The Oscar-for-Oprah campaign starts now, with the oversimplified Hollywood tearjerker Lee Daniels’ The Butler, a film by the director of Precious that plays Hollywood’s white liberal guilt like a Stradivarius. Marching through the decades like a chocolate Gump, the title character (Forest Whitaker) is a stolid, nonpolitical White House servant (Winfrey plays his wife) in every administration from Eisenhower to Reagan. Through his eyes we witness many of the most telling chapters of the Civil Rights epic. But the movie doesn’t treat the topic with the seriousness it deserves. Here are five big conceptual errors in the movie.
5. It overstates its case.
Whitaker’s Butler is a tortured soul (largely the creation of screenwriter Danny Strong, who also wrote the Sarah Palin hatefest Game Change) who has known all kinds of heartbreak, but the Washington Post article about a real long-serving White House butler that was the original basis for the movie is free of the anguish or anger with which the movie is loaded. In the first two or three minutes there are references to two lynchings, a rape (of the butler’s mother) and a racist murder (of his father). None of these things happened to the actual butler, who also didn’t have an activist son or another son who died in the Vietnam War.