"The Butler" Serves Us Lies?




















(I usually don't stray from reviews, but this one felt needed. Oh, and SPOILERS for the movie!)
Yesterday while watching "Lee Daniels' The Butler", I couldn't shake the feeling that I was watching a poor representation of a man's life. I made that comment in my review (Lee Daniel's The Butler). My exact words were: "True story, sure—but I found that I believed more in Whitaker than in Gaines".
Let's just say: I love being right.
For as I was sitting in the theater, the movie was screaming fake; and it turns out that my first assumptions were correct.
Perhaps it's the way that the movie bills itself: "Inspired by a true story" flashes on the screen during the movie's opening scenes—this leads the viewer to think that most everything in the movie is true.
We meet Cecil Gaines and we watch him mature through adulthood. In the ending scene, Mr. Gaines is tottering along on the way to meet Barack Obama. On a side note, I was very much looking forward to a cameo by President Obama; but that didn't happen. 
Usually, at the end of biography movies, we have a last line of what happened with the characters after the final fadeout. Either that, or a photograph with the real people's faces, to show that they were, in fact, real. But we didn't get that with "Lee Daniels' The Butler"—and to put that in perspective, we did in "The Conjuring". 
As the movie played out and the instances of charity kept getting more outlandish as Gaines makes his way to the White House, I asked myself over and over: what? 
I understand that movies Hollywood-ize their subjects, and I'm perfectly fine with this. I was a huge fan of "The Impossible" which white-washed the cast and changed the names—but at the very end, showed a picture of the family with their names, so I guess that's permissible. 
My internet was dodgy yesterday and I was tired so I didn't do the research that I should have—but early this morning I was reading up on the film and found an interesting fact—Cecil Gaines never existed.
Yes indeed, the man who carries the movie never was. I'm sure there are plenty of people named Cecil Gaines in the world—but none of them had a movie made about them serving seven Presidents. 
Instead the movie drew its inspiration from a man named Eugene Allen. 
Before I go into my diatribe about the movie, I should say that Allen's family could have requested anonymity—I don't know about this, but some part of me doubts it. 
Now let's pick apart the movie:
The movie begins in 1926 on a cotton farm in Georgia where Cecil/Eugene's mother is raped and his father is killed.
First lie of the movie: Eugene Allen was born in Virginia and while I don't want to be presumptuous enough to say that his mother was never raped; we do know that his father was never killed by Alex Pettyfer or any other actor/model. Jokes aside, his dad was not shot in front of him.
Eugene did serve in the house as a child and did run away from home, though it's safe to assume that his mother didn't become catatonic after the non-death of his father.
Also not present was the breaking and entering/butler training that happened when Eugene stole a cake.
Eugene was not approached about the butler position—he started work in the White House under Truman's administration and not Eisenhower's. He worked as a pantry worker and then was promoted to butler years later. This is important to note because a large portion of the film deals with white men getting promotions and black men not getting them. I'm not negating the fact that African American citizens were treated poorly, even brutally—this is just about the movie.
Eugene married Helena and they had one child together, Charles—who did serve in Vietnam as portrayed in the film; but lives on to this day. Louis, on the other hand, is a pure fabrication.
This is the son that was a Freedom Rider, demonstrated the power of sit-ins, became a member of the Blank Panthers but didn't want to kill anyone so left right before everyone else in the movement was shot down, didn't attend his not-so-dead brother's funeral, attempted reconciliation but was rejected, and finally—the coup de grĂ¢ce—ran for Congress.
Everything you just read was a lie...how does that make you feel?
I felt like a sentence should have popped up at the end of "Lee Daniels' The Butler" saying "Gotcha! HAH!" with Peter's face from "Family Guy" right next to it...that would have made it all worth while.
So they got the family, the job, the number of presidents, and the whole point of this man's life wrong.
Herein lies my biggest problem: what is so un-filmable about Eugene Allen's life. Why should we have to dramatize it until it reaches this point? Couldn't we just have a quaint drama about a man who served a lot of important men their tea—pair this with the segregational thoughts of the time and (to my mind) you have a solid movie.
But no, the film reached for that extra point, that extra Oscar—it compromises itself doing so.
Oh, and yeah, Terrence Howard wasn't necessary because Helena wasn't a alcoholic two-timer.
This makes me very mad.
But I can still hear the voice of reason—surely other biographies have taken more liberties than this one. Yes, it's true. This movie is probably not the worst of offenders.
Still it came to the end, when Cecil/Eugene is shuffling towards the first African America president—it's this moment that is supposed to make us cry like watching Lincoln's back walking out the door to his ultimate demise in Spielberg's "Lincoln". But Lincoln was killed in Ford's Theater, we all know this—Eugene Allen campaigned for Obama and attended the President's inauguration (which, by all accounts, is more powerful than walking down a hallway). As far as we know, there were no other meetings. Eugene Allen died in 2010.
So what's the problem? I feel like Allen's life was more meaningful than the film gives him credit for.
I mean, the movie has a runaway son calling up for money and the death of the other son—all on Cecil's birthday! Sure it could have happened, but the way it was done left no room for self-criticism. It doesn't point out its own flaws—something that will ease the viewer's mind because someone was asking the same questions they were.
If it was for anonymity, I can understand. Why not just make the movie you wanted to make and dedicate it to Eugene Allen instead of leading the viewer on a rabbit-chase of facts? I feel manipulated.
Thus endeth the rantings.




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