By Deborah Howell

Finally got a chance to catch Lee Daniel’s “The Butler.”   I found it both devastating in its honesty and exhilarating in its documentation of the painful progress this country has made, decade by decade, President by President, as seen through the eyes of a loyal and skilled  White House butler.

Forest Whitaker, as always,  serves up a superb and empathetic performance in the lead role.  Oprah Winfrey calls him “grace personified.”   And Oprah herself — well, my hat has always been off to her –and even more so now after seeing her brave portrayal as the butler’s wife who faces a wall of pain as no mother should have to bear.

So many cameo appearances from the likes of Jane Fonda, Liev Schreiber, Alan Rickman, John Cusack, Robin Williams, not to mention a killer supporting cast of Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and the formidable David Oyelowo who portrays Whitaker’s son Louis  — each of them sharp and poetic –provided a feast for the mind and soul.

Even if you have a heart of cold stone, you would have to feel the white-hot heat of hatred in some of the scenes, and it took your breath away.  Where does hatred like this come from?  And it’s nothing short of astounding that we’ve been able to work through much of it to get on the other side of it, thanks in great part to the peaceful but powerful King-led protests that took place during the Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson administrations that led to the tipping point in our country:  The Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Please take a couple hours out of your busy lives to go see this movie.  It’s so important. It may very well garner an Oscar for Forest Whitaker, but way more crucial — it may foster more understanding and unity that we so desperately need to keep moving forward.  And the thread throughout the decades…is, of course, the music.  The country that sings together, may very well stay together.

Thank you, Lee Daniels, for shedding much-needed light on these flawed chapters in our nation’s story,  50 years after Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.


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