Like many of my friends and fellow Americans, I want to see the movie "The Butler." Yet I just read that the movie, though based upon the life of a real person who worked in the White House, the film distorts much of the reality of his life.
In general, the movie is full of hype. Cecil’s wholly fictional older son Louis gets involved in the civil rights movement from the time of the sit-ins through the rise of the Black Panther movement, and a younger brother, who professes pride in his country pays the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam. Cecil’s wife, Gloria, falls prey to alcoholism and for a time has a shabby affair with the guy next door.
Gaines’ service is marked by quiet frustration, knowing that black workers suffered a 40 percent wage deficit that lasted under the Reagan years, while being excluded from well-deserved promotions. When the weight of these injustices hit him, Cecil resigns to join his son Louis in a protest movement. When Slate’s, Aisha Harris was asked “How True is The Butler?” her candid answer was “not much.”
Why would the producers go so far afield from the actual story? Richard Epstein's take is the same as mine.
Why is Lee Daniels not content to tell the real story? The obvious answer is that his version makes for a better movie. Another explanation is that his tale is more down beat so that it can belittle some of the progress that the civil rights movement has made over this time.
No one should ever deny the senseless tragedies that dogged the civil rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s, including the murders of Emmett Till in 1955, of Medgar Evers in 1963, of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner 1964, and of course, of Martin Luther King in 1968. But by 1986, the United States was a different place.
The Butler’s negative reimagination comes at a real social cost. Watching the movie, the viewer comes away thinking that the civil rights movement has largely failed. But the actual record is more upbeat. It is unfortunate that Daniels did not start The Butler during the Truman years. In 1948, Truman decided to desegregate the U.S. armed forces by executive order.
Too many whose careers and profiles depend upon the continuance of racism in our nation wish, perversely, to see its continuance; not its continued reduction. Shame on them for taking actions that focus on self-promotion, rather than an adherence to reality of history, current events - and the many positive stories that we've enjoyed in the last several decades.