“The Butler”


If you haven’t gone to see the recently released movie, The Butler, you need to get in your car and go to the mall or wherever it’s showing and see it now.

It’s worth it just to see Robin Williams as Ike Eisenhower.

John Cusack as Richard Nixon.

And Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan.

I loved seeing scenes from my childhood come to life on the screen.

There were scenes from my childhood that I was shielded from at the time.

Scenes I didn’t care to imagine, let alone see.

But it’s a beautiful film.

The beauty is in the depiction of a life of service as a form of resistance to oppression.

Based on the life of Eugene Allen, The Butler chronicles the life of Cecil Gaines, first hired as a butler in the White House during Eisenhower’s administration and retiring during Reagan’s second term.  The son of slaves, Cecil learned the art of serving as a boy, after his father was murdered by their owner and he was taken inside to become a house servant.

Cecil learned to be present in the room “as though it was still empty.”

He learned that his very survival required denying his own feelings. Never expressing his own thoughts.

So it was terrifying to him when his college-aged son became one of the Freedom Riders.

A group committed to resisting the status quo.

A group committed to expressing thoughts that, at the time, were radical.

But they were led by one whose approach to seeking change was as radical as the changes he sought.


One of the most poignant scenes in the movie takes place in a hotel room where Cecil’s son, Louis, and some of the college students traveling with Dr. Martin Luther King were talking with Dr. King. Louis makes a comment regarding his father’s work as a butler being one of the roadblocks to change, perpetuating inequality between the races. Dr. King corrects Louis, describing the dignity of the domestic servant, and the subtle, subversive power the men and women who have served in those roles have displayed throughout history.

The subtle, subversive power of serving people who treat you as though you’re not even in the room.

The subtle, subversive power of turning the other cheek.

Change that comes from that kind of power takes longer, but it lasts forever.


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