“The Butler” features Oprah, Presidents and the Voting Rights Act
A new movie called “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” is already generating a lot of buzz about its portrayal of the Civil Rights movement, and a key scene features the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
With Oprah Winfrey is a supporting role and Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker in the lead, Daniels’ film (which has the odd title due to a copyright dispute) shows changes in the movement from the viewpoint of a White House butler. It will be in movie theaters on August 16.
Whitaker’s character works in the White House from 1952 to 1986, and the film features an eclectic group of actors who portray Presidents, from Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower to British actor Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan. (In another controversy, the film casts former anti-war activist Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan.)
Recently, Daniels spoke with the web site Politico.com about the relevance of the film’s story about the movement to today’s world.
In one scene, actor Liev Schreiber, as President Lyndon Johnson, signs the historic Voting Rights Act-an ironic moment not lost of the director.
In late June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a key component of the act and sent it back to Congress to be rewritten as a law.
“We had a great time shooting the scene with Lyndon Johnson,” Daniels told Politico. “He did something incredible for the African American – for us – with the Voting Rights bill. And then they took it away. My grandmother, if she wants to go in and she ain’t got her ID… she’s not going to vote. That’s just where it is right now.”
Earlier, Daniels declined to discuss the Voting Rights Act and the Supreme Court when he was asked about them after a movie screening earlier this month, where he appeared along with Winfrey and Whitaker.
“The movie is more relevant now than ever before,” Winfrey said, citing the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28.
Whitaker said the movie was really a look at a core struggle that dates back to our nation’s founding.
“I think that when you look at the Civil Rights movement, and what the film depicts, the ideals of the country were built on freedom and that everyone has inalienable rights. For the country to reach its ideals, we’re continuing that journey. It’s the Civil Rights movement that lets us mirror that dream and see where we are, in sight of reaching the ideals,” Whitaker said.
“The Civil Rights movement is such a deep and rooted part of our history, it is truly the history of this country, because that part is what we are judging, that we will be able to live up to the ideals this country were based on in the first place,” he said.
Daniels told Politico that he screened the movie for a real-life President and First Lady: George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush.
The director said Barbara Bush contacted him and asked him to bring the movie up to Maine for an advance screening. Daniels said Mrs. Bush was emotionally moved by the movie and crying for part of the screening.
Daniels also confirmed at the screening that he wanted President Barack Obama to do a cameo appearance at the end of the film, but scheduling conflicts were a barrier, as well as artistic concerns about how the appearance would look. An actor was used instead to portray the President.
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