An OWNers Review of Lee Daniels’ The Butler: "I am Forever Changed"
The film’s exploration of history and legacy is profound. What the film did was turn the notion of authoritative voices in history on its head. It asks us to look beyond the photographs of historical events, beyond the frame of the president and political officials to people, like Cecil, who serve silently, assiduously and with conviction. These voices, stories and experiences form the basis of this film. These voices, stories and experiences form part of our history.
Cecil’s story is a profound paradox in a certain sense: He was told to be invisible; yet it is his story, his experience and his trajectory that serves as the basis for not only the film but the exploration of the eras featured therein. As Oprah has often said, "Everybody has a story. Everybody wants to know that the answer to the three following questions is a resounding YES: 'Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say matter to you?'" Cecil is a witness to history, both of his family and the nation. Though not featured in photographs or reported on in newspapers, he represents the voice of a people who, by their very being, served as advocates and activists for change and equality in their daily lives. Gloria’s words to Louis in the pivotal dinner scene ring true for us all: "Everything you are and everything you have is because of that butler."
As tears streamed down my face in the dark theater during the final credits, I realized that Lee Daniels’ The Butler is a film everyone can relate to because it deals with universal themes of love, family, acceptance, equality and identity. It is a film that shows us how far we have come, while reminding us that though our struggles for equality, and against discrimination, may not look exactly the same, they continue to exist and persist and warrant our continued collective attention and action. Lee Daniels’ The Butler has inspired me to explore the different ways I can use my life and voice in service. As the film explored the many ways in which Cecil, Louis, Charlie and Gloria used their lives in service to their families, their communities and their country, I couldn’t help but wonder how I could do the same.
To borrow a turn of phrase from Oprah Winfrey, "What I know for sure" is that Lee Daniels’ The Butler is more than a movie. It is art. It is heart. It is living history and a clarion call to service.
What I know for sure, thanks to Lee Daniels’ The Butler, is that history is not only the words on the page, the images in photos or the dates in the record. It is not simply the news broadcasts or the newsprint of a specific time. It is the heart of every person who lived during the struggle. It is the heart of every person who carries with them now the hopes of those who fought for equality. It is history and legacy, as well as ancestors and descendants. It is the fiber that animates the fabric of a nation and the thread that connects the heart of a people.
What I know I for sure, thanks to Lee Daniels’ The Butler, is that I am forever changed. This film has shown me the many ways in which love animates our experience and flows through our shared humanity: Love of family. Love of country. Love of one another as luminous beings of light, worthy of respect, recognition and equal treatment under the law. We are human. We are equal. We are one.