The Butler isn’t just a movie, it’s a movement.
That is the sentiment director Lee Daniels wants to convey about the acclaimed film, which shows the life of a man who started out picking cotton in fields in North Carolina and ended up working in the White House.
The main character, Cecil Gaines, is based loosely on Eugene Allen, who worked in the White House for more than three decades and was immortalized in a profile by Washington Post reporter Wil Haygood.
Haygood said in the buildup to the 2008 election, as he sensed Barack Obama would win a historic victory, he searched for someone from the Civil Rights era to profile. He eventually found Eugene Allen.
“I was under the impression he had worked for three presidents,” Haygood said. ‘He corrected me, and he said it was eight.”
Lee Daniels said he wanted to do justice to the story, and that filming The Butler movie brought some real-life tensions as it portrayed the Civil Rights era. At one point, they were filming a scene that called for KKK members to storm a bus used by the Freedom Riders to force integration on Alabama.
“I’m a little scared, and I think so were the actors on the bus, and I yell to the window ‘cut.’ But they can’t hear me,” Daniels said. “And I realize — when it happened — there was no one to yell cut for these children, and that these kids were really fighting for the soul of our country, and that they were heroes in a way that I could never be…. That’s when I realized it was a bigger movie than just a father-son story. It’s not a movie — it’s a movement.”
Daniels has already fought for his film. Warner Bros. filed an arbitration claim trying to force The Weinstein Company trying to change the name of the movie, noting that The Butler is already the name of a 1916 short film.
Daniels wrote a letter defending the movie, saying The Butler has an importance that runs deeper than awards or box office revenue.
“This movie is not a blockbuster, nor did we intend it to be. We just wanted to tell the dark and beautiful story of our nation’s racial history, where we came from, and how far we have come.”
The Butler movie is set for release August 16