When it's over, what I remember most about the film is Forest Whitaker’s meaningful performance as Cecil Gaines, an African American butler who serves eight presidents during his tenure at the White House. The story spans several decades, including the tumultuous times of racial segregation and the Civil Rights movement. There has been much controversy to the film’s accuracy, since it is inspired by the true story of Eugene Allen’s life. The key word is “inspired.” I am not familiar with Allen’s life, so I went into this film as a fictitious story, without any preconceptions. I am glad I did. The story has a lot of emotional texture, and for this, I really enjoyed the film. Perhaps this is where the lack of accuracy falls into play. Perhaps, there is a need to alter facts to strengthen the story. At every stage in Gaines’s life, he encounters conflict and inner struggle, which is at the core of the story, which keeps the story interesting. I do not see this film as merely a story about a man who goes through turbulent times and of how he deals with those challenges, but rather, a story about a man who takes great pride in his occupation, while serving white employers, somewhat ironic to the time period. The fact that Cecil chooses to spend more time at the White House than he does at home supports this idea. Cecil is not an angry man. He is not hateful or resentful. He does not hold a grudge against his white employers, even when his son is treated with cruelty on camera by order of the government. However, his older son, Louis (David Oyelowo) believes the complete opposite. Louis joins the Black Panthers, a revolutionary socialist party, and demonstrates his opposition to segregation openly at protests, landing him in jail on several occasions. Louis’s actions are emotional triggers for Cecil, who has to nod obediently when the presidents question him about his son in the headlines. On the home front, Cecil’s relationship with his wife (Oprah Winfrey) crumble through the years, adding another layer of personal struggle. Cecil’s journey is filled with twists and plummets, and what is interesting is that Cecil’s demeanor remains unchanged. Is this a sign of perseverance, strength, indifference, conformity? I cannot be sure, but watching the man's life unfold is an emotional experience almost parallel to Forrest Gump (1994). Like many of his previous films, Director Lee Daniels leaves the window open for interpretation and much food for thought, even controversial debate.
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