Many people have watched Forest Whitaker become one of the greatest actors of today. In several of his films, he has been able to bring characters, both fictional and nonfictional to life. In Lee Daniel’s The Butler he was able to bring to life Cecil Gaines, a butler based on Eugene Allen; who was a butler in the white house through thirty four years.
When we are introduced to Cecil he recounts his life from childhood. We learn that he grew up on a plantation where his mother was raped and his father was killed. After his father was murdered, his mother took him to live with the plantation owner’s grandmother who trains him as a house servant. When he turns eighteen, Cecil leaves the plantation as well as his mother who has been mute since his father was shot dead. Cecil manages to get a job in a shop and learns advanced house servant skills. Later on he marries a woman named Gloria with whom he has two sons, Louis and Charlie.
In the year 1957 he gets a job in the White House during Eisenhower’s presidency. From there one Cecil witnesses the Civil Rights Movement right in front of him. We learn that his son’s have grown up, with Louis, becoming active in sit-ins. Cecil is furious with what his son for disobeying him due to him being arrested. However, Louis continues on with his participation in the movement opening our eyes to the violence that he faced by many opposing racists. Later on Gloria feels that her husband has put his work before her and has an affair with the neighbor.
In the meantime, Cecil continues to work his way up in the White House in the 1960’s. From there we watch as Louis partakes in the Selma Voting Rights Movement, inspiring Johnson to pass the voting Rights Act. However, after this we learn that Louis has joined the Black Panthers leading his father to kick him out of the house. Yet, Charlie graduates from Fisk University and joins the army. With the Vietnam War going on, we learn that Charlie passes away while serving his country. Louis does not attend the funeral and resigns from the Black Panthers when he sees them resorting to violence.
As the years go on, we follow Cecil through his job in the White House with Ronald Reagan as the president. After gaining the respect from Nancy and Ronald Reagan for fighting for equal pay he is able to move on up. However, aft learning that Reagan is unwilling to issue sanctions against the Apartheid in South Africa he resigns. He then joins his son Louis, who has received a Master’s Degree in Political Science and ran for Congress, in fighting for the rights of those in South Africa. After Cecil is arrested, the film flashes forward to the year 2008 where he watches Barack Obama become the first African American President.
The movie shows Cecil returning the White House one more time. Upon his arrival he shows himself the way after being asked. As he walks down the hallway, we hear the voices of the Presidents he had served under right up the Barack Obama’s quote, “Yes, we can.”
Cecil Gaines is a character based on Eugene Allen, a butler in the White House who had served for thirty four years. Brought to life by Forest Whitaker we are able to watch as he is able to showcase his many talents. On July 15, 1961, Forest Whitaker was born bringing to a legacy ahead of him.