Lee Daniels’ movie The Butler is based on the story of Eugene Allen, who worked for 34 years in the White House under eight presidents.
Eugene Allen was hired in 1952 as a pantry worker and worked his way up to butler after several years. This contrasts the movie, which has Cecil Gaines starting to work as a butler immediately. In 1980, during the Reagan administration, Eugene Allen was promoted to maitre d’, the position he held when he retired in 1986.
Eugene Allen’s name was changed to Cecil Gaines for the movie.
“While the movie The Butler is set against historical events, the title character and his family are fictionalized,” states director Lee Daniels.
Louis Gaines character, portrayed by actor David Oyelowo, is entirely fictional
“We were able to borrow some extraordinary moments from Eugene’s real life to weave into the movie,” he added.
Danny Strong, who penned The Butler script, told WorldandFilm.com: “It’s important to understand, there’s a reason why the character’s name is Cecil Gaines. Because this is not the Eugene Allen story. It’s not just about him. We were hoping to capture the essence of Eugene Allen, and I think we did. But it’s not just about him. It’s about several other people I spoke to that worked at the White House as well so that the film would create this universal truth for many people of what that experience was like.”
The Louis Gaines character (Cecil Gaines’ eldest son), portrayed by actor David Oyelowo, is entirely fictional, as is the subplot involving the character. This includes Louis Gaines joining the Freedom Riders and the Black Panthers, and the rift that develops between him and his father as a result.
In real life, Eugene and Helene Allen only had one son, not two.
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Former President Ronald Reagan’s family has hit out at the producers of new film The Butler for allegedly portraying him as a racist.
Ronald Reagan is played by British actor Alan Rickman in The Butler, which tells the story of black man Cecil Gaines who served in the White House for 34 years.
However, Ronald Reagan’s son claims that the portrayal implies that the former president was prejudiced against black people, when in fact he helped the cause of African-Americans and showed friendship to the real White House butler.
The Butler, which was released in the U.S. two weeks ago, follows Cecil Gaines, played by Forest Whitaker, as he experiences decades of American history at the side of multiple Presidents.
The film is based on the real-life story of Eugene Allen, who died in 2010 and served every President from Ike Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan.
Alan Rickman, known for his roles in Die Hard and the Harry Potter series, plays Ronald Reagan, while anti-war activist Jane Fonda was controversially cast as his wife Nancy.
In the film – as in real life – Ronald Reagan invites the butler to attend a state dinner as a guest instead of an employee.
But Cecil Gaines is uncomfortable with the experience, and turns against the President over Ronald Reagan’s move to lift sanctions against South Africa over the apartheid regime.
Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan and Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan in Lee Daniels’ The Butler
Ronald Reagan’s son Michael has launched a blistering attack on his father’s portrayal, writing in Newsmax that the film should be called The Butler from Another Planet because it is so historically inaccurate.
“Portraying Ronald Reagan as a racist because he was in favor of lifting economic sanctions against South Africa is simplistic and dishonest,” Michael Reagan wrote.
“If you knew my father, you’d know he was the last person on Earth you would call a racist.”
He pointed out that the leader had a record of friendship towards black people, having been close to a number of African-Americans during his college days.
When Ronald Reagan was governor of California, his son wrote, he more than doubled the number of black officials who had ever been appointed in the state’s history.
Michael Reagan claimed that his parents “treated Mr. Allen with the utmost respect” – unlike in the film, where Cecil Gaines’s invitation to the state dinner is implied to have been an act of tokenism.
When Eugene Allen was interviewed about his experiences in 2008, his only reminiscence of the evening was to smile as his wife recalled: “Had champagne that night.”
The film culminated with the butler’s resignation as a protest over Ronald Reagan’s opposition to South African sanctions, though there is no evidence that this was the reason for Eugene Allen’s retirement at the age of 67.
“The real story of the White House butler doesn’t imply racism at all,” Michael Reagan wrote.
“It’s simply Hollywood liberals wanting to believe something about my father that was never there.”
He added: “My father’s position on lifting the South African sanctions in the 80s had nothing to do with the narrow issue of race. It had to do with the geopolitics of the Cold War.”
