The Butler Did It

A new movie opens today. It’s what Hollywood likes to call “historical fiction” but don’t let that fool you because it ain’t history:

How True Is The Butler?

A few days after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, the Washington Post published an article about a black butler who served in the White House for 34 years, under eight presidents, from Truman to Reagan. Eugene Allen represented, as journalist Wil Haygood wrote, “a story from the back pages of history. A figure in the tiniest of print. The man in the kitchen.”

“He was there,” Haygood continued, “while America’s racial history was being remade: Brown v. Board of Education, the Little Rock school crisis, the 1963 March on Washington, the cities burning, the civil rights bills, the assassinations.” Allen undoubtedly lived a fascinating life, meeting countless historical figures during especially polarizing times, and it’s unsurprising that Haygood’s profile caught the eye of Hollywood. It is now the basis for Lee Daniels’ The Butler (the director’s name is included thanks to silly copyright claims made by Warner Bros).

But as interesting as Haygood’s profile is, “A Butler Well Served by This Election” doesn’t provide that many details about Allen’s time in the White House outside a handful of facts and humorous anecdotes. (Allen’s wife Helene referred affectionately to former First Lady Rosalynn Carter as “country,” for instance.) The Butler is a bit more than 2 hours long, spans several decades, and includes multiple storylines. It’s fair to say it has epic ambitions.

So how much of Allen’s real-life experience actually made it into the film?

Not much. According to Daniels’ foreword in The Butler: A Witness to History, a book by Haygood published to accompany the film, the movie “is set against historical events,” but “the title character and his family are fictionalized.” The skeleton of Allen’s story is there: the childhood on a plantation in the early 1920s, the interactions with several presidents. But the names have been changed: Allen and his wife, Helene, are called Cecil and Gloria Gaines. (They’re played by Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey.) At least one key character, Cecil’s son Louis (David Oyelowo), is entirely made up.

If you want to read more about the fictional story go here. If you want to read more about the real historical figure then go here instead. The guy who wrote the screenplay is the same guy who wrote Game Change and they cast Hanoi Jane Fonda as Nancy “Mommy” Reagan so that should give you an idea how historically accurate the movie is.

On the other hand historical accuracy is not a requirement for a good movie. Forrest Gump is a great movie about a fictional character set in an historical context.

I have not seen The Butler. I probably won’t see it until it comes out on cable. I do not know if it is even worth seeing. But I am willing to bet that regardless of how it performs in the box office it will be a contender for a number of awards because it advances one of Hollywood’s favorite narratives.

My concern is that the movie pretends to be true the same way that Game Change pretended to be an accurate depiction of the McCain/Palin campaign. The words “truthiness” and “verisimilitude” come to mind.

So does “propaganda”.

About Myiq2xu - BA, JD, FJB

I was born and raised in a different country - America. I don't know what this place is.
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69 Responses to The Butler Did It

  1. DeniseVB says:

    The reviews are starting to come out and it’s a love/hate mixture but all agree, it’s an Academy Award gimmick. (buzz-buzz Oprah as an alcoholic! ).

    The fix is in.

    • lyn says:

      It may be the “Forrest Gump” version of “The Help.”

    • Mt.Laurel says:

      (buzz-buzz Oprah as an alcoholic! )

      Her character,Oprah or both? Confessing to be an alcoholic because she soooooooo related to character would be the icing on the cake for what seems to be a life long gimmick that is Oprah.

      • DeniseVB says:

        Oprah plays an alcoholic which would have been a better movie promo message for her than the shopgirl raaaacist one. Alcoholism is colorblind. Hollywood loves to reward A-listers who play outside their box …. turning frumpy, mentally challenged, going on a near death diet to play an aids victim, singing while having your hair cut off …. 😉

        • Mt.Laurel says:

          I had thought perhaps after the shopgirl stunt backfired, that Oprah moved on to a new tactic to get attention and sympathy.

          You know:
          Poor little Okra – it was the alcohol talking – she really did not mean to cause such a fuss over something that never happened. She will be going into a fancy spa for treatment . Fortunately her 12 step program will be timed so that she will be able to attend all Hollywood festivities and collect all her awards. Her peers understand how tough it is to be picked on by the mean peons and not have their historically inaccurate performances appreciated by the masses.

  2. votermom says:

    I find it tiresome how preachy many movies/tv shows and novels are.
    Specially if they are preachy and manipulative.
    The best fiction, the kind that become classic, are not the preachy ones but the ones that actually resonate emotionally – either because they are great fun, or because they really touch your heart.

