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Forest Whitaker gives a butler's eye view on US history

Forest Whitaker gives a butler's eye view on US history

Forest Whitaker gives a butler's eye view on US history

During our recent look at depictions of cleaning and cleaners in popular culture here on the Aurora blog, one of the common themes has been that of the unassuming servant or domestic worker bearing witness to incredible drama and excitement.

One film where that idea is particularly prevalent is 2013's The Butler, in which Forest Whitaker plays Cecil Gaines, a butler working at the White House during some of the most tempestuous times in American history.

 

An eventful life
The Butler is loosely based on the real life of Eugene Allen, who served at the White House for 34 years, and inspired by the Washington Post article 'A Butler Well Served by This Election'.

Written by Danny Strong and directed by Lee Daniels, the film introduces Cecil as an elderly man in 2009, telling the story of his life while waiting at the White House to meet Barack Obama, the newly inaugurated president.

We see the beginning of Cecil's life on a cotton plantation in Georgia, where he suffers the tragedy of his father being killed by the plantation owner. Cecil is trained as a domestic worker by the estate's caretaker and later by the master servant of a hotel.

Cecil's career in the White House begins in 1957, during the administration of Dwight Eisenhower, played by Robin Williams. Over the following decades, Cecil sees the likes of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan come and go at the White House. He also serves through some of the defining events of the second half of the 20th century in America, such as the Kennedy assassination, the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War.

As well as getting the butler's eye view on these historic events, we get an insight into some of the challenges Cecil faces in his private life, including his relationships with his wife and two sons.

Throughout all the chaos and drama of American politics and his own personal struggles, Cecil continues to serve faithfully and also becomes a powerful voice for equality among all White House staff, regardless of the colour of their skin.

A powerful story

The Butler was well-received, particularly by audiences in the US. Costing some $30 million to make, it earned $24.6 million during its opening weekend in North America alone, staying at the top of the box office for three weeks. It grossed a total of $167.7 million around the world.

One of its biggest draws was its all-star cast, with Oprah Winfrey appearing alongside Whitaker as Gloria Gaines, Cecil's wife, and the likes of Alan Rickman, John Cusack, Jane Fonda, James Marsden and Liev Schreiber playing some of the key historical figures who passed through the White House during Cecil's time there.

The Butler gives an evocative representation of some of the most significant events of the 20th century in America, as well as exploring the idea that it is often the least likely characters who have the greatest stories to tell.

Here at Aurora, we don't expect to see history being made at our clients' sites, meaning our professional cleaners can get on with the job of keeping the premises sparkling clean and ready for business.

 

Posted by Julie Tucker