Lee Daniels’ The Butler
Starring Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz; directed by Lee Daniels
INT. A MULTIPLEX THEATER – PRESENT DAY
A writing pen floats through the air in slow motion. A crowded movie theater lobby is revealed in the background. The pen drops down toward the floor as people mill about. The pen looks like it might get kicked by a passerby, but it continues fall down toward the floor.
A MAN stands in the ticket line. The pen falls down and finally lands on the man’s well-worn shoe. The man reaches down and picks up the pen. His name is CRITIC GUMP. He looks at the pen frustratingly and re-clips it to his notepad.
Something in his eyes reveals that Critic may not be all there. Critic looks around impatiently as the murmuring sound of others in line is heard. A BLACK WOMAN is in line in front of Critic. The woman is reading a magazine as Critic looks at her.
Hello. My name’s Critic Gump.
He opens a notepad and shows it to the woman.
You want to hear my thoughts on The Butler?
The woman shakes her head, a bit apprehensive about this strange man behind her.
I could write about a million and a half words on The Butler. My editor always said, “Movies are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
Critic fiddles with his notepad as he looks at the magazine that the woman is reading.
Those entertainment magazines must be interesting, but I’ll bet their reviews are less prevalent due to the loss of staff critics because of that Internet. I wish we had more critics to comment on movies.
My editor always said there’s an awful lot you could tell a person about a movie. Whether it’s worth going. Where they’ve been where others have been before.
The black woman stares at Critic as he looks down at his notepad.
I’ve seen lots of movies. I bet if I think about it real hard I could remember my thoughts on The Butler.
Critic closes his eyes tightly.
My editor said to take good notes, but I find it better to recall from memory, just like The Butler does.
INT. THE INSIDE OF A MOVIE THEATER – ANYWHERE USA – EVENING PRESENT DAY
A critic holds his notepad tightly in his lap. It’s Critic Gump as he sits in the theater watching The Butler.
CRITIC (Voice Over (V.O.))
She said to pay close attention to the politics and acting and historical accuracy.
Critic has been fitted with special glasses that he’s wearing as he watches the movie.
As I was watching The Butler, and they want us to call it Lee Daniel’s The Butler ‘cause of some old copyright issue, I kept thinking that I’d seen this before.
Critic pushes the glasses higher up on the bridge of his nose as he gazes and glances quizzically at the screen and at the other patrons in seats around the room.
There was this other movie I saw years ago about a fella who was kinda similar to the butler in this film in that he got to interact with our nation’s presidents and was a passive observer of great events of the day, only in that older one he was white, a bit slow, and didn’t have a wife or work as a butler.
Scenes of a younger Critic Gump entering another theater, buying popcorn and sitting in a seat — all bathed in sepia tones; cut to scenes for Forrest Gump on the screen.
Why, even the character in that older movie was named Forrest and the lead actor in The Butler, his name is Forest too!
More scenes of Critic Gump watching Forrest Gump in the theater.
I recall that the older movie followed a white boy in the South right after the big world war, WWII, and as he growed up without a father his life experiences were cast against the great social events of America, including Vietnam, the upheaval of the 60s, energy crises, and the civil rights movement. And that was the same span of history depicted in The Butler; it starts in the South, follows a young black boy, also without a father, as he struggles through life, encountering obstacles, but persevering and a passive witness to big social events of the same time span. Only in The Butler it was how the African American community viewed and experienced those same times.
Critic is seen writing things in his notepad intercut with iconic scenes of this period of American history.
And I seem to recollect that each character in that previous film symbolized a generalized way that people responded to the turmoil of the times. There was the passive silent majority character, the radical free spirit, the gung-ho militant, and a character representing the lower classes. Their attitudes, behaviors and beliefs all typified these social and political currents. And you know what? That is also true of The Butler! Only this time it was from the African American point-of-view. We have a central character representing the silent majority passively experiencing the other political and social responses to bigotry and oppression, like the militant, the radical, the go-along-get-along, the whole range.
Back to the interior lobby of the theater in the line to the ticket counter.
Isn’t that interesting?
The woman does not look up from her magazine as she responds to Critic.
Return to images of Forrest Gump/em> appearing on the screen in the theater and Critic watching it.
And in that older movie, as that white boy grows up, he happens to do some amazing things, which provides him the opportunity over the years to meet each of our presidents. They even perform some magical special effects so that it looks like he was actually in the presence of these actual presidents. They did this through some doctoring of old news footage, or something like that. And in The Butler the main character also gets to meet all the same presidents as he amazingly gets a job serving in the White House. But here those commanders-in-chief are played by other actors who are layered with makeup, and so they don’t really look or sound like the real thing.
Image from Forrest Gump as the character says, “I gotta pee” and President Kennedy’s reaction, with Critic’s jovial reaction.
Finally, after all that sound and fury involving the political assassinations, inspiring speeches by influential historical figures, riots, youthful experimentation, familial tension and frayed friendships, all of the symbolic, metaphorical characters reach an understanding and a tenuous reconciliation of their respective roles in shaping national and family history. Poignantly, that same thing happens in The Butler, but again more closely hewed to the African American perspective of facing racial bigotry and striving for equality. Ha, there’s even the death of a matriarch at the end of both films! And even a father-son reconciliation in both! Kinda makes ya think, don’t it?
Return to the movie theater ticket line. Critic Gump looks around frantically as the woman is gone. We see that she has moved to another line, but Critic cannot see that through the crowd. He fiddles with his notepad and the pen again dislodges and slowly floats down to the floor.
Doug Young, an award winning film critic, also works as Senior Policy Director in Governor John Hickenlooper’s Office of Policy and Research.