BY Alex Gibson
It was 1952 – the closing of the Truman administration – when Eugene Allen first got a job at the White House. Over the next three decades, he would see seven more presidents in office including Eisenhower, Kennedy, LBJ, Nixon, and Reagan.
Lee Daniels’ The Butler was inspired by Allen’s life. The film tells the story of Cecil Gaines, a longtime White House butler who, like Allen, was gifted one of JFK’s ties by Jackie Kennedy, invited to a state dinner by Nancy Reagan, and witnessed the height of the Civil Rights Movement from the corner of the Oval Office. In the film, Cecil Gaines’ experiences are juxtaposed with those of his son, Louis, who sees the Movement from quite a different perspective.
As Cecil marches, white gloved, through the White House hallways, Louis joins the Civil Right Movement, first staging sit-ins in Southern diners and eventually joining the Black Panther Party. The father and son’s conflicting political views cause immeasurable tension in the family, though they both hope fervently for a better future.
From the acclaimed director of Precious, Lee Daniels’ The Butler opens August 16 and stars Forrest Whittaker, Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding Jr., David Oyelowo, Lenny Kravitz, Yaya Alafia, and an ensemble of Hollywood’s most talents actors. Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with some of the creative minds behind the film. At the swanky Rittenhouse Hotel, I spoke with director Lee Daniels and Oscar-Winner Cuba Gooding Jr.