September 08, 2013

Let's Talk About "The Butler"

SPOILER ALERT, in case you've not taken opportunity to see the film, "Lee Daniels' The Butler." This is what you need to know:
  1. The writers made liberal use of artistic license.
  2. "Lee Daniels' The Butler" is loosely based on the life of Eugene Allen, a man who had the grace and dignity to serve the leaders of eight presidential administrations.  It is not a biopic or documentary.
  3. Mr. Gaines does not exist.  It is not Mr. Allen's family. 
  4. Mrs. Allen was not an alcoholic nor did they have two sons.
  5. It is a damned good movie. 

If you want to know more about the life of Mr. Allen, this link will be useful: Or, you can ask my former church members at The Greater First Baptist Church where he worshiped.  (As a personal aside, I was moved to see the magnificent stained glass windows of the sanctuary depicted in the movie. Warm memories of that church and its members.)

With that said, I urge you to enjoy the movie for this reason: the history lessons--particularly in light of the recent commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. So very much of our history has been forgotten, rewritten, and revised.  We have become so comfortable with our current lifestyles and achievements that we ignore a past filled with  lynchings, rapes, murder, land grabs, humiliations, fear, and more.  Our children have not been exposed to the ugliness of racism and believe that it is over. A closer look at current events shows that while we have come so far from the days of Jim Crow, some things have not changed.  Forces are still at work to limit our full success. Pay attention to how the first African American to occupy the highest office of the land is treated and pray for him daily.  It is important that we not forget and make sure that our children and their children know the trials and travails that our people endured.

I'm also guilty of "forgetting." Though too young to understand the implications and the impact to come, I do remember seeing the confrontation  between Pres. Eisenhower and Gov. Faubus, in Little Rock, AR, and Governor Wallace's refusal to allow Black students into the University of Alabama on the nightly news. I do remember the sit-ins and demonstrations (took part in a few), the marches, the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, the rise of the Black Panthers, the murders of civil rights leaders and activists, and more.  But many of those memories had been buried deeply in the recesses of my mind.  Seeing the historical footage brought them to the forefront.  In many instances, I could remember clearly what I was doing or where I was. In moving to Tennessee, I learned of Fayette County's "Tent City," via a PBS documentary, which drove home the fact that hatred and resistance to equal rights was not relegated to the deep South alone.

While the secondary story line, the familial struggles of the Gaines' family, is also is just that: a story line. Enjoy the movie and stellar performances by the star-studded cast.  See the film  for the history. Use it as a teachable moment for the young because:
“Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.”  (African proverb)

Be Safe.  Be Blessed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your African proverb is so down, girl. I loved the interviews on tv of Lee and the entire cast. The flow between all of them was wonderful. Just how wonderful we can work, work with each other, and relate to each other. I can hardly wait to see it.

I don't know if I told you, but my late next door neighbor's mother used to work in the White House for the first families. She worked for 4 or 5 presidents. One of her cake recipes for the first family is still on the menu. What little she said about those families during all those years, made you ID with someone in those families. She was 103 when she died in 2003. She, too, had a zipped lip about the first families. Publishers courted her for years to write a book, give them articles, etc. She refused. At her death, her daughter could hardly wait to contact everyone to sell out to highest bidder. Her mother had handwritten cards, letters, personal gifts with signatures, the Seal, etc. Between the publisher, various presidential libraries, and museums, she did ok. No one really knew the exact amounts. I talked several times with her mother. She was fascinating and very articulate.

Talking also about rewriting history, the 9-11 museum at ground zero is going to be so different but relevant. The curators and committees wanted to leave out the pictures of Bin Laden and some others, and pictures of people jumping from windows as too gruesome. They wanted to limit the recordings of last phone calls to love ones, also. The families said no. Tell it like it is. Each family gave pictures, recordings and biopics of their loved ones that you read when you click on each picture. The exhibits about the Holocaust, slavery, lynchings, and the abuses during the Civil Rights Movement exist in many places. Why can't you show 9-11 as the history it is? Tell it just like it is. If the lions don't have historians, the hunter is glorified.