Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Lee Daniels’ The Butler


First, I need to apologize to Lee Daniels. When I saw his name above the title, I thought this was one hell of an egotist. Then I learned that Warner Brothers, who had inherited the defunct Lubin Company, was challenging his right to use the title. Why? Because there was a film of the same title in 1916!! Not only that, but the fucking film doesn’t even exist anymore. It’s lost, swallowed up by the criminal neglect that many early filmmakers brought to the whole idea of preservation of art. After a lot of negotiation, they settled on this title. So, sorry, Lee, and shame on you, Warner Brothers.

Second … you know, it’s getting ridiculous how many producers there are on films these days. When my film, Millennium, finally got out of a ten-year development hell, we ended up with six producers and, I think, three production companies. I thought that was excessive, especially because with two of these men, I only met them twice. Nowadays, though, the opening credits can go on and on and on, with a logo for half a dozen companies. By my actual count, this film had 41 producers!! I assume each of them has a slice of the gross. This is insane.

Okay, what about the film? I thoroughly enjoyed it. Forest Whitaker was outstanding as the man who served in the White House through … was it seven or eight? … administrations. The man no one sees. They played with the story, as usual, to bring up the unfairness of the way he was treated and to juice up the drama, but who cares? The basis of the film is true, and what a story it is.

I have to admit I had some fun looking at the people they chose to play the presidents and first ladies. Robin Williams looked pretty good as Eisenhower. Liev Schreiber worked well as LBJ. But John Cusack looked nothing like Richard Nixon. And the biggest chuckle came when Jane Fonda appears as Nancy Reagan. What a hoot that must have been for her.