Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker star in Lee Daniels' The Butler.
The cast of Lee Daniels’The Butler is stunning, with Oscar winner Forest Whitaker and Oscar nominee Oprah Winfrey playing the two leads, Cecil Gaines and his wife, Gloria Gaines. The acclaimed actors, while impressive, aren’t even the best part of the movie, which tells the tale of Gaines, a White House butler who served during seven presidential administrations between 1957 and 1986. The story itself is what really shines in this cinematic masterpiece.
Inspired by the real life of former butler Eugene Allen, the film follows its African-American protagonist from his childhood in the segregated 1920s South to his work at the White House. And though Gaines is dedicated to his job, his personal life starts to unravel when his son begins to fight segregation.
The movie is both touching and chilling, with peaceful White House scenes sometimes juxtaposed against violent unrest in the South. Still, the root of the story, at least according to two-time Oscar-nominated director Lee Daniels, is family. “It was a father-son story that transcends race,” said Daniels,in a phone interview during a recent stop in the District.
Daniels developed the script over three years, and saw how wide-reaching the project was after he started filming. “I realized this isn’t just a family story,” he explains, “but an American story… American history is the Civil Rights [Movement.]”
While much of the film explores our country’s difficult past, audiences can also look forward to layered performances. “It was fantastic working with Oprah. It was intimidating at first…[but] I found her to be very vulnerable, very fragile, and raw. And open to direction… that’s what all of the actors were like,” Daniels explains.
In fact, this movie was so important to participants—including John Cusack, Oscar nominee Terrence Howard, and two-time Oscar winner Jane Fonda—that some even lost money due to its budget, according to Daniels. He adds, “I think people saw the film as a statement."
The director hopes audiences will support him and the cast on opening day this Friday, August 16. “It’s an honor story,” he said. “I think that people will walk away [thinking]: ‘There’s hope.’”