Tuesday, August 20, 2013

"The Butler" - A Film Every Citizen Needs to See - Especially the Young! (Some Spoilers)

Lee Daniels' The Butler
"The Butler" is a film that cleaned up over the weekend, knocking out numbskull fare like 'Kickass 2' (a film mainly for the mentally challenged) as well as 'Paranoia'. It is that rare blend of a Hollywood movie with class and intelligence that also delivers a critically needed historical perspective for generations (mainly X and Y) that may have only passing knowledge of the civil rights movement, for example. As Harvey Weinstein put it this morning, on CBS' Early Show, his own daughter was nonplussed, asking "Did this stuff really happen?"

Uh, yes it did! The insults (n-words galore) and spitting on African-American sit- in protestors at lunch counters in Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama, the horrific truncheon beatings and kicks to the head of fallen protestors, and the actual fire bombing of a bus carrying dozens of freedom riders. All of it was all too real, and it all really, REALLY happened! The film doesn't grind the viewer under with such scenes but the exposure is ample to make a dent and impress brain neurons - especially for the Millennials and others who may not had much of it in their American History classes. (Given the way a lot of American history is taught in generic marshmallow, vanilla style).

At the same time, 'The Butler' is much more than a civil rights -historical flick. It also tells the story of how a humble black share cropper - with grit and determination - rose above his original station to become the premier butler on the White House staff, as well as telling a story of father-son conflict. This is because Cecil Gaines' son soon goes his own way, including being directly involved in the civil rights protests, then joining the Black Panthers. At the end he,  like his dad, finds redemption.

Already the right wingers, as per their perpetual grievance shtick, are bitching about the portrayal of Ronnie Reagan. Complaints have poured in that he is depicted as uncaring about the poor, especially blacks, and also impeded constructive racial changes (to eliminate apartheid) in South Africa. But, alas, all of that is true. The screen play writers didn't make it up! The righties, in fact, ought to be thankful the full fell swoop of Reagan wasn't portrayed, including: shuttering mental wards in hospitals - effectively tossing a half million into the streets (who subsequently ended up mainly homeless or in prisons), and his drastic cutting of taxes which savaged domestic support programs. Oh, Reagan is shown doing some good: if black people actually wrote him and asked for money, he'd put a few bucks in an envelope and send it off to them!

LBJ lovers also won't be happy with how he was portrayed, as often using the n-word....even in front of the black butler staff, and showing the clear contempt for people most of us always suspected this sleaze bag to harbor. (A good case can also be made he wanted JFK's job, and was instrumental in changing the motorcade route to make sure Kennedy was taken out and he could succeed.) It was also well known by those familiar with 1960s politics that Kennedy planned to dump Johnson- for the 1964 Democratic ticket -  on account of all the fallout from the Billy Sol Estes scandal.  This LBJ could not allow.

Johnson did do one thing right, as shown in the movie, and that was to pass the Civil Rights Act first conceived by Kennedy. (He also got Medicare passed, another Kennedy proposal from his 1960 campaign, but this wasn't shown) What he absolutely didn't do right was launching the Vietnam War on a false pretext. Martin Luther King eloquently criticized the conflict, and he likely met his end because of it - killed by black op SOG units, see e.g. the book, Orders to Kill, (http://www.amazon.com/Orders-Kill-Behind-Murder-Martin/dp/0446673943 ) by William F. Pepper. Of course, as in the Kennedy case, a lone nut loon - James Earl Ray- got the rap.

My primary complaint with the film was the ridiculous choice of an actor far too young to be a credible John F. Kennedy. I mean, Jeebus, this guy looked more like an escapee from  'Kick Ass 2'  than a credible stand-in for our 35th president (who was 43 in 1960, when elected president). Wifey's theory is that they chose this young kid to highlight the age difference with Gaines, the butler. But I maintain if that was the case, they went overboard. You don't get a de facto frat boy look alike to play JFK! 

To the film's credit, when the assassination occurred you didn't see TV images of Lee Harvey Oswald being paraded, as the supposed killer - nor did the background radio announcements mention him. The film basically left it open. (But you can be sure more films due to appear later  this year won't, including "Parkland", another Tom Hanks co-effort, set to open Sept. 20th.  I will, however, await more credible fare, assuming it appears at all. If not, I'll save my money!)

Arguably, 'The Butler' will be the only decent worthwhile movie at the cinemas for a few weeks at least. A movie that respects viewers' intelligence as opposed to insulting it. I highly recommend the film to anyone, except maybe those right wingers that have a problem with race issues and their role in engendering black inequality.

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