Allen told his interviewer in 2008 that he was “especially fond of the Reagans”, and resolutely refused to criticize any of the Presidents he worked for.
The Butler, directed by Lee Daniels, takes a number of liberties in adapting Eugene Allen’s life story, most notably in inventing an episode in which his mother is raped and father killed by a plantation boss.
The Butler, a star-studded drama inspired by African-American Eugene Allen who served as a White House butler to eight presidents, was the top draw at North American cinemas this weekend.
Lee Daniels’ new movie, which stars Forest Whitaker, took an estimated $25 million in the US and Canada between Friday and Sunday.
“We did not expect it to do this well,” said a spokesman for its distributor.
In contrast, comic book sequel Kick-Ass 2 could only manage fourth place with a first weekend haul of $13.5 million.
That was less than the $19.8 million its predecessor made in its first weekend in the US and Canada in April 2010.
Kick-Ass 2‘s takings were swelled, however, by the $6.3 million it made in ticket sales outside North America.
According to The Weinstein Company’s Erik Lomis, the involvement of Oprah Winfrey was “a significant factor” in The Butler‘s success.
“Her publicity machine really kicked into high gear,” he said of the talk show queen, whose appearance as Forest Whitaker’s wife marks her first starring role since 1998’s Beloved.
“An Oprah Winfrey endorsement virtually guarantees you a hit,” agreed Paul Dergarabedian of box office analysts Hollywood.com.
The Butler was the top draw at North American cinemas this weekend
According to the Hollywood Reporter, The Butler appealed strongly to black church-goers, a demographic specifically courted in its promotional materials.
Starring Forest Whitaker as the fictional manservant Cecil Gaines, Lee Daniels’ The Butler co-stars Robin Williams, John Cusack, Mariah Carey and Jane Fonda.
The film’s slightly tortuous nomenclature came about after the Weinstein Company lost a legal battle with Warner Brothers over the right to use the title The Butler.
Warner Bros comedy We’re the Millers held onto second place in this week’s chart, making $17.8 million in its second week in US and Canadian cinemas.
Last week’s top film, Matt Damon’s sci-fi thriller Elysium, dropped to third place after making an estimated $13.6 million between Friday and Sunday.
Jobs, starring Ashton Kutcher as the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, was the third new entry in this week’s Top 10, claiming seventh place with a first weekend tally of $6.7 million.
That was almost twice as much made by Paranoia, a corporate espionage thriller starring Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford that made its debut in 13th spot with a $3.5 million haul.
North American box office:
- Lee Daniels’ The Butler – $30.5 million
- We’re the Millers -$17.8 million
- Elysium – $13.6 million
- Kick-Ass 2 – $13.5 million
- Planes – $13.1 million
The Butler, which is based on the story of long-time White House butler Eugene Allen, hit theaters on Friday.
It’s not surprising that some broad creative license was taken with Eugene Allen’s life.
However, some of the most remarkable episodes are true.
Eugene Allen spent 34 years in the White House watching as eight presidents filed in and out and witnessing the country change from within the walls that were changing it.
The Butler is based on the story of long-time White House butler Eugene Allen
The life of Eugene Allen is the basis for Lee Daniels’ The Butler, which debuted in theaters this weekend. The film was inspired by a 2008 Washington Post story titled A Butler Well Served by This Election, which first brought Eugene Allen’s story to the mainstream: a butler who served every president from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan and weathered the worst of the country’s brutal racial history was about to see the first black president of the US sworn into office.
Eugene Allen was “a black man unknown to the headlines”, Will Haygood wrote in that Post article.
Now, however, Eugene Allen’s story is playing out on the big screen in an Oscar-baiting film with a sprawling cast including Robin Williams, Terrence Howard, Alan Rickman, Jane Fonda, Liev Schrieber, Oprah Winfrey, and, in the role inspired by Allen, Forest Whitaker.
In The Butler, Forest Whitaker’s Cecil Gaines is a slightly fictionalized version of Eugene Allen, one whose story – though very close to Allen’s own – plays better as the stylistic, sweeping melodrama the film sets out to be.