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Servant of the People: “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” Puts History in Perspective

By Stan Washington Senior Writer | 8/16/2013, 6 a.m.
With a universal father-son love story set against the backdrop of America’s turbulent political landscape of the 20th century, the ...
In addition to raising money for "The Butler", Lee Daniels is also working with his largest and most noted cast in his film career. Pictured above are lead actors Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey.

Working at the White House lifts Gaines to a Black middle class lifestyle that he enjoys with his wife Gloria and his two sons. But Gaines’ dedication and long hours on the job causes tensions at home: His wife is feeling neglected. And his elder son Louis wants to attend college at Fisk University; mainly to become involved in the sit-in demonstrations which are taking place across the South.

Gaines is deeply troubled that his son is dead set on returning to the South, and he fears the youth’s actions will get him killed.

Whitaker said doing this film was a no-brainer. He turns in another award-worthy performance as the reserved Gaines.

“It’s an amazing story,” Whitaker said. “It’s a story about love between a father and son and husband and wife.”

”This was an amazing opportunity,” he added. “I knew of Lee’s work, so I knew it would be an amazing film, plus Oprah and I have been wanting to work together for years.”

In a separate interview, Winfrey had high praise for her co-star, Daniels and the script by Strong.

“This movie is not just entertaining but of value and meaning not just particular to African Americans, but to the nation as a whole,” Winfrey said. “It allows us to have the opportunity to see the spectrum of the Civil Rights Movement through the eyes of one man and one family, and to feel his soul and through the feeling of his soul it allows us to feel the spirit of the country.”

It was during the filming of the scene where a bus full of Freedom Riders is attacked by a Klu Klux Klan mob that gave Daniels a broader perspective of the film. Daniels was on the bus with the riders, but when he called for the action to cut, the actors outside attacking the bus couldn’t hear him. Everyone on the bus including him got nervous, he said.

“For a millisecond I felt what those Freedom Riders went through,” Daniels said. “I thought, ‘These kids were heroes.’ After that, it was no longer just a movie to me.”

“This film is the most important thing I’ve done in my career in cinema,” Daniels added. “It’s an incredible task to take on a historical epic and to make sure that you do it accurately.”