It is rapidly becoming a Hollywood cliché to show how awful the American Apartheid of the 40s and 50s by showing lynched black men, with no explanation or poor explanation of why they have been strangled at the end of an humiliating rope. As such, it has become the film equivalent of accepted truth, common knowledge, and goes-without-saying representation of the south.
The Butler has several lynchings, including the between the eyes shot against the main characters father who has just witnessed the rape of his wife at the hands of a wicked overseer. A couple aren’t explained, just painful closeups of men hanged face to face, their bodies left to be devoured by raptors and scavengers.
The purpose is to show how a man, the butler, escapes the lynch happy deep south and becomes a butler at the White House, serving the administrations of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford, Reagan and ceasing as the clouds part and Barak Obama assumes the office of presidency. See, we’ve gone as a country from lynching black men to electing them president. That’s what this film is about. Apparently, these men, except for Obama, were highly racist, distant, and somewhat dopey if not evil.
I don’t mean to diminish for an instant the suffering of those who are victims of racism, bigotry, vicious acrimony lodged against them solely because of black skin. I remember in 1986 I took my son to play golf while we lived in Nashville. The course consisted of three nine hole courses, and one time we played the western nine. With no starter around, we went out on the least crowded. When we came in, we found that the course we played was, at one time, the only ones black golfers could play. The restriction had been lifted, of course, but it was still embarrassing.
Racism of any kind, bigotry, and personal evaluation based on the color of skin has always been a national embarrassment, of course. Lynchings have never had any justification, to be sure. The discrimination that many blacks encountered is a disgrace and richly deserves our condemnation. So it is difficult to see why we continually need to be reminded of racism. To be sure, some people have become race hustlers, living on the past. It is just as disgraceful when someone discriminates against someone who is white.
Thus I cannot truly commend the film “The Butler”, the ‘true’ story of a man who goes to work in the service of his country, loses one son in the Marine actions in Viet Nam. Is there really anyone who doesn’t know how blacks suffered at the hands of white overseers in the sharecropping fields. The film has a preachy, self-righteous tone that may be unavoidable in a Afro-American apologetic. I could have wished for much more dialogue between the butler and the presidents. The domestic seems to be a cross between a proud, intelligent man and the victim of a massive, white sponsored system of state endorsed bias and proud opposition to the meaningless bigotry of the last century. Two stars.
The best thing to do with this film? Take kids. Then read up on the civil rights struggle and compare the facts.