Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Lee Daniels’ "The Butler' Review

First The Help (2011), now comes ‘The Butler’ (2013).
When I went to the movies with a friend, I was in the mood to watch anything that would give me that magical feeling. I love the sound that any true moviegoer loves to hear when the movie begins, which gives me goose bumps.  The last enchanted movie I saw in the theater was Warner Brother’s 42, which came out earlier this year . So I asked my friend to choose a movie because I have not seen a movie trailer in a long time.  I had no idea what was playing but I wanted to go to AMC to experience the big screen and ambiance.  The trailer usually preps me and let’s me know what I might be interested in and sometimes I am so wrong as in Olympus Has Fallen. (Can I unsee that?)
I did not know The Butler was a black film.  I just wanted to see any movie with diversity and the guy at the counter said this is critically acclaimed. When I go to the movies, I pay for good films and of course if it’s a free movies on YouTube then it can be Snakes On A Plane for all I care.  But when I spend my own money, I have a set of standards.

Lee Daniels is a director who happens to be Black; the same one who directed Precious (2009). Here, he has given us yet another cinematic "masterpiece" to sink our teeth into. When I first saw Forrest Whitaker in the first scene, I thought this would be good because I'd seen and loved his performance in the movie Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999). However, within 20 minutes I had a feeling of sickness in the bottom of my stomach. Is this really what it's about; the hero of the story is a butler? Is there really a clear symbol of heroism here?

Hollywood seems to love to put a bow on things and this movie is just that, La-La at its best. What a happy film this is for such a tough subject. Without all the humor, this movie would have gone better with my digestion. Oh, let’s break the ice with humor.
The first thing that bothered me while watching is, of all the people who died for Lee Daniels’ freedom and fought for it, he chose to direct a movie about a butler? Why? The minute I saw Oprah, I knew there was something about the script that appealed to her. She seems to always be in movies that demean men.
Why not choose the "house negro" and tell the story from his perspective? Forrest’s character Cecil, why not have him practically pooped on?  Why not let him be old before he gets that his son is a hero? Why not make the audience hate the son then making him a hero because there is no better way to tell heroism then to make someone a complete so-called jerk then saying, my bad, he is a hero. Why not let the audience laugh at him kicking his son out of the house, then make an about-face?

Why not have Oprah there so she can be sexualized even though we do not see her tits.  She did make another classic, The Color Purple in 1985. The Color Purple is something I’d like to unsee as well. While at it, let her be a mean alcoholic. Her character had nothing to bring except sexualization of black women. Why not put in every stereotype, maybe a few dancing blacks eating watermelons?  In fact, I believe they used the N word so many times in the movie because perhaps they had a quota to fill.  They used it so much and the targeted audience rejoiced in it. And it’s a word that no white person can shout in black neighborhoods, but they can enjoy it on the big screen, fantasize about it and have orgasms.
Forrest played a house negro role and he played the hell out of it.  Gosh, I will not be surprised if, like The Help, this brings in pretty little trophies.  He played a black man with no backbone.  The black Afro was made into this radical symbol. First her hair is modern and when she becomes ‘radicalized’ then she has an Afro. I am sorry, but without a perm, my hair is an Afro. How is it radical when it’s nature? Should I curse nature out for making me so damn black? I feel like my naturally curly hair was objectified and ridiculed. I feel like my natural African-descended features were ridiculed in this movie. 

The movie made it seem like black men being butlers and other nominally-subservient roles is the reason why we have a black President.  They even said in the movie and I will paraphrase that being a butler helped white people be comfortable with black people. Really? Thanks for a history and socialization lesson there, Hollywood.  Whites were uncomfortable with blacks, yet had our ancestors babysit, breastfeed their children, and you name it.  They were not comfortable with blacks on the slave ship? They were not comfortable with blacks when they were raping black women? I’m from Haiti, so any light skinned person, how did that happen? There are plenty of light-skinned people in Haiti and I know how that happened, bonjour… Not comfortable? Since when? So being a butler is what generated racial equality?

