In celebration of Black History Month, we’re making daily movie recommendations, presented in chronological order of the films’ stories.
Stay tuned to Noovie every day as we highlight an original, landmark film worth revisiting or discovering for the first time.
February 20 – The Butler (1926 – 2009)
The film’s road to production began with Danny Strong’s screenplay, which was prompted by the Washington Post article “A Butler Well Served by This Election.” The script is loosely based on the life of Eugene Allen, who worked at the White House for 34 years, and retired in 1986 as the head butler.
Producer-director Lee Daniels and his co-producers, including Laura Ziskin (who died from breast cancer before the film’s release) and Cassian Elwes, looked for financing from all different corners. In the end, the $30 million budget was raised with nearly 41 listed producers and executive producers.
Upon its release, buoyed by enthusiastic reviews and box office support, the film reclaimed its budget and more, earning $176 million worldwide.
The movie follows the life of the fictional Cecil Gaines (played as an adult by Forest Whitaker), who’s loosely based on real-life butler Eugene Allen. Raised on a cotton plantation in Macon, Georgia, during the 1920s, Gaines is no stranger to family tragedy, losing both parents as a child, and being taken in by the plantation’s caretaker.
Moving out on his own in the late ‘30s, Cecil further hones his skills as a servant, and comes to work at a hotel in Washington, D.C., where he meets his wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey), and has two sons: Louis, and the younger Charlie. By 1957, Cecil is hired by the White House during the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration.
Over the course of the next three decades, Cecil proves his loyalty to future presidents, especially John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, earning one of the former’s ties from Jackie Kennedy, and a tie bar from Johnson. While history plays out for the various administrations, Cecil’s son Louis sees the events from the front line as an impassioned activist for social change.
Cecil and his eldest son don’t see eye to eye during much of the turbulence of the Civil Rights movement, but by the 1980s, they begin to appreciate each other’s perspectives, and fight together at that time to support ending Apartheid in South Africa. Decades after Cecil's resignation from the Reagan administration, he is invited back to the White House to meet newly inaugurated President Barack Obama, and begins to tell his life story.
“The Butler” was an immediate success upon its release, ending up number one at the box office for its first three weeks of release. Critics equally approved, with the film earning a 71% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
The film also earned 8 NAACP Image Award nominations, including wins for Forest Whitaker and David Oyelowo, respectively, for Outstanding Actor and Outstanding Supporting Actor.