The Weinstein Company
Before The Butler, few people knew anything about Eugene Allen, the fascinating inspiration behind the film's Cecil Gaines, played by Forest Whitaker. Though we've seen plenty of Abraham Lincoln, Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela and MLK, there are tons of similar lesser-known historical figures out there who have lived exciting, influential lives. It might just take a well-scored, sumptuously costumed biopic to bring one of these historical unknowns into the spotlight.
Elisha KaneKane was a U.S. naval officer who journeyed into the Arctic twice, trekking across the ice for 83 days and saving many lives through his bravery and medical skill.
Adele AstaireThis story has serious romantic and musical potential; Adele Astaire was considered a far more talented performer than her famous brother Fred, but chose to give up show biz when she fell in love with a British lord.
Empress MyeongseongKnown as Queen Min, which is also what I would call the biopic, this 19th century Korean feminist used her position as the emperor's wife to wield diplomatic power, form alliances, and encourage the modernization of Korea.
Edward BernaysThough there has already been an excellent documentary made about Bernays, the advertiser who shaped modern consumerism deserves a lavish dramatization, perhaps starring Martin Freeman.
Amos Bronson AlcottThe father of better-known Louisa May, Amos was far ahead of his time; he was a vegan, a women's rights activist, an abolitionist, and a teaching reformer who attempted to create an Eden-like utopia for himself and was revered by Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
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On the surface, framing the tumultuous civil rights era around the personal drama of a black butler working inside the White House might seem hokey. Folding history lessons in an entertaining package has always proven a difficult balancing act. But Lee Daniels' The Butler stands as a testament to reserved directing, a focused script and strong character-acting for the sake of the larger picture outside the movie house.
The heart and soul of the piece resides firmly in the capable hands of Forest Whitaker who, as titular character Cecil Gaines, balances pathos, pride, and strength with a human dash of regret. The other characters all seem to pass through his life but leave bold marks on him and the film's drama. Oprah Winfrey as Ms. Gloria Gaines, Terrence Howard as the sleazy philandering neighbor who takes advantage of the lonely Gloria, and Cuba Gooding Jr. and Lenny Kravitz as fellow White House help stand out the strongest for their raw abilities to inhabit their roles.
Though you would expect such actors to hold their own, the real delight of the Butler comes from the fact that there are no shortcomings in the film's supporting roles. The dynamic between the brothers of Cecil and Gloria offers a delightful comic relief, which is peppered amongst the drama just enough to keep the struggles of those times bearable. Elijah Kelley delights as the younger, naïve, parent-pleasing Charlie, and David Oyelowo embodies ultra-righteousness as Louis, jumping at every opportunity of civil disobedience to fight for his people's human rights (from protesting Jim Crow laws in the South to joining the Black Panther party). Meanwhile, the presidents — despite being played by high profile actors like Robin Williams (Eisenhower), John Cusack (Nixon), Liev Schreiber (LBJ), Alan Rickman (Reagan), and an unforgettable Jane Fonda as Nancy — never hang around the drama long enough to distract from its main concern of a black man struggling with apathy as the times change around him.
No character ever overshadows Cecil, who encapsulates an array of issues, from escaping an oppressive life on a cotton farm as a child to arriving at a revelation stemming from a simple gesture by taking a seat at a fancy dinner in his twilight years. It's this quiet struggle of a man trying to get by in a rough and tumble world that remains the film's main concern. The 52-year-old Whitaker does a noble job as he ages from a young man to a 90-year-old.
Compared to Daniels' powerful breakout Precious (2009) and the horrible, dull mess of the Paperboy (2012), the film features a reserved sensibility thanks to the director's decision to turn down the histrionics for a change. Throughout his short filmmaking career, Daniels has always shown a keen control over camera placement to keep a film visually dynamic, despite some dramatic failings. The Butler is no exception, as Daniels' artistry appears in the film's first frame. He still, however, leans on slow motion during a few scenes for overkill emphasis. He doesn't need that. His greatest accomplishment in The Butler lies in how he keeps the other characters in check against the quiet but important struggles of Cecil. Despite the film's many stars, no one is distracted as Daniels reveals a strong sense of mise-en-scène when burying the cast's celebrity. Daniels also continues to do raw well with make-up and wardrobe dialed down to keep it real and earthy.
