The Butler: Different faces for different people

The Butler: Different faces for different people
The Butler starring Cuba Gooding Jr (left) and Forest Whitaker.

In the film The Butler, a former slave who works his way up to become head butler at the White House learns that in order to succeed in a white-dominated world, African-Americans must have two faces: one for themselves and another to show the white man.

The movie is set against the backdrop of a country divided by the civil rights movement of the 1950s to 1970s, but director Lee Daniels and several members of the all-star cast - including singer Mariah Carey and actors Cuba Gooding Jr and Terrence Howard - say that as black Americans today, they have had to do the same to get where they are.

After hearing television personality Oprah Winfrey, who plays the wife of butler Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), declare that she has never had to alter the way she presents herself to the world, 53-year-old Daniels respectfully disagrees.

"That's the reason why you're Oprah Winfrey," he says to the 59-year-old at a recent press conference in New York. "Unfortunately, many of the people whom I know have had to experience that," he says, adding that this is especially true for black men.

This then sparks a heartfelt debate among the cast about the issue, with the discussion skirting around the issue of whether putting on this presumably deferential "face" means selling out, which is what Gaines' freedom-fighter son seems to believe in the movie.

Daniels - who was behind the acclaimed 2009 film Precious, about an abused and disadvantaged black teenager trying to change her life - hints that he himself felt he compromised his integrity as his career as a producer and director progressed in Hollywood.

"I had to put on a face. I had to talk with a certain diction, dress in a certain way and present myself in a certain light so I could get ahead.

"And it wasn't until I found myself - and then President Barack Obama was elected - that I was able to be me, and the two faces met," says Daniels, who was nominated for Best Director at the 2010 Oscars for Precious.

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