GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Opinion

September 18, 2013

Midweek Musings: Film spotlights quest for equality

I’m not much of a moviegoer, just ask my wife.

I’m too fussy, selective; I want to be assured that the 21/2 hours spent in such a confined space is going to be worth it. Problem is, another person’s lens on what makes a great movie might not be your or my lens. So I’m picky.

Concerning the recent movie “The Butler,” I think I picked pretty well.

If you don’t know the story, it’s based on a real life person, an African-American fellow who served in the White House as one of the butlers through seven or eight presidencies, beginning with Ike in the 1950s and ending during Reagan’s time in the latter part of the 1980s. It’s an incredibly compelling story of an individual but also a wonderful historical view of the struggle for civil rights in a very contentious period in our history.

We get glimpses of sit-ins at lunch counters in the 50s, through the civil rights’ struggle and Dr. King as well as the Black Panther Party reaction in the 60s, right up to the ongoing struggle for equality in the 80s and beyond.

For me one of the most memorable scenes has to do with the wages paid to the butlers (all of whom are Black) and the other African American employees in the White House. Early in the film, the protagonist, played by Forest Whitaker, entered the office of his boss and made the point that the Black employees were making less than their white counterparts; he thought they should receive a raise.

Each time he did this over the years, he was told he could look for other employment. Each time he left rather meekly and dejected.

Finally, sometime in the 1980s, after again raising the issue and being rejected, before leaving the office he said something like: “very good sir, I’ll let the President (Reagan) know your answer.” As you can imagine, his boss was flabbergasted by the fact that the butler had the President’s ear. What a moment!

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