The script deserves singling out as the glue that makes The Butler work as neatly as it does. Written by Danny Strong, the scribe behind another brisk political drama, the acclaimed McCain-Palin exposé Game Change on HBO, it makes for an engaging, well-paced affair despite running over two hours long. Strong based his script on a Washington Post article about a black man who served as a butler to eight presidents between the '50s and '80s. In order to emphasize the history and the tension of the civil rights movement on this family who happened to have close ties to the White House, Strong took liberties with the story. He created composite characters based on other memoirs with intimate access to the White House. It's a matter of convenience to place some of these characters at three or four too many important historical moments that may seem contrived to some. However, I'd forgive the film for teetering close to Forrest Gump cartoonery for the sake of its emphasis on moments in history that can too easily be forgotten as generations pass.
After the Supreme Court's recent decision to strike down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, The Butler serves as an important role in reminding us that equality and malaise between ethnic groups and classes still festers in this era, even after the election of the first black president. We need a movie that looks back at history and offers a reminder about the long way America has come and the long way it still has to go. That The Butler can do it while remaining entertaining is a bonus many will appreciate.
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Director Lee Daniels set his sights sky-high when casting new movie The Butler as he wanted U.S. President Barack Obama in a starring role. The historical drama tells the story of real life White House butler Eugene Allen, re-named Cecil Gaines in the movie, who served under eight consecutive U.S. Presidents including Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon.
The film boasts an impressive cast list including Forest Whitaker as Gaines, Alan Rickman as Reagan and John Cusack as Nixon, and Daniels reveals he wanted to cast Obama as himself.
He tells website Thegrio.com, "(I wanted) Obama.... (But) I was too afraid to ask him. (Even if I had) I think that he was in the middle of something called the election. It would have been weird if I had somebody playing Obama. I couldn't have anybody playing Obama but Obama."
The role of Obama eventually went to Orlando Eric Street.
Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and filmmaker Lee Daniels have been granted permission to call their new film The Butler, as long as they preface it with the director's name. The Weinstein Company chiefs faced a legal battle over Daniels' historical drama after executives at Warner Bros. claimed they owned the rights to the name as they have a 1916 short comedy of the same title in their back catalogue.
Officials at the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) initially ruled Weinstein had to change the name of The Butler ahead of its August (13) release, but late on Friday (19Jul13), they reversed the decision and allowed the movie to be released as Lee Daniels' The Butler.
However, the fight over the name has come at a price - The Weinstein Company bosses will have to pay $400,000 (£258,065) to the Entertainment Industry Foundation for continuing to use the title after the MPAA's initial order, reports Variety.com.
They have been given until Friday (26Jul13) to pull all original trailers, posters and other promotional material bearing the simple title of The Butler or face further fines of up to $50,000 (£32,258) a day.
They have also been ordered to cover Warner Bros.' legal fees, to the tune of $150,000 (£96,774).
The movie, which stars Forest Whitaker as real life White House butler Eugene Allen, is due for release in the U.S. on 16 August (13).
TV titan Oprah Winfrey is set to pull in thousands of dollars for charity by auctioning a meeting with her at the upcoming premiere of The Butler. The highest bidder in the CharityBuzz.com auction will be introduced to the talk show queen at either the film's New York City premiere on 5 August (13) or the Los Angeles debut on 12 August (13).
Winfrey, who plays the wife of presidential butler Eugene Allen in the movie, is due to attend both events with her castmates Forest Whitaker, who stars in the title role, and Robin Williams, who plays Dwight Eisenhower, as well as Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda, who portray President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy.
The lot is expected to fetch $25,000 (£16,129) for the La Jolla Playhouse theatre group in San Diego, California.
Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein is "shocked" by the legal battle over his latest film The Butler as he can't understand why a rival studio would try to force him to change the title. The Weinstein Company chiefs have been embroiled in a dispute over Lee Daniels' historical drama as executives at Warner Bros. claim they own the rights to the name because they have a 1916 short film of the same title in their back catalogue.
Warner Bros. bosses won an arbitration case last week (02Jul13) and The Butler is now facing a name change just weeks ahead of its planned August (13) release date.
Director Daniels wrote an emotional letter to Warner Bros. heads imploring them to drop their challenge, and now Weinstein has weighed in on the case, insisting he can't understand the reasons behind the legal action.
He tells The Hollywood Reporter, "I am shocked at what happened on The Butler. It's amazing to me how a 1916 short called The Butler is knocking out a movie that deals with civil rights. I have no idea what's going on with that. They're not making another Butler. I don't know what they're doing or what their reason is."
