This is a movie.. that is beyond words for me– it encompasses so much depth.
This is a movie which is about race relations, class, family, father-son relations, and gives us a peak into the nation’s house- the White House. It is truly an American story- showing both the worst in this country and the best in this country. This story can only really be told in America.
-Race Relations- First and foremost, this is a movie about the effect race had on one mans life. Cecil Gaines was a man who witnessed his mother led off to be raped on a plantation and his father shot( all because he say ‘eh’ in protest to the sharecropper who raped his wife)- all within the same day. This was a boy who had never been to school but had learned how to serve White people (never giving his opinions about race, but talking about nonpolitical things the the wealthy preferred)- and learned to work hard. This is how he went from plantation boy to a butler in the White House. How one can make this journey in not even half his lifetime- is beyond me. But what Cecil learned from his journey from the plantation to the White House was: 1)Don’t speak up to the White man- even if he is wrong 2) You get more in life by being subservient rather than protesting.
-Family- Both of these would be a far cry from his son who was a rebel- but not a rebel without a cause. No, in fact his son was one of the rebels who was the freedom riders. One of the images which would make an everlasting impression in my mind are when his son and the other freedom riders are on the bus and the bus rides into an Alabama town where the KKK are very much alive. In fact, as the bus pulls into this town.. it seems like it goes into a flaming cross. The fires emanating from that cross.. have a very visceral effect in my mind. This is Lee Daniels’ and the cinematographer’s work at its best. But as was aforementioned, the son’s rebelliousness and the father’s subservience often clash.
But with time both father and son seem to have respect for each other’s ways of protestation. It should be noted, that though each man comes to respect each other, one person who tried to bridge the gap between them sooner was Cecil’s wife, Gloria, played by none other than Oprah Winfrey. She did a remarkable job of showing a housewife in the 20th century who glowed in the fashions during that time as well as a woman who was devoted to her family. Although without a focus outside of the house, at times she was too devoted and was hence in a drunken stupo. But eventually, she too found strength out of alcoholism.
- The White House-The White House was another interesting entity which this movie highlighted. This house is known as the house which one identifies immediately with presidents. But presidents may stay here for 4- 8 years. But it is the workers, who sometimes work in the White House for more than three decades. And when we all ooh and ahh at the inauguration for 2 hours on television, the staff changes the oval office for the new president. I for one, had no idea that this happened! Many of us, also view the White House as the epitamy of democracy, but it is not always the case. In the movie it was revealed that for more than 25 years of Cecil’s tenure, the Black employees made about 40% of what the White employees did. It wasn’t until Reagan was in office that the policy changed.
-In sum, this is a movie that is great for so many U of M students to see. Next time you sit in your race and ethnicity class; or an American history class; decide whether or not you should participate in DP Day, do the semester in Detroit, or even attend a lecture on race relations- perhaps this movie will add to the food for thought for any of these events.
Please go and see it at a theater close to you-ASAP!
5 out of 5 stars