronald Reagan as racist, says son". The Guardian. August 29, 2013. Retrieved September 1, 2013. 
  57. ^ Reagan, Michael (August 27, 2013). "The Butler from Another Planet". Newsmax. Retrieved December 25, 2013. 
  58. ^ "Lee Daniels' 'The Butler': Reagan Biographers Slam President's Portrayal". Hollywood August 16, 2013. Retrieved September 1, 2013. 
  59. ^ Shapiro, Ben (August 18, 2013). The Butler' Filled with Historical Inaccuracies, Finishes #1"'".  

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