by John Raye
Unless you have been living under a rock, you’ve heard about Lee Daniel’s The Butler, right? Well, here is my short response; go see it!
Based loosely on a true story, The Butler will touch your head as well at your heart as it chronicles the life of Black people in America as told through the eyes of one Eugene Allen ( named Cecil Gaines in the movie) who stayed on the job for 34 years serving under eight presidents.
As he was instructed on his first day on the job, “you see nothing, you hear nothing, you just serve”. In other words, keep your mouth shut and you keep your job!
Unlike the recent scandal in Rome where the Pope’s trusted butler stole and leaked some of his most confidential and private papers, this black White House butler took whatever he heard and saw to the graveyard.
In the 34 years he labored there, from the days of strict legal segregation to post-integration days, Allen saw and heard plenty, but true to his word, kept his lips sealed with a lock that had no key.
Unlike the Pope’s trusted butler who went public with what he knew, Allen, despite being offered millions to write a tell-all, walked the walk, but would not talk the talk. He could have made a boatload of money because he saw and heard stuff that most people will never read or hear, not even in the history books.
But this humble butler, forced to turn his cheeks time and time again, never wavered from the advice given to him to, “ see nothing… you hear nothing.”. Two years ago, at age 90, he surrendered his life on this earth and took his White House secrets to his grave.
Though fact is tangled up with fiction, as is the case with most movies, this movie packs a punch as the real McCoy. The reality of Black life in pre and post-segregated America shines through as bright as a full moon on a cool summer night.
It is a wonder, an absolute wonder, that all Back people in America are not certified hopelessly insane. America just didn’t abuse and mistreat our physical bodies, but it did something even more evil and sinister. It took away our dignity. It tampered with our minds and nearly destroyed our spirit. When you consider the hellacious mental whipping we endured, all of us ought to be crazy.
What America did and continues to do to its Black citizens, amounts to nothing less than high crimes against humanity.
And how Allen, the real White House butler, for example, maintained his sense of balance and good judgment while working in the harsh climate of racial segregation, surpasses all human understanding. He had to be a special man, created, much like a Jackie Robinson or Martin Luther King, for a special occasion, and a special season.
The Butler is a movie with plenty of star power, headed, of course, by queen Oprah Winfrey and the redoubtable, Forest Whitaker, whose tormented portrayed of Allen, will make your flesh crawl. An Oscar nod for such a riveting performance would not be worthy of the message he brings to this nation, and really to the world. Instead of an Oscar, Forest Whitaker ought to be awarded a Nobel Prize for human suffering and deprivation. The Queen ought to knight him; the Pope ought to saint him, and Black folk ought to thank him for telling a story, and a true story, mind you, that has never fully been told.
If truthfully, accurately, and fully told, the Black man’s sojourn in America would make the birds stop singing, the oceans dry up and even the rocks would cry out.
The move is rich in symbolic texture, in that, most Black people are able to relate to every scene because reality always touches a nerve. Whitaker’s face carries an invisable pain that we will instantly recognize, but more importantly, can still feel because, lord knows, it still hurts.
Here and there, some scenes will put tears in your eyes and a frog or two in your throat, while others will make you laugh through the pain. No matter what the critic’s say, when you walk out of that movie, you will know, beyond question that most Black people have been to hell and back, more than one time.
Thus, the psychic damage is unknown and incalculable. Even today, Willie Lynch is still messing with us.
Still, we have survived, and survived with huge, magnificent accomplishments, and a measure of human dignity, all still intact.
And yes, the freedom struggle has been long and difficult. But like a tree planted by the water, we cannot be removed. We cannot be stopped. We cannot be, and will not be denied. Like the proverbial willow tree blowing in the wind, we were beaten and bent– but did not break.
Lee Daniel’s The Butler, shows you how we did it.
–John Raye, a life-wellness-health-business coach, is a 7 year cancer survivor. He lives in Kernersville, NC. (336) 782-8383: firstname.lastname@example.org