I saw Lee Daniels' The Butler Friday afternoon in San Francisco. The Butler should bring Forest Whitaker another Oscar nomination for Best Actor. He's excellent in the complicated title role. I also feel the film will be a Best Picture nominee. I expected the movie to be good. I wasn't prepared for how moving it is and how relevant it is. Parts are a bit choppy but, overall, it is a most effective film with a reflection of American history that we must remember. Why? Because that history lingers over us today like a low fog. We go back to the 1960s but we cannot help but think of things today like the murder of young Trayvon Martin, the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman (Martin's killer) and this year's Supreme Court action against the Voting Rights Act. This month, we honor the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's victorious and historic March on Washington in 1963 for Civil Rights. We'll also commemorate the anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination that same year. From the Friday afternoon of November 22nd when we all got the tragic news bulletin that President Kennedy had been shot and killed in Dallas to his funeral four days later, we Americans were paralyzed with a shock and grief that was not matched until September 11th, 2001. Those four days in November, President Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King are seen in The Butler.
Oprah is quite good in her return to big screen acting. This is not a film in which all the best parts were seen in the trailer. My favorite scene of Oprah's isn't referenced in the trailer at all. I want to see The Butler again.
About the press: I've read and seen reviews that go from raves proclaiming it "one of the best pictures of the year" to "crudely powerful" to those reporting that it's heavy-handed at times but moving. Most agree that The Butler has strong Oscar chances. The reviews were from Lou Lumenick of the New York Post, Neil Rosen of NY1, New York's all-news TV channel, and from Sandy Kenyon on ABC 7 in New York. I read the rave review from A.O. Scott in the New York Times and the Scott Foundas review in Variety. In his Los Angeles Times article on the film for the "Critical Mass" column, Oliver Gettell included reviews of The Butler from Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, David Edelstein of CBS Sunday Morning, National Public Radio and New York Magazine, Stephanie Zacharek of The Village Voice, Jocelyn Noveck of Associated Press and Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times.
They're all white movie critics. Why is it that movie critics can spot racial inequality and exclusion in stories on the big screen but they never seem to notice and call it out in their own field? Has there ever been one black film critic in the previous century or this current one who -- like critic David Edelstein -- has had a gig on a network news program, a national radio show and written for a national magazine at the same time? It would've been great to read comments from African-American film critics in Oliver Gettel's piece for the L.A. Times online last Friday. Gettel's editor should have noticed the racial exclusion.
Here's another point. From Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, when millions of black Americans demanded the right to vote, to the re-election of a black man as President of the United States, there has been only one black journalist hired to anchor the weeknight evening news for one of those senior three networks. Max Robinson was a trailblazer. He co-anchored ABC's World News Tonight with Peter Jennings. Robinson died in 1988.
My totally cool and knowledgeable co-host was Gene Seymour, CNN contributor and formerly the film critic for Newsday in New York City.
Lee Daniels' The Butler has Robin Williams as President Dwight D. Eisenhower dealing with school segregation. He and Whitaker now both own Academy Awards. They previously shared screen time in Good Morning, Vietnam.
No black actor has ever won two Best Actor Oscars. Could Forest Whitaker be the first?