Should Christians See Lee Daniels’ The Butler?

Last week I was approached by a well-meaning organization for a private screening of the new film Lee Daniels’ The Butler to help promote it throughout the Christian community.  The individual who initially contacted me was very generous with the number of tickets provided and also arranged to have 50 discussion guides sent to my home church.  I have nothing but the highest praise for how my family and I were treated.

I was expecting a Secretariat-type movie, one full of hope and inspiration.  I had my wife, my 14-year-old daughter and one of her friends with me in attendance.  We were all dressed up and prepared for a special evening.  That is why I type this review with a great deal of disappointment.

First, The Good

  • Forest Whitaker who played Cecil Gaines, the fictional (more on that later) butler of seven presidents, should win the Academy Award.  His portrayal of Gaines spanning 70 years of his life is a career-defining role and tour de force performance.
  • Oprah Winfrey, playing Gaines’ wife Gloria, should the Best Actress Award.  In addition,Cuba Gooding Jr. (who played a fellow butler) and David Oyelowo (who played Gaines’ oldest son Louis) should battle it out for the Best Supporting Actor nod.
  • The contrasting scenes of a disturbing segregated lunch counter confrontation edited beautifully with a simultaneous White House meal being served in the most elegant manner possible showed two different ways in which people were being treated as less than human.
  • The best moments in the film for me was Gaines trying to balance his responsibilities at the White House with those in his own house.  This is conflicting because his relationship with his wife and oldest son suffered dramatically because of his level of commitment.  He needed this high level of commitment to ensure a quality of life for his family that kept them out of the poverty he experienced as a child.
  • Gaines ability to be subservient, practice self-control, put his family’s needs ahead of his personal desire to state his own opinion, show amazing restraint, and model servanthood at a level few of us could ever match is admirable and inspiring.
  • There was also a scene in which Lyndon B. Johnson’s dogs ate off fine silver served by Gaines as he was forced to watch.  This was going on while Gaines own son was locked in jail for fighting for the basic rights we all now share.  Dogs were eating off silver.  Gaines’ son was in jail for wanting to eat at a restaurant.
  • One more thought – where in the world was the church during this time period?

If you go see this film, you will never see a better quality of acting.

Now The Bad

Remember, I was invited to watch the film for the purpose of promoting it to the Christian community.  So the question becomes, can I recommend this to Christians?  And sadly, the answer is “No” the following reasons:

  • The Liberal Use Of God’s Name In Vain – As a Christian asked to promote an inspirational film about hope and perseverance to the Christian community, I simply cannot recommend any film that uses G.D.  I brought my 14-year-old daughter to the movie.  She heard more GDs last night than she has ever heard in entire her life.
  • The Liberal Use Of The “N” Word – The film’s producers will talk about “this is how it was”, or “we want you to see what he overcame”, but the reality is the use of that word is just flat-out disturbing and uncomfortable.  I don’t care who says it and to whom.  I went to the film to be inspired, not squirm for the better part of two hours.
  • Nudity – There was a picture of a naked woman hanging in the apartment of a Black Panther meeting.  Remember, my 14-year-old daughter and her friend were there.
  • This Is Pure Fiction – Unless you read the background and movie reviews, you are led to believe Cecil Gaines is real individual.  He is not.  This is a fictional film and every president (Democrat and Republican), with the exception of JFK ,was portrayed in as negative a light as possible with no justification.  I’m not calling them perfect but the snippets reminded me of a poor Oliver Stone movie.
  • No Biblical References – You have to work really hard to find the biblical truths in this film.  I was expecting much more in this area.  The only reference to Christianity was Gloria Gaines asking for her bible near the film’s end.

In conclusion, if you want to see acting at its very best, go see this movie.  If you want a Christian movie experience you can take you entire family to, you will need to seek other options.

What are your thoughts after watching the movie?

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7 Responses to “Should Christians See Lee Daniels’ The Butler?”

  1. Ron Furgerson on 17/08/2013 #

    Thanks Brian for the review. I appreciate the heads-up, especially the fact that the main character, Cecil Gaines, is a purely fictional character.

  2. Beth on 17/08/2013 #

    My husband and I saw the movie yesterday and I agree with your assessment both good and bad, except that fact that you say it was fictional. Wasn’t it based upon the life of Eugene Allen who worked in the white house for 30 plus decades?

    • briandodd on 17/08/2013 #

      Beth,

      Thanks for your email. I have learned the entertainment industry puts great distinction between the terms “based on” and “inspired by”. Based On has a strong basis in reality. Inspired By simply means they heard of something and then wrote their own narrative. There was a man named Eugene Allen who served for 3 decades. He was the inspiration for this story. Unfortunately, it was not based upon him. I hope this helps bring some clarity.

      Thanks again,
      Brian

  3. Dan Black on 17/08/2013 #

    Thank you for the review and heads up.

  4. Joseph Lalonde on 18/08/2013 #

    Thanks for the great review on the movie Brian. It looks and sounds interesting but seems like there may be some issues in the movie that I wouldn’t want to help promote.

  5. Michael on 19/08/2013 #

    From my understanding this movie was back by NAACP. And the only truth in the movie is that their was a Butler named E.Allen.From what I read the movie shows Allen has two children and the truth is he had one. I am not sure ,but I feel the movie is to promote more racial hardship in this country

  6. Jennifer on 25/08/2013 #

    Thank you for thus post – I very much enjoy your thoughts.

    I walked out of this movie disappointed. Not that it wasn’t interesting — it was. And not that it did not have good acting — it did.

    But because I was distracted and manipulated.

    I feel the casting distracted from the story-line. I wonder if less-star power — especially with the presidential roles, would have helped limit the distraction.

    I also feel that knowing the “movie story line manipulations” hindered my enjoyment. Why get attached to a character when indeed that person never existed? If you are going to say based on a true story, try to stay true to it!

    i realize, that I know more about the halocaust in world war 2 than the civil rights movement in my own country. This movie could have been a strong vechicle to drive people to a better understanding and a decision to not let this happen again.

    Unfortunately, personally, due to my reasons above — it did not.

    Jem

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