film review: the butler

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— by Un’ruly contributor Frank Roberts

New York University Professor and friend of Un’ruly, Frank Roberts, recently had the privilege of watching the much anticipated film, The Butler by Lee Daniels.  According to IMDB, the film takes “a look at the life of Cecil Gaines who served eight presidents as the White House’s head butler from 1952 to 1986, and had a unique front-row seat as political and racial history was made.”  Below’s what Frank thought of the flick.

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Lee Daniel’s The Butler is an important film. Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey deliver strong performances that will likely be rewarded on the critics circuit. There are also memorable performances by Cuba Gooding Jr., David Oyelowo and the entire supporting cast (including a decent—even if somewhat unforgettable—cameo by Mariah Carey).

I suspect that the film will do very well at the box office. The film delivers some powerful moments, though at times the narrative does gesture towards the cliché. I imagine that audiences/film critics will be torn. That being said, the film is both historically accurate and politically savvy (in one scene one of the characters is even pictured holding a copy of the late historian Manning Marable’s classic text “Race, Reform, and Rebellion.”)

Frank’s Verdict

All in all, I recommend this film and I look forward to seeing it again when it hits theaters this fall/late summer. It will surely be the source of many online essays by academics and film critics alike.”

8/20/13 UPDATE: Frank recently wrote a review essay on The Butler for the Huffington Post.  Read it here.

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Frank Roberts is a Lecturer-Level Professor based in New York City. He currently teaches in the Gallatin School at New York University (where he teaches “Race, Ethnicity, and Popular Culture”), the English department at Hunter College (where he teaches “Black Women Writers” and “20th Century African American Literature”) and the African American Studies department at John Jay/CUNY.

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