OK for kids 13+
Well-acted civil rights tale is moving but too formulaic.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Lee Daniels' The Butler is a sweeping look at the history of African-American life in the United States, as witnessed by a black butler (Forest Whitaker) who spent three decades working in the White House. Since the movie chronicles the history of the civil rights movement, there are many scenes that portray hate crimes -- like two lynched men hanging from a tree and a black sharecropper being shot for saying one word to his white boss. White Southerners are also shown raping, killing, shooting, burning, intimidating, and otherwise terrorizing black protesters. Adults smoke cigarettes and drink; one character is an alcoholic who has a drink in most of her scenes. There's also some language (one "f--k," plus "s--t" and many racial epithets) and kissing, as well as the suggestion of an affair. Audiences will get an overview of how various presidents felt about race relations, as well as the methods and ideologies of the civil rights movement.
- Families can talk about American history and how it's witnessed by Cecil and his family. Even though Lee Daniels' The Butler is dedicated to those who worked in the civil rights movement, the protagonist is an apolitical butler. Why is his eyewitness account to history so compelling?
- What would you say the movie's main message is about the civil rights movement? Which character are viewers meant to identify with the most?
- What did you learn about the civil rights movement, the history of segregation, or the way that various presidents dealt with race relations? Do you think the movie is entirely accurate? Why might filmmakers take liberty with the facts?
The good stuff
Messages: Cecil and Louis both show how necessary it is to stand up to injustice, even if it's risky or dangerous. The movie chronicles how each president dealt with issues of race and equal rights and stresses that there's dignity in a job well done.
Role models: Cecil and his son, Louis, exemplify two archetypal figures in African-American history: the hardworking black domestic (as Martin Luther King Jr. calls Cecil in the movie) and the civil rights activist who defies inequality with non-violent protest. MLK gives a heartfelt tribute to the importance of African-American service workers. President Kennedy tells Cecil that he never knew how hard African Americans had it until he saw televised scenes of Southern terrorism.
What to watch for
Violence: Many race-based hate crimes, including scenes that show two lynched black men hanging from a tree; a black sharecropper who's shot point blank for saying one word to his white boss; several scenes of white Southerners (including civilians, police officers, and the Ku Klux Klan) beating up, setting fire to, and otherwise terrorizing black civil rights activists; and the notorious D.C. riots of 1968. A cotton worker is raped (off camera). Jackie Kennedy is shown with blood covering her suit after her husband's assassination. Civil rights workers are shot at, burned out of their freedom ride bus, arrested, and ridiculed.
Sex: Married couples kiss and embrace on several occasions -- sometimes in bed. It's suggested that Gloria is having an affair with Howard, who kisses her. Louis is in love with Carol, but they're never shown doing more than kissing briefly. President Carter tells an off-color joke.
Language: Occasional strong language includes "s--t," "a--hole," "bitch," "ass," "damn," "hell," "son of a bitch," "goddamn," "oh my God," and many uses of racial epithets like the "N" word, "coon," and more. One use of "f--k."
Consumerism: Not too many brands are shown, except for Budweiser beer and a Lincoln Continental.
Drinking, drugs and smoking: Adults drink a lot (particularly Gloria, who's an alcoholic) and smoke cigarettes (accurate for many of the time periods the movie passes through).
Fan Reviews provided by
Oprah was a distraction by eastport
The movie was good and moving - especially if you grew up in this period but were too young to appreciate the historical value of the 60's.
i laffed i cried- go see it by paetonwooden
went to see the butler for date nite last nite. it was like forest gump in that it followed the life of the main character thru a bunch of historical events. even used some of the same clips from the race riots I think. very good movie. I laffed I cried what more could u ask from a movie? forest whittaker & oprah were outstanding and cuba was hiliarious. must see.
"The Butler" serves us all very well by Satch1945
I was initially hesitant to see the movie, but I must say I am extremely happy I did. The main characters, played by Forest and Oprah, were excellent in their portrayals ... their ability to show the range of emotions needed, both subtle and overt. is outstanding. The supporting cast, from their sons, to Gooding, Jr., Howard, Marsden, Williams, Fonda, Cusack, Rickman and Schreiber were all excellent in their portrayals of those who lived during those tumultuous years. It is always heart wrenching to see what people (no matter color, or nationality) have endured throughout years and sometimes centuries, in order to make their lives better ... and just as heart wrenching to see the people that have tried to eradicate, or keep them in servitude. All those emotions and story line were so elegantly displayed in this movie. It is one for all people to see and appreciate...
Wonderful Movie! by PeaceCorpsMeri
We laughed, we cried, we felt horrible about our country, we felt proud to be an American. SO much of this is ?history? that I?ve lived, rather Forrest Gump-like, but there were still things I was unaware of and needed to learn. This allowed a view that is important. Not sure it happened; but I know it?s true.
Truly excellent in every way by warnerv
Great historical movie. Forest deserves Oscar. Acting was wonderful, especially Oprah. Great editing and photographs and videos - true videos from the past. Definitely GOOOO. You will learn a lot.
Amazing movie! by kfashley
This was an awesome movie and is highly recommended. The portrayals of all figures in the history books were amazingly accurate, even the voice impersonations. I will be HIGHLY surprised if Oprah Winfrey doesn't win an Oscar for her performance... you truly forgot who she was as you watched the movie, so believable!
Great movie! by heather_teague
I don't know what I was expecting from this movie, but honestly not much. I finally went to see it because there really wasn't much else playing and I wanted to see a movie. Very thought provoking and excellent acting. I learned a TON. Would highly recommend!
The Butler by lagers
What a superb movie...Forest and Oprah should get Oscar nods from their performances. We laughed and cried throughout the movie. This was the best of the year!
Excellent Movie by D-Movie-Queen
Everyone should see this movie; it is amazing to see upfront what goes on behind the scenes with prejudice and bigotry even in the highest office. The acting was superb by Oprah and Forest, the writing was first-rate worthy of an Oscar and Best Movie
VERY DISAPPOINTING! by aripin
Although my wife & I had a "private showing"(we were alone in the theatre), we both agreed to exit half way into the movie. Unlike "12 Years A Slave", which we both thought was excellent and well performed, "The Butler" missed on most levels. Very disappointing was the directors choices of actors to portray the various presidents-none of which bore even a distant resemblance to the designated presidents. Additionally, unlike many PBS versions of identical times covered by this movie, PBS's depictions were substantially more accurate and compelling.