Why Come The Movie Missed It’s Own Story ?


Jean-Pierre Bekolo


The Butler, a film that should have started where it ended.

The old Cecil Gaines, the main character is sitting in the waiting area of the white house, a young man comes to tell him is expected by president Obama, as he wants to show him direction, Cecil Gaines says « i know the way ». The audience in the Ritzy cinema in Brixton London where i watched the film burst into laughter. The Butler was not supposed to be another  story of a black man victim of slavery. If this the story of a black man who is a butler in a white man’s house, where is the story ? The only reason why this story is relevant is that for the first time in history, a black man is in charge of that same white house where black men could only dream to be butlers. The Butler was supposed to produce to the real meaning for black people to have Barack Obama in the white house. What that film does instead is to tell us « . . . and then came a black man and we cried that day. » not more. Obama in the white house just another historical event pasted artificially  to the many others; almost a non-event compared to Cecil Gaines’s reaction to Kennedy’s assassination or Nancy Reagan’s invitation.  

I asked myself what were all the Lenny Kravitz, Mariah Carey, Oprah, Cuba Gooding Jr. . . doing in that film? If they came hoping the film was making history, and we can’t blame for it, it was a missed opportunity. Why come The Butler is telling us a revised version of the Uncle Tom’s story exactly when a black man is in the white house? Is this just because of the screenwritting recepies of Syd Field and Robert Mc Kee who teach who us how to create tension ? Is the tension between Cecil Gaines, the Uncle Tom figure and his son the Malcom X figure the conflict African Americans are facing today ? A conflict between pragmatism, thei got to pay the bills syndrome and utopia i have dream. A conflict Obama has even worsen creating more confusion in African American minds, here is a black man who looks like Malcom X sitting in the white house claiming he ain’t a black president.  The film as the  personified object of that confusion has chosen pragmatism with a taste of romanticised utopia. Uncle Tom giving birth to Malcom X. No wonder everyone keep asking Cecil Gaineshow is your son doing, like he had an incurable disease.The real story hidden and never revealed in The Butler is the story of Cecil Gaines who has been waiting all these years in the white house for a black man to become.  I wonder what he thought of Jesse Jackson running for president. The reason why Cecil Gaines wants to see Obama, is : 1.to get a chance to be a butler for a black president, see how it feels to be invisible among the invisibles.  2. Cecil Gaines wants to see obama also  to pass on to him the secrets of that house ; a house full of magic.

When I saw Cecil Gaines is ironing that Kennedy tie Jacky offered him after her husband assassination, I thought there was a missed opportunity here. Cecil Gaines was supposed to offer that tie and johnson tiepin to Obama as his contribution to that long journey he and many others went through so that one day an black man could sit in the white house.I also wondered why at the end Cecil Gaines turned into an angry old black man. Is it because that house destroyed his? Or because he has been metamorphosed into a Malcom x, or both? Like the film Cecil Gaines is failing to articulate a narrative that is strenghtening black racial utopia. Since Obama has entered the white House, African Americans losing everyday the heritage of the civil rights benefits. 


I expected that Cecil Gaines anger to have a transformative energy in his encounter with Obama that never happened… in the film. And then i wondered why was Cecil Gaines so happy about in the begining of the film? The film narration dead-end is in fact the African American historical narrative dead-end. Who to blame ? Obama. 8 years of Obama, will also mean 8 years of silence of black activists, giving the brother a break, like if America has given black people a break. It is now time for black people in America to reinvinte themself beyond the bounderies of the white oppression. . In few years when the black man will leave that house, what will black people tell its next white occupant?