The Butler

Book vs. Movie

The Butler (book)   The Butler (movie)

Lee Daniels’ movie was made because of the amazing story that was featured in The Washington Post, written a few years ago by journalist, Wil Haygood.  If you read his book, which honors the butler who actually served eight presidents, then you will already be forewarned of the differences between the two.  It is important to note that Daniels took liberties to create a story that would be more dramatic for film (even though being a black servant in the White House during the Civil Rights Movement is considered quite controversial already).  First off, the names of the characters are different.  Eugene Allen is the real name of the butler (not Cecil Gaines) and his wife was called Helene (not Gloria).  One thing to make clear is that they only ever had one child: a son they named Charles, who is still alive today and had served in the Vietnam war.  In the screen version, the butler has a troublesome relationship with his eldest son, Louis.  There was never any indication from Haygood, when he interviewed Allen, that this was the case.  Also, for cinematic drama, the movie portrays the butler’s wife as a lonely and bored woman after her husband is hired.  She turns to drink, asks her husband tons of questions about the presidents’ wives and a friend even tries to make moves on her.  In reality, Eugene and Helene were very content and in love.  His wife did ask many questions about what would go on in the White House, but she was very proud of him and never complained about his hours.  I was happy that in the film, we see when the butler and his wife get invited as guests to a dinner but I was looking forward to seeing the scene where he makes a party for the children a day after president Kennedy is shot—naturally, I was a little disappointed when that part was not included.  Characters on the big screen do talk about how the black actors in society at that time are not revered for their talent but for what white Americans think they should be like.  This theme is in an essay that Haygood includes in his book.  Of course, we only see Cecil serving five presidents in the movie, even though there were three more whom he catered to.  As shown in the film, Eugene and Helene did get to see the day when a black man runs for president.  Helene dies before Obama gets elected but Eugene has the privilege to vote and be part of the inauguration.  Although we do not see it nor are told at the end of the movie, the butler dies about 16 months after Obama’s win.  The true story of Eugene Allen is more inspirational than what is shown on screen, but Daniels still does a pretty good job—and so do the actors.  What are your thoughts?

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