Monday, September 22, 2014


Forest Whitaker plays White House butler Cecil Gaines in Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013). (Photo from Lee Daniels' The Butler Facebook page. )

The Gaines family goes through a turmultous time in America's history in the movie Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013). (Photo from Lee Daniels' The Butler Facebook page.)
Why I can't stop thinking about Lee Daniels' The Butler
Posted on Feb. 8, 2014 at 2:10 p.m.

The 1960s doesn't seem like a long time ago to me. I wasn't born then, but my parents were -- and they would be happy to know that I don't think of them as being "old."

That's why I was shocked when I watched Lee Daniels' The Butler last weekend. The movie chronicles the life of a man who serves as a butler in the White House for three decades. He works for many presidents, beginning with Eisenhower and ending with Reagan. 

I watched as America's civil rights history played out in this one man's family. I recognized the events, but it was different to actually see how a man, his wife, and two sons were ripped apart by what was happening to them.

In my country. In the late 1960s. Not that long ago.

I couldn't believe that my parents were alive in a time when black and white people couldn't sit at the same table and eat together. A time when it was acceptable for a white adult to spit on a black child. When black people were considered to be almost another species -- not human. 

And this quote, said by the main character Cecil Gaines -- the butler, sums it up:

"America has always turned a blind eye to what we done to our own."

The movie opens when Cecil is a little boy, working for abusive white cotton farmers, and ends as he watches Barack Obama become president in 2008. It's a powerful look at American history, and especially the history of civil rights. But what affected me the most was getting to know a family and watching them struggle to live in such a nasty world.

The movie also left me with some questions:

What America will I be living in 40 years from now, when my own children, hopefully, will think I am "not that old?"

What do I consider "normal" now that my children will be shocked ever existed?

Contact reporter Lydia Sheaks on Twitter at @LydiaSheaks or email her at lsheaks@elkharttruth.com