(Mr. Eugene Allen, age 89 at the time, pictured getting dressed. 2008)
The Butler. Before I begin to discuss this movie let me say this- IT WILL TAKE YOU THERE.
I recall reading the 2008 Washington Post article about Mr. Eugene Allen, "A Butler Well Served by This Election", it made me proud. I didn't then imagine a movie would be made. Truth is, when I heard the buzz and saw the commercial I still didn't feel the nudge to go see it. Would it be an overdone all-star cast? Color Purple-esque? A tear jerker with nothing but one-sided emotion? Honestly, I didn't know what to expect when I agreed to go see it with a friend.
The opening scene- I flinched, covered my face and knew I was sold on the movie already! Thoughts ran through my mind as I glanced to my side, I was seated with those of the Caucasian persuasion, it felt awkward. Awkward for both of us (being seated right next to each other) because no facial expression could be masked, no sound silenced, no movement unnoticed. As I sat and thought on how to make her feel comfortable it came to me that it was not my job to do so nor was it her job to make apologies. However, you could read the stories in our faces, our body language said it all- the few glances shot in my direction at pivotal moments said all I needed to know. She was ashamed and sorry. I digress.
This movie not only chronicled the life of a game changing man, Mr. Allen, but so many key moments in this country's history- our BLACK history. From JFK to MLK (John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. for those that fell asleep in history class) to Nelson Mandela who is as much as, or more, a part of the American history than Christopher Columbus but that's another story. The richness of the stories told, the delicate weaving of actual footage from the March at Selma or the hose down/dog attack rampage unleashed on innocents or the peaceful sit-ins for integration at restaurants all brought to the surface the pain of injustice and the coldness of mankind.
I personally remember a painful childhood event. I was visiting my mother's workplace when I decided I'd walk outside because I knew the area pretty well. I'd seen this adorable elderly woman hunched over walking with a cane, she was so cute she reminded me of my great-grandmother (except that she was Caucasian) I wanted to help her. I approached with a smile, expecting the usual friendly nod, instead she'd scowled at me and then ... SPAT! Yes, she spat at me- an 8 year old- because I am black. Thank God for fast reflexes, I dodged the saliva and I wish I had dodged the experience all together. It was at a similar moment in the movie that I jumped and tears rolled down my face that I noticed I was being watched. Chords were struck.
Another thing that cut deep was the realization that we are fast heading BACK to the days we fought hard to abolish! From stripping away voting rights to getting away with murder (southern states trend, up north isn't far behind) we need to pedal fast forward. Could we examine ourselves for a moment?
Alright, back to it. This movie encompassed several elements: the importance of communication between parent and child, pride in one's work, courage to change the face of injustice, loyalty, gratitude... There were so many more but I suggest you see the movie for yourself.
Watch. Think. Let it marinate.
The Butler, he served generations.
You can read the article mentioned above here: http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2008-11-07/politics/36906532_1_white-house-black-man-history