When “The Butler” comes out on August 16, there will be three Black men that made it happen – director Lee Daniels, White House butler Eugene Allen and journalist Wil Haygood, who wrote the original “Washington Post” article, “A Butler Well Served by This Election” that inspired the movie. Haygood’s book “The Butler: A Witness to History,” Allen’s true-life story, is in stores now, though the movie version takes some dramatic liberties. You can hear Sybil’s interview with Haygood here.
For anyone skeptical of a movie about a Black man who spent years in servitude, think again. “The Butler” is much more of rich experience than you would imagine, aided by stellar performances by its varied cast including Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Jane Fonda, Liev Schrieber, Lenny Kravitz, Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and David Oyewolo.
Haygood says the idea behind the movie came from an experience he had on the Obama campaign trail before the 2008 election.
“After a rally I came outside of this big stadium and saw two young ladies crying. They happenend to have been white young ladies and I asked if there was anything I could do,” Haygood told The Tom Joyner Morning Show. “They were crying because their father stopped speaking to them because they supported this African-American candidate and they were not going to change their minds because they had angered their father. It was a very powerful moment.
I said to myself, Senator Barack Obama is going to win. I just told myself. He was still down in the polls, Hillary Clinton was still in the race, but I told myself he was going to win. And when he does win, I want to be ready with a story from someone from the era of segregation who has worked in the White House. I launched a nationwide search and he was right here in Washington, D.C.”
Allen served in the White House from 1952 -1986, through 8 administrations spanning Truman to Reagan. In the movie, his personal story is used to showcase the country’s changing views of racial issues in America. Allen is not a progressive character – that side is shown through his rebellious son – but what happens to him is also reflective of the evolution of Black America.
“I found him here in Washington, D.C. He lived on a little quiet street, just him and his wife,” Haygood says. “On the eve of the 2008 election, the day before, his wife told their only son Charles that she was so happy because a writer had come by and somebody was going to write a story about her husband. She said ‘I’m so at peace,’ and then went upstairs to go to bed and died. Three days later my story came out on the front page of the Washington Post and now it’s this big, epic Hollywood movie.”
Haygood’s book “The Butler: A Witness to History” is in stores now. “The Butler” is in theaters on August 16th.