Monday, August 26, 2013

Lee Daniels' The Butler: Fact and Fiction

Lee Daniels' The Butler is high on my list of movies to see.  However, when I first learned about it (prior to Lee Daniels' name being added), I thought the story had been inspired by a novel.  Then I learned that it was actually based on the biographical account of Eugene Allen.  From what I've read, the movie differs considerably from Allen's life by adding drama to an already beautiful and emotional story!

If you're interested in learning the facts from the fiction, here's an excerpt from Douglas Cobb's article Fact and Fiction in Lee Daniels's The Butler, which appeared in the August 17, 2013 issue of The Las Vegas Guardian Express.  Click the link for the full story.
...While the actual White House butler, Eugene Allen, was born and grew up on a Virginia plantation in 1919, this setting is substituted in the movie version with the fictional White House Butler Cecil Gaines being born and growing up in Macon Georgia, where he worked in the cotton fields.
Allen arrived in Washington, DC, during the Great Depression. The conflict that happens in the movie between Gaines’s parents and the white farmers for whom they work was added for dramatic effect — it didn’t actually happen...

...Another place where the facts of Allen’s life are somewhat different from the fictional version of his life in the movie is that, in real life, Allen had a wife and one son, Charles Allen, while in the movie, he is married, but has two sons.

The actual Allen met his wife, Helene, in Washington at a birthday party. Gaines, on the other hand, meets his wife, Gloria, at a Washington hotel where they both work previous to Gaines landing his job at the White House.
Forest Whitaker as The Butler Cecil Gaines
The way that Allen heard of the job opening was through a woman telling him about it in 1952. He wasn’t looking for a new job at the time, in that he was fine with the job he had, at a Washington country club.

Also, Allen did not begin working as a butler from Day One at the White House; rather, he started off as a pantry worker and was later promoted to the job of the butler.
Cecil Gaines, in the movie, gets his job as the White House butler after first serving as an administrator of the White House in a hotel restaurant.

One of the many instances where the facts of what happened in Allen’s life are accurately depicted in the movie is both the real and movie butlers receives a tie of President John F. Kennedy from Jacqueline Kennedy after JFK’s assassination.
Eugene Allen, The "Real" Butler
As well, both butler versions were working in the kitchen of the White House on the day of Kennedy’s assassination, the same day Jacqueline presented both with a tie as a gift, and a memento.
Both Allen an Gaines get invited to Kennedy’s funeral, but both volunteer, instead, to stay behind a the White House, reasoning that someone had to serve the attendees as they returned from the funeral.

One place where there’s a major difference in the film’s depiction is that Charles Allen, Eugene’s son, was not the Black Panther and political activist that Gaines’s son is in the movie. Also, Charles never ran for a political office, whereas Gaines’s son does.

Though there was some tension between Allen and his son over certain civil rights issues, in real life Charles Allen worked as an investigator for the State Department and never ran for public office.

The movie’s Gaines, as well as the actual White House butler, Allen, were invited by President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan to a state dinner at the White House.The state dinner was for the West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Also, both Allen and Gaines are supporters of Obama when he runs for the office during the 2008 presidential election. Allen and his wife had been married 65 years at the time. He was given a VIP invitation to President Obama’s inauguration, according to the article in Times, and he cried as he watched the ceremony.

Adding more drama always makes a true story more exciting! Have you seen Lee Daniels' The Butler yet? If so, what did you think?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

By the way, if you like the time period depicted in Lee Daniels' The Butler, try The Governor's Sons--historical fiction with lots romance and suspense.  Please excuse my shameless self-promotion!


Old Kitty said...

Thanks for the link to the Las Vegas Guardian article! I totally see why the dramatic licence was taken to rack up the tension but I kind of like the idea of Gaines working his way up to butler status like the real Mr Allen! I wonder in the film does the other son be more like the real Allen's son?

You know even if I didn't know about the book and the real Mr Allen - I'd still see this! It's got my absolute favourite in Forest Whitacker (he's been rather quiet of late!) and it'll be BRILLIANT to see Oprah in the movies again!! Yay!

Take care

Shelly said...

This is exactly the kind of thing I like to know before seeing a movie like this, and it is a must see for us, too, once it gets down here. Such a wonderful history~

Jennette Marie Powell said...

I haven't seen The Butler, but it will make it more interesting to know what's true and what's fictionalized. I can certainly vouch for The Governor's Sons, though - loved it!

William Kendall said...

I'm on the fence about this. I've always liked Forest Whitaker as an actor... but Oprah drives me nuts.

Maria McKenzie said...

@Old Kitty: Did you see Forest Whitaker in The last King of Scotland? He was amazing!! Oprah is phenomenal in anything;).

@Shelly: It really is an amazing story!

@Jennette: Thanks, Jennette!

@William: They're both great actors--go see it;).

Nas said...

Sounds great. And reading above comments, seem most of people agree!

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi, Nas! Yes it does;).