Lingering Butler Current

Last night Denzel Washington hosted a special screening of Lee Daniels’ The Butler at the Academy theatre. I came in late and so I missed Denzel, who showed up for photos before the film began and then ducked out. Attendees included director Lee Daniels and costars Cuba Gooding Jr., Elijah Kelly, David Oyelowo and Jesse Williams, costume designer Ruth Carter, producer Pam Williams plus six of the original Freedom Riders (Dr. William Harbor, Julia Aaron Humbles, Charles Person, Hank Thomas, Robert and Helen Singleton) along with Rev. James Lawson and Charles Allen. The moderator was Elvis Mitchell. It’s no secret that The Butler has been pushing a primal emotional button for African Americans since it opened, and last night’s comments (particularly a teary confession from Oyelowo) underlined this. Here’s my original 8.9.13 review, titled “Surprise: The Butler Isn’t half Bad.”

(l.) Butler screening host Denzel Washington, (middle) Sheila Johnson, co-founder of BET, (r.) Butler director Lee Daniels.

Butler costars David Oyelowo (who broke down while discussing the gulf between performing scenes of racial animus vs. what the original Freedom Riders went through for real), Elijah Kelly during last night’s post-screening discussion.

Butler costar Elijah Kelly.

Gladys Knight, Denzel Washington.
  • Mechanical Shark

    Statler: hey, the Butler isn’t half bad!
    Waldorf: No, it’s all bad!
    Both: dohohohohoho

  • SallyinChicago

    Is there a video?

  • Markopolis

    The woman in the middle is Sheila Johnson, Co-Founder of BET.

  • Vinci_Smetana

    It’s either the angle or David Oyelowo has put on a few pounds. It almost doesn’t look like him.

  • Ray Quick


    THE BUTLER is better than 12 YEARS. No one believes this, and more crucially, no one cares anymore…. But until its BUTTERSCOTCH-HUED Obama commercial last 15 minutes, THE BUTLER is a work of incendiary anger by a MANIAC filmmaker in Daniels. It mixes up tones, genres, film stock, acting styles…. It is risky and weird and lush and over-the-top and borderline batshit in that amusing Lee Daniels way…. Its crosscutting between Whitaker maneuvering in tony circles vs Oyelowo and Yaya at BLACK PANTHER RACISM TRAINING at some diner is phenomenal moviemaking.

    People keep saying BUTLER is a HALLMARK MOVIE. It’s a fucking OLIVER STONE MOVIE. It’s way closer to the provocations of Spike Lee than the composed, stately, and formalistic 12 YEARS. Not like McQueen is some slouch, but only in the Fassbender/Paulson/Nyongo stuff does 12 YEARS reach the dizzying personal power of Butler. Again, Butler kinda tanks it late in the game with going soft, but even then it has WHITAKER AND OPRAH in some DORKY WINDBREAKER JUMP SUITS in a movie by a ferocious madman, where McQueen’s rage is neater, borderline removed. It’s one of 12 YEARS’ necessary, weirder elements that it keeps reminding us that Eljiofor ISN’T EVEN SUPPOSED TO BE THERE! because he’s a free man from the North. It’s very specific in that regard, albeit as an entree. Whereas Butler is huge, sloppy, swing for the fences and sometimes just WEIRD.

    I don’t care anymore about its OSCAR CHANCES, but it’s definitely a distinctive firebrand movie in its own right, so it kinda blows that it’s seemingly going down in history as some honeyed Oprah feel-good bromide-fest fit for Lifetime. Daniels is way too volatile to be written off like that.