“‘The Butler’ Distorts Race Relations,” Richard Epstein writes at the Hoover Institute’s Defining Ideas Website:
Why is Lee Daniels not content to tell the real story? The obvious answer is that his version makes for a better movie. Another explanation is that his tale is more down beat so that it can belittle some of the progress that the civil rights movement has made over this time.
No one should ever deny the senseless tragedies that dogged the civil rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s, including the murders of Emmett Till in 1955, of Medgar Evers in 1963, of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner 1964, and of course, of Martin Luther King in 1968. But by 1986, the United States was a different place.
The Butler’s negative reimagination comes at a real social cost. Watching the movie, the viewer comes away thinking that the civil rights movement has largely failed. But the actual record is more upbeat. It is unfortunate that Daniels did not start The Butler during the Truman years. In 1948, Truman decided to desegregate the U.S. armed forces by executive order. That action would have been unthinkable at the beginning of the Second World War, given the dominant southern presence in the military. Hence, the United States had the dubious distinction of fighting Hitler’s Germany and Tojo’s Japan with segregated armed forces.
As Epstein writes, “Next year, this nation will celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That occasion will rightly give rise to many reflections about how far this nation has come and where it will go in the future.”
For now though, apparently the punitive Hollywood left, including Lee Daniels and his cast, believes that not just the election of Barack Obama was a failure for US civil rights, but the entire historical arc of liberal Hollywood as well. (A curious thought, considering that Daniels’ film was number one at the box office its debut weekend. And he wouldn’t be the first movie maker to tacitly reach that conclusion in the Obama era.) But then, for the left, it must always be 1963 forever.