Although some may consider Lee Daniel’s 2013 film The Butler a historical narrative about racial discrimination, the truth is actually that this film has little to do with historical accuracy. The film’s title card says “Based on the true story,” yet this refers not the film’s central premise but, allegedly, to the history of civil rights movement in the United States. In fact, the only historical accuracy in The Butler is the fact that there was a butler in the White House who served seven U.S. presidents in the 20th century. His name was Eugene Allen. Even more, Allen’s son said in an interview that the film “nailed [his] father’s character” (Stephan par.5). And if to consider the Civil Rights Movement, it is also portrayed with inaccuracies, although it really took place (Kroenert par.1-2).
As it has already been said, the film is fraught with historical inaccuracies. The first one is the fictional character of the White House Butler – Cecil Gaines. In the film, he has two sons: one goes to the Vietnam War while the other becomes a Civil Rights Movement activist. In reality, the butler has just one son. Also, Allen’s wife was an exemplary one in contrast to Cecil Gaines’ alcoholic spouse who even becomes involved in an affair. Unlike Gaines who is portrayed leaving the White House enraged with President Reagan’s perspective on apartheid in South Africa, the real butler Eugene Allen had warm relationships with all presidents. The butler’s life prior to his landing a job in the White House is all fiction, particularly where the film shows Gaines’ father murdered and Gaines’ mother raped by white landowners. Besides, there are many scenes in The Butler that lack historical accuracy: the movie opens with a young black girl taking pictures while Gaines as a boy and other blacks are working (it is unlikely that a black girl from the family of sharecroppers could own a camera in 1920s); the Panthers’ 10-point program on the wall is historically inaccurate; the Democrats are portrayed as helping pass the Civil Rights Act; the butler is portrayed meeting Barack Obama, etc (Boyd par.6). Given this, it is clear that the film was short for entertainment rather than education. Since it is largely inaccurate historically, it did not change the way I viewed the subject matter.
Now, if to take the film The Help, it is also largely historically inaccurate. Out of the accurately portrayed things there are: hardships of black domestics, institutional