The movie, which stars Forest Whitaker as real life White House butler Eugene Allen, is due for release in the U.S. on 16 August (13).
Director Lee Daniels has written an emotional letter to studio bosses urging them to let him keep the title of his upcoming film The Butler. The Weinstein Company's historical drama, starring Forest Whitaker as real life White House butler Eugene Allen, is facing a name change after executives at rival movie studio Warner Bros. bosses launched a legal challenge over the title.
Warner Bros. bosses claim they own the rights to the title because they have a 1916 comedy of the same name in their back catalogue, and the battle has been raging just weeks before the film is due to open in America next month (Aug13).
The film's director Daniels has now attempted to settle the dispute by writing a letter to Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara, offering him a private screening of the film and urging him to drop the challenge.
In the message, Daniels insists he feels "heartbroken" and hopes the legal spat can be resolved without changing the name of his movie.
He writes, "I have spent the last four years of my life working on the film, The Butler, and it is the proudest moment of my professional career. I am heartbroken as I write this letter to you...
"I am so proud of this movie. Every member of our cast worked for almost nothing so that this story could be told with only our very small budget. If we were to change the title a mere six weeks before we open, it would most certainly hurt the film by limiting the number of people who would ultimately see this important story. This movie is not a blockbuster, nor did we intend it to be. We just wanted to tell the dark and beautiful story of our nation's racial history, where we came from, and how far we have come."
Bosses behind star-studded historical movie The Butler have been forced to change its name after it was ruled a rival studio owns the rights to the title. The film, about Eugene Allen - the butler to eight U.S. presidents and their families - features an A-list cast, including Forest Whitaker as Allen, Oprah Winfrey as his wife, Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower and Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda as President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy.
However, chiefs at The Weinstein Company will have to come up with a new title for the highly-anticipated movie ahead of its August (13) release after executives at Warner Bros. won an arbitration battle on Tuesday (02Jul13).
Warner Bros. bosses successfully argued they own the rights to the title because they have a 1916 comedy of the same name in their catalogue.
One of this summer's most highly anticipated movies is the Weinstein Company's The Butler. Starring Forest Whitaker, the film tells the story of Cecil Gaines, a man who works as a White House butler during eight American presidencies, from 1952 to 1986. During his tenure, he witnesses countless important events in 20th century U.S. history from a highly unique perspective. But the historical drama may be facing some turmoil. According to Deadline, Warner Bros. is attempting to prevent Harvey Weinstein from using the title The Butler, claiming that it posseses the sole rights to the title because of a 1916 silent comedy by the same name.
With The Butler's August release date fast approaching, this matter seems to have arisen oddly late in the game. There is reportedly a great deal of "outrage" at the Weinstein Company, and we aren't surprised: the only logical response to this situation is, "WTF?" Has anyone actually seen this silent comedy The Butler? Isn't this new movie supposed to be an inspiring tale about adversity and American history? Why are you trying to bring everybody down, Warner Bros.?
The Butler is based on the true story of Eugene Allen and also features such heavy-hitting stars as Oprah Winfrey (in her first major film role since Beloved in 1998), John Cusack, Jane Fonda, Robin Williams, Melissa Leo, Cuba Gooding Jr., Mariah Carey, Alan Rickman, Vanessa Redgrave, Liev Schreiber, James Marsden, Minka Kelly, and Lenny Kravitz.
With such an all-star cast and fascinating subject matter, The Butler promises to be one of the best biopics of 2013. Warner Bros' claim is fairly absurd, but it could have serious implications for the movie. Whatever its title may be, we're excited to see the film. After all, what's in a name? That which we call The Butler by any other name would be just as great.
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Movies that take place in the White House are usually focused on the President of the United States, but Lee Daniels' drama The Butler serves up a new perspective on the old location. Starring Forest Whitaker, Jane Fonda, and Oprah Winfrey (among a long list of Hollywood power players that make up the rest of the cast), the movie tells the story of Eugene Allen, the longtime White House employee who served under eight American presidents.
Allen was the White House's head butler from 1952 to 1986, and had a unique front-row seat as political and racial history was made. The Butler also stars Alex Pettyfer, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, Melissa Leo, Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson, Terrance Howard, Minka Kelly as Jackie Kennedy, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Vanessa Redgrave.
Watch the just-released trailer below:
The Butler hits theaters October 18, 2013.
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