Lee Daniels, who has helped both Halle Berry (he produced Monster’s Ball”) and Mo’Nique (he directed “Precious”) get Oscars might be in that enviable seat again with his new movie “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” (His name in the title was the result of a copyright claim, not his ego.)
The movie, which opens tomorrow, stars Forest Whitaker in the title role as a White House butler. Based on the true story of Eugene Allen, who served in the White House for 34 years and lived to see President Obama elected (he was a guest at the first inauguration) “The Butler” tells a multifaceted story of a Black family through the lens of American history.
The movie also stars Oprah Winfrey, already receiving early Oscar buzz, Cuba Gooding, Jr., David Oyewolo, Terrence Howard, Lenny Kravitz, Live Schrieber, Robin Williams, Jane Fonda and more.
“I was reading Twitter and Oprah said if it was left up to me she would have said the F word and been naked,” Daniels told the Tom Joyner Morning Show, referencing his provocative filmmaking.
“Yes, it’s true, but I had to realize that kids had to see the movie, so it’s PG. Wait until the director’s cut and you’ll see a different type of a butler.” (This is likely to included an extended version of a love scene shot between Winfrey and Howard, one of which Howard claimed later gave him a new appreciation of Oprah’s breasts.) Daniels says that despite the historic nature of the film, he saw it as primarily as an exploration of the father/son dynamic.
“It’s a father/son love story. I have a son that was 13 years old when I got that script. I don’t remember ever having seen a father and son love story that was about a Black family. My son – ‘I say Black, he says white. I say Day, he say Night, I say ‘Go to bed,’ he say ‘Hell, no.’ And when does it all end? That’s what I saw in this movie – this love story between father and son.
But it wasn’t until we were shooting the bus scene – the Freedom Riders and we was over that bridge where they had actually lynched many Black men – it was this historic bridge outside New Orleans and I yelled ‘Action’ all those kids playing Freedom Riders were coming at the bus. And I’m getting scared and the kids are getting scared and I yelled ‘Cut’ and they couldn’t hear me and I go to the window and they couldn’t hear me and I realized in that moment that those kids were heroes. They were fighting for the soul of our country.”
Daniels struggled to get the movie completed, even once he had the funds to begin it. He was still working to raise money for “The Butler” while in the midst of it. He says Hollywood is still resistant to films about people and issues that are not mainstream and he believes that his film is required viewing for both Black and white kids.
“My kids know more about the Holocaust than they do about civil rights. They don’t know what happened to us,” Daniels says.