By now, you’re familiar with the talents (and controversy) that comes when preparing to see a Lee Daniels‘ film. His latest, The Butler, which directly examines race issues in America, looks to be a discussion-starter if their recent chat in NYC is any indication.
As press and true movie fans alike gathered in the Starlight Room inside the prestigious Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue, the energy was so thick and it could be cut with a knife. Everyone was awaiting the entrance of the cast of the film, but for many who came of age in the nineties—what was all the fuss about?
Inspired by Wil Haygood‘s 2008 Washington Post article, “A Butler Well Served by This Election,” the film is rooted in the tale of former White House butler named Eugene Allen and his wife, Helene. Danny Strong adapted Allen’s (and other White House staffers) story for the big screen. The 89-year-old “pantry man” came from humble beginnings to serve as a helpmate to eight presidents from the 1950s through the 1980s, which traversed the timeline from the end of Jim Crow to the foundation of Reaganomics. Actor Forest Whitaker plays the fictional version of Allen, a butler named Cecil Gaines, who escapes the harsh realities of the South to provide a new life for his family in Washington, D.C. His wife, Gloria (played by Oprah Winfrey); son, Louis (David Oyelowo) and community (Lenny Kravitz, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding, Jr.) all play a part in crafting a universal tale that attempts to add clarity to the American Dream.
Through the eyes and emotions of not only the Gaines family, but the respective Presidents who come and go, The Butler tackles the pivotal moments of the civil rights movement, the changing tides of American politics and race relations, and the Black father-son dynamic.
Our time with the ensemble cast, writer Danny Strong, and director Lee Daniels at the Waldorf Astoria produced some intriguing results. From hearing Terrence Howard talk about the duality of humanity having two faces (“Tragically, if Trayvon had recognized the face he needed to wear, he might be alive today.”) to a critic of the film taking Lee Daniels’ to task for his casting decision—this is a must-hear conversation that exemplifies Black resiliency and the power of family.
Listen to the full conference below:
The Butler engages audiences in theaters nationwide on Friday, August 16.
Photo: Ben Gabbe (Getty Images)