Sidney Poitier was mentioned in ‘The Butler’ in one scene and although my best friend likes his movies.  I was never a fan. It seems odd that at a time when black people played servants, the token negro was Poitier.  Like the President, he speaks proper and he knows his place. Poitier must have taken undeserved grief for achieving so much while still playing stereotypical roles. He should not have been judged so harshly though, and this is the one message I took from this movie. Like the butler, a lot of black men had no choice but to stand there while the white man poped on the toilet, but this does not make them heroic. A hero is someone who sacrifices his or herself even when it costs them food or shelter. Even though butlers played their role in history, including Poitier's early roles that won him Hollywood acclaim, they are certainly not the prime examples of heroes. Poitier and the roles seen as prevalent in films like his serve as facilitators, often neglected or ignored for their contributions as a matter of insignificance, which this movie failed to highlight or even explain.   For all intents and purposes, they might as well have been dancing raisins. How about telling a story with dynamic black characters in the role from a historic perspective as opposed to underlining their insignificance in the fringes of the same history? 

Of course everyone clapped in the end. "Oh, what a masterpiece! Brilliant filmmaking!" Please…
I do not regret spending $14.50 to watch the movie.  I learned a lot; even black people have a hard time making movies honoring their ancestors. I thought of Dave Chappelle every time I heard the audience laugh. Are they laughing at Oprah or with Oprah? When Oprah’s character called that ‘radical’ Afro wearing woman a bitch: that got claps and laughter.  Killing is wrong, but not everyone who was learning self-defense wanted to kill and many just wanted to protect themselves and the people they love.
Message to the director:
Retire. You have given me Precious, The Butler, and most significantly Monster’s Ball.  Thanks for trying really hard to make me think my hero was a butler. Thanks for trying really hard in making me hate my beautiful Afro. Thanks for being sensitively scripted so as not to offend the targeted audience.
Of course, lots of black people worked as servants and the script writers were not stretching the truth, but just putting a pink bow and giving the audience bitterness followed by humor then bitterness so you can keep them interested and not offend them...  was it a good movie? Yes. Was it a horrible script? Yes. Was Oprah’s acting horrible? Yes.  A good movie is not just camera angles but about the story.  The subject of racism is the most uncomfortable thing that anyone can talk about in this society, so why present it like it's nothing more than peaches and cream? Oh, let’s give them racism in small doses. If that is the case, why make movies about black people? I know they got their vitamin Ds from the calculated use of the N-word and that made them happy. They clapped until their hands turned pink.  Maybe this would even lend sensitivity to the KKK, such as another greatly heralded movie in American history, Birth of a Nation, attempted to do.

It did make me think about a lot of different things that were conveniently left out or not acknowledged by this film or others that have been praised for their dealing with a "complex issue". I’m just beginning to learn about Hollywood. They love formulas and The Help did well, so why not release The Butler? Hollywood loves making similarly themed and concurrent films; just different enough to stand on their own, but still patterned from the same exact cloth.  Money is priority, so they must not make their audience too uncomfortable with complex issues even when they’re telling what would normally be a complex story.  They also use the magic of camera angles and lighting to brainwash gullible people. 
I love my big butt, my nose and my nappy hair, Hollywood. Would it be wrong to call Lee Daniels an opportunist? His movies are done well enough to be nominated for awards.  Does he believe in the things he puts out? Does he feel guilty or even a bit of sensitivity? I read a little about his life online to get a perspective on his motivations, and it's easy to speculate based on what he's given us, but I won't.
There might be plenty of people who do not agree with me. They may not see beyond the "good cinematography" aspect.  I do realize people need food, cable, stores and phone for happiness.  So they stop thinking about racism and hope it goes away.  It is there.  Many people of color struggle with internal and external racism and are put down or put down others for the color of their skin and it’s not a myth.  Hollywood, the media, etc. are socializing people to hate themselves.  You have Miley Cyrus transformed into Rihanna and Nicki Minaj. Black people wore different clothing because like Haitian Creole, they created an identity for what they lost when they were stolen from Africa. So when someone like a young white girl decides black is cool, then even our identities are no longer ours. When you have no identity, you have nothing and they know that in Hollywood.

Why would Oprah care what she puts out there when she probably has a secret ticket to a plane out of here if things go wrong? The lady is a billionaire, so she could probably care less about black issues because her world is above that; she has the best color that is accepted everywhere and that’s green. Unless, of course (as has happened as reported in the press a couple of times), she is inconvenienced by someone whose first instinct when seeing her and not knowing who she is, is that she is both Black and subservient (thanks again, Hollywood, for reinforcing that subconscious message in an otherwise "great film").
People are being socialized to forget all the black inventors, movers and shakers and just think about butlers and servants.  Black people have done more than serve. I need to be careful about what movies I give my money to.

1 comment: said...

Good review. Basically two movies into one, however, I enjoyed them both. One was more interesting than the other, but at least my eyes were constantly glued to what was going on, no matter what was happening.