The Butler

The Butler Information

Lee Daniels' The Butler is a 2013 American historical drama film directed by Lee Daniels, written by Danny Strong, and featuring an ensemble cast. Based on the real-life account of Eugene Allen, the film stars Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, an African-American who eyewitnesses notable events of the 20th century during his 34-year tenure serving as a White House butler. It was the last film produced by Laura Ziskin, who died in 2011.

The film was theatrically released by The Weinstein Company on August 16, 2013.


The fictional Cecil Gaines is based on Eugene Allen who worked at the White House during eight presidential terms from 1952 to 1986. He started as a "pantry man," was promoted to butler, and then Maître d'hôtel.

Gaines's position as butler allows him to witness presidential discussion of national civil rights issues, while his son Louis directly participates in many of the struggles. Historical events include the Federal integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, the Nashville sit-ins, the Freedom Riders, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Black Panther Party, the Vietnam War, the Nixon Resignation, the Free South Africa Movement, and Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.


  • Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, the film's central protagonist, who dedicates his life to becoming a professional domestic worker. Aml Ameen portrays a young Cecil.
Gaines' private life
  • Oprah Winfrey as Gloria Gaines, Cecil's wife.
  • David Oyelowo as Louis Gaines, the Gaines' eldest and most volatile son.
  • Elijah Kelley as Charlie Gaines, the Gaines' youngest son who is killed in the Vietnam War.
  • David Banner as Earl Gaines, Cecil's father who is killed by Thomas Westfall
  • Mariah Carey as Hattie Pearl, Cecil's mother
  • Terrence Howard as Howard, the Gaines' neighbor who has an affair with Gloria
  • Adriane Lenox as Gina
  • Yaya DaCosta as Carol Hammie, Louis' girlfriend
  • Alex Pettyfer as Thomas Westfall, maltempred plantation owner who kills Earl after Westfall's attempt to rape Cecil's mother.
  • Vanessa Redgrave as Annabeth Westfall
  • Nelsan Ellis as Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Jesse Williams as civil rights activist James Lawson
White House
Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter are briefly seen in archival footage.



The film is based on a The Washington Post article "A Butler Well Served by This Election." The film project started developing in early 2011, when producers Laura Ziskin and Pam Williams approached Sheila Johnson for help in financing the film. After reading Danny Strong's adapted screenplay, Johnson pitched in her own $2.7 million before getting in several African-American investors. However, Ziskin died from cancer in June 2011, this left director Daniels and producing partner Hilary Shor to look for further producers on their own. They started with Cassian Elwes, with whom they were working on The Paperboy (2012). Elwes joined the list of producers, and started raising funding for the film. In spring 2012, Icon U.K., British financing and production company added a $6 million guarantee against foreign presales. Finally the film raised its the $30 million budget through 41 producers and executive producers , including Earl W. Stafford, Harry I. Martin Jr., Brett Johnson, Michael Finley, and Buddy Patrick. Thereafter,as film production started Weinstein Co. picked up U.S. distribution rights for the film. David Glasser, Weinstein Co. COO, called fund raising as an independent film, "a story that's a movie within itself.".

The Weinstein Company acquired the distribution rights for the film after Columbia Pictures put the film in turnaround.

The film's title was up for a possible rename due to a MPAA claim from Warner Bros., which released a 1916 silent short film with the same name. The case was subsequently resolved with the MPAA granting the Weinstein Company permission to add Daniels' name in front of the title, under the condition that his name was "75% the size of The Butler. On July 23, 2013, the distributor unveiled a revised poster, displaying the title as Lee Daniels' The Butler.


The filming started in September 2012, in New Orleans, but was marred by weather delays, which further pushed production costs to $30 million.


Critical response

Lee Daniels' The Butler received mostly positive reviews from critics, with a 72% "Fresh" rating on the film critic aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, based on 103 reviews. The site's consensus says, "Gut-wrenching and emotionally affecting, Lee Daniels' The Butler overcomes an uneven script thanks to strong performances from an all-star cast." Another review aggregator, Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 top reviews from mainstream critics, calculated a score of 66 based on 39 reviews, indicating "generally positive reviews".

Todd McCarthy praised the film saying, "Even with all contrivances and obvious point-making and familiar historical signposting, Daniels' The Butler is always engaging, often entertaining and certainly never dull." Richard Roeper lauded the film's casting in particular, remarking that "Forest Whitaker gives the performance of his career". Rolling Stone also spoke highly of Whitaker writing that his "reflective, powerfully understated performance...fills this flawed film with potency and purpose." Variety wrote that "Daniels develops a strong sense of the inner complexities and contradictions of the civil-rights landscape." USA Today gave the film three out of four stars and noted that "It's inspiring and filled with fine performances, but the insistently swelling musical score and melodramatic moments seem calculated and undercut a powerful story."

Kenneth Turan of The Los Angeles Times was more negative; "An ambitious and overdue attempt to create a Hollywood-style epic around the experience of black Americans in general and the civil rights movement in particular, it undercuts itself by hitting its points squarely on the nose with a 9-pound hammer." Several critics compared the film's historical anecdotes and sentimentality to Forrest Gump.

See also

  • Backstairs at the White House, 1979 miniseries with a similar theme
  • Eugene Allen

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