I am sure that there is some fine acting in the movie, and knowing Hollywood (and America) the way that I do, I am sure that it will win a bunch of awards. But I feel the same way about this movie as I did about The Help: Just America glorifying the subservient obsequious Negro who, during times of oppression and injustice, tolerated it with a turn the other check kind of dignity that while admirable, did not improve his or her condition.
Americans love feel good movies where the subservient black suffers with quiet dignity and the white who is sympathetic to his plight can play the hero. It's why Hollywood keeps making movies like Driving Ms. Daisy, 42, The Help, and The Butler. It's why you will never see a major studio green light a project about the life and times of Fred Hampton, H. Rap Brown, John Rock, or Angela Davis. Films about those folks would make us too uncomfortable.
"The Butler is filled with cultural inside jokes that the 25 or so African-American attendees (mostly press), got instantly. The characters, rounder than we’re used to seeing, darker skinned, many far from the silver screen standard of beauty could’ve easily been our grand parents, aunts and uncles. Terrence Howard was everyone’s shiftless neighbor and despite missing his front tooth, charmed Oprah into an affair. Even Lenny Kravitz – who in real life manages to look sexy walking down the street in last Tuesday’s clothes and a man purse – was down played to just another handsome Black man who married a big sassy Black woman in an obvious wig.
But as I sat there, a row in front of an offensive White woman, drunk from her own entitlement, watching painful truths about the history of my people in this country, I couldn’t help but wonder: What does ‘Black’ mean now? 2013 - long after we’ve twice elected a black president but failed to convict the killer of a black teenager - what is the ethos of this culture of mine?
I grew up Black – not just as a race but a verb. Weddings in church basements, in households where Martin Luther and Luther Vandross were equally revered. We attended home goings that lasted from day into night. My aunt, the crackhead, would do anything for you – just don’t leave your purse around her. Summers meant family reunions in matching shirts that always alternated between yellow, purple and red. And our grand parents raised me, along with a number of my cousins. And every time we’d hear of a particularly heinous (or stupid) crime we’d collectively wish aloud, “I hope he’s not Black."
Those were great points about the black experience and what it means in 2013, but you didn't need The Butler" to make them.