    • westcoaster says:

      I don’t like to be yanked around by melodramas. I like dramas that come across as real. The Ben Carson movie was for me a touching experience- I haven’t seen something like that since I saw Lorenzo’s Oil. (both true stories)

      • Constance says:

        I also don’t like getting jerked around by movies. Movies have gotten really expensive, the last time I went it cost $75 as I had kids with me (I don’t know any adults who go to movies anymore). At that price I expect to entertained and have a nice day out. Being jerked around and having a bunch of guilt and angst dumped on me doesn’t work for me. I also don’t appreciate sexist schlock.

        • Karma says:

          Yesterday, I had to waste some time while the car was being worked on and saw Elysium and Wolverine. And while both were action, Elysium still has it’s message to share.

          So when I went back to the dealership one of the service advisers was waiting on a review on Elysium. I bit my tongue on the messaging because they have my car…lol….no need to upset someone. But Wolverine was more enjoyable since it wasn’t trying to send one.

  3. votermom says:

  4. votermom says:


  5. angienc says:

    I think Forrest Whitiker (who plays the title character) is a really good actor, so i’d probably enjoy the movie just because of him but I CAN’T with Oprah — I just find her totally insufferable (and not just because of the way whe threw Hillary under the bus in 2008). So I’ll probably watch it when it comes on cable too.
    OT — the RNC chair Reince Preibus just threw Romney under the bus declaring that his saying if illegals couldn’t find work they’d “self-deport” as “horrific” and “racist.” thank God I’ve never been a Republican or I’d be embarrassed (I’m already embarrassed that Reince is Greek). 2016 is shaping up more & more to be a 3rd party vote for me.

    • driguana says:

      Unfortunately for me, I may be retreating back into the troglodyte cave of not voting. Hate to say it but the way that the Democrats are playing hardball politics and the the pussy Republicans are retreating on a daily basis, there is going to be a Democratic congress and Democrats in power until the Emperor or Empress is duly crowned. I’m all for a third party but to even get one started will depend on a personality….a third party of “principles” only won’t cut it in such a deviously dangerous political time.

      • angienc says:

        You’ve had it right all along. I may follow you to that cave.

      • lyn says:

        We are The Crawdad Cave.

      • Constance says:

        I think a group of personalities could launch a third party. Problem being they probably all have Presidential aspirations and so would most likely fight among themselves. But a group of modern Americans like the founding fathers(this time don’t leave out women)….the time is right for that, they could cast out both parties ideological agendas and move away from Multinational Corporate rule.

      • mcnorman says:

        Cave’s getting filled up quickly.

    • angienc says:

      Paper (Business Insider) issued a retraction after RNC & 2 separate reporters disputed the use of the word “racist” — Reince said Romney’s use of the word self-deportation “hurt us” not that it was “racist.” He still characterized it as “horrific” so fuck him.

      • votermom says:

      • DandyTIger says:

        The RNC circular firing squad is rather sad. Their 6+ year flushing themselves down the toilet continues.

        • Klown says:

          I finally fell asleep a few hours ago and then had some really weird dreams. I rouse to semi-consciousness to use the potty and take a pill. I come online to check the blog and I see that the RNC chairman is calling Romney a racist over “self-deport”.

          I keep blinking at the screen, wondering if I am still dreaming or what?

          Even with the update this makes no fucking sense.

          I’m going back to bed.

    • 49erDweet says:

      Isn’t Reince Preibus just another symptom of what ails the goppers? I find him only a teensy bit more believable than backtrack. Besides, Romney was right about the self-deporting. The Mexican economy is stirring and part of it is because of returnees, who’ve developed entrepreneurial skills not found elsewhere. Support services around the new container freight handling port in Lazaro Cardenas is one example.

  6. westcoaster says:

    The Republicans don’t seem very united… there must be a lot going on behind the scenes

    • DeniseVB says:

      I noticed too, it’s establishment vs. the whacko birds. But I think the Dems were just as flaky during Bush’s second term. I’m trying not to panic, but we don’t need an Obama third term. Right now, I’m on Team Whacko Bird 😀

    • Falstaff says:

      You know that’s a KKK site, no? The Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) is a re-branding of the old Klan. Christ, just read the “Statement of Princles.” Sick stuff.

      • Klown says:

        Thank you for that information. I have blocked that website to prevent any more links to it.

        In Trixta’s defense, it’s not always obvious who is behind a website. I never heard of them before until today and I don’t automatically vet the links that people post.

        • trixta says:

          Thanks Klown. So sorry! Should have been more careful and aware …the story was so horrific though. Perhaps it’s been reported elsewhere.

      • trixta says:

        The crime is still horrible. I was clicking away over the internets and found the story. Horrible … horrible…. A crime is still a crime ….

        • trixta says:

          Backtracking a bit , I see that I originally got the link from the (I’m sure some will also be offended by this libertarian-leaning, sometimes tinfoily site.)

  7. helenk3 says:


    have you heard anything from SMS77 lately?
    I have not heard from her in a long time and I wonder how she is doing

  8. DeniseVB says:

    The reviews for The Butler on coming in now :

    It’s sort of a movie review aggregator and a section for we the peons too.

    • Mary says:

      It’s a Weinstein movie. He spends millions and millions of dollars for positive PR to push for Oscar winners, even if other movies are more historically true or artistic. Ugh.

      And just think—millions of Bots will leave that movie thinking the butler’s son actually was a fighter for civil rights. They won’t even know he never existed, and was completely made up.

      No thanks.

      • DeniseVB says:

        The Reagan’s official biographer is screaming over the wrong “facts” about the Reagans yet the movie’s fact-schmoozing the anti-civil rights Kennedy clan, or something.

        Wonder if the Obamas are going to have a WH movie screening, this topic is their thang.

        • Mary says:

          They’re right. The hokey line from Kennedy to the butler, after a long conversation about civil rights, was “You changed my heart.”

          Puhleease. JFK would never have said such a thing. In fact, he had to be dragged kicking and screaming to even recognizing MLK and civil rights by his brother Bobby.

          It’s just more Obot re-writing of history to prop up the clan.

    • Constance says:

      I do love Alan Rickman ever since he played the evil sheriff in Robin Hood. He was so hot. It’s not my kind of movie but maybe I can see a clip of Alan on line.

      • Lulu says:

        The Voice. Not one of those screeching singers but the smoothest, deepest, sexiest male speaking voices of all time. I think I have watched everyone of his movies just to hear him speak. And he is cute too!

        • elliesmom says:

          If you like to hear Alan Rickman’ s voice, you want to see “The Song of Lunch” if you haven’t already. He stars with Emma Thompson. It was made for PBS. I know Amazon has it as an instant video. It’s a poetic monologue.

      • gxm17 says:

        If you haven’t seen Truly, Madly, Deeply, rent it this weekend.

        • trixta says:

          Thanks gxm17!

          May I also recommend the beautifully written coming-of-age film MUD (dir. Jeff Nichols, w/ Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Sam Shepard, Reese Witherspoon) and the riveting documentary IMPOSTER (dir. Bart Layton) where truth is unbelievably stranger than fiction.

      • lyn says:

        I loved “Snow Cake.”

  9. DeniseVB says:

    Breitbart’s review of The Butler:

    Digs a little deeper than the Weinstein owned “reviewers” 😉

    I’ll wait for cable too.

    • Mary says:

      Same person who wrote the script for this movie, wrote the script for Game Change (trashing Sarah Palin).

      Should tell you everything you need to know.

      • underwhelmed says:

        And that would be Danny Strong, who played Jonathan the loser in Buffy the Vampire Slayer tv series. Little weasel.

  10. DeniseVB says:

    This link will take you to an autoplay video, but it’s a raw video from the WH Pool covering the Obamas vacation. Enjoy while you can 🙂

  11. swanspirit says:

    completely OT , My Granddaughter is on the front page of The Today Show today , in the picture with Luke Bryant the country singer . She is the one on the left in the orange cap and yellow purse , with her hand reaching out toward him , and she is in the video too !!!
    She and some of her BFFs took a day trip to NYC today and had VIP passes to see him while he was on the show !
    This morning watching that was TOO MUCH FUN woohooo

  12. DeniseVB says:

    Breaking: The Woz slams Jobs (the movie).

    Guess I’ll wait for cable for that one too.

  13. votermom says:

    O & Reg were playing cards during Benghazi?

    • DandyTIger says:

      And of course NBC/CNN peeps are saying it’s because the GOP needs to hide their candidates to protect them. And an excuse to have less debates. MSNBC used that occasion to show endless clips of GOP gaffs, showing why they need less GOP exposer.

      I believe they made the GOP’s case.

      • Klown says:

        The problem is that the RNC has so little control over the primary process (unlike the DNC, which has too much).

        I would like to see a uniform system of regional primaries spaced over several months, rotating in order every four years. Then have the parties host debates and candidate forums to give all the candidates a chance to be seen and heard. That would lessen the need for large campaign fundraising. The rules for entering should be uniform as well. Candidates should not have to register separately in every state.

        Superdelegate voting should be eliminated, except maybe to break ties.

  14. Klown says:
  15. yttik says:

    “So does “propaganda”.

    So does integrity and the ability to stand there and let the truth defend itself.

  16. yttik says:

    I remember when I first discovered that the story of the white house pardoning turkeys was pure propaganda. It was so disturbing to discover, as if somebody had been brainwashing me. I was so convinced that Presidents had been pardoning turkeys since George Washington that I probably could have passed a lie detector test. I literally remember learning this is school, remember seeing the photos. It was all nonsense. Somebody had implanted me with false memories. We have only recently started this “long standing” tradition. No historical presidents have ever pardoned a turkey.

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