******************* WARNING: SPOIL ALERT *************************
My husband and I recently watched Lee Daniels' The Butler. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and believe it deserves a multitude of Oscar nominations. I read in the Arizona Republic that it was "loosely based" on a true story. The writer was inspired by an article he read in the Washington Post, published on November 7, 2008, called "A Butler Well Served by This Election." The article was about Eugene Allen, who served as a White House butler for eight presidents.
Like many others moviegoers, I heard the film was inspired by a real butler before I decided to attend a viewing.The character in the story is named Cecil Gaines and is played by Forest Whitaker. His wife is played by Oprah Winfrey. They were superb. As Cecil serves these presidents faithfully, his eldest son, Luis, is arrested over 16 times during his fight for civil rights. He is seen with Martin Luther King before he dies and later becomes a Black Panther. His father hears Nixon say he gave permission to eliminate the Panthers. Luckily, Luis leaves the group in time to live another day. While the eldest son fights against his country, the youngest fights for his country. He later dies in Vietnam. I could see how a trusted, beloved butler, whose son is fighting for civil rights, could influence politics in the White House. After Luis becomes a congressman, I wanted to know more about Cecil and Luis Gaines, so I Googled them when the movie let out.
To my surprise there never was an eldest son named Luis and the younger son never died in Vietnam, although he did fight in the war. The vast majority of the drama in this movie is the struggle between father and son that never took place. At the beginning of the story, Cecil's mother was raped by the plantation owner who also kills his father. That never took place either. The Oprah Winfrey character struggles with alcoholism. Eugene's wife never had a drinking problem. The vast majority of the story was fictionalized. I was glad to learn that Eugene did receive one of Kennedy's ties from Jackie after his death. That was a touching moment in the film. Also, Eugene did campaign for Obama. That part was true. I tried to figure out what percentage of the movie was real and I'm guessing less than 5%.
After reading up on the story, I felt ripped off. If I heard there was a woman named Shirley, who drove a bus in Chicago for forty years, and made up a fictional story about her, should I say it is "loosely based" on a real woman? I suppose if the Washington Post wrote an article about her, I should say something. Perhaps I could say, "Highly Fictionalized Film Inspired by a True Story." I just read Richard Roeper's review and found he wrote something similar about The Butler. The Boston Globe warns us the story is largely fictionalized and AZ Central tells us it is fictionalized. Unfortunately, I read several reviews, even from big city newspapers, who tells us it is based on the life of Eugene Allen and fail to warn us it is highly fictionalized. I started to name them, but decided it was probably best not to upset the press. You can find those reviews, if you like, by clicking onto Metacritic Reviews on the IMDb site while reading up on The Butler.
I wonder how many people are going to watch The Butler and believe most of the film is true because it was "inspired" by a real man. I read a review on the IMDb site by Stephen Alexander. He had a valid point when he says there should have been an opening header stating that this a fictional movie.
From now on I am going to read Richard Roeper's reviews of any movie I watch that is "Inspired by..." or "Loosely based on..." before I leave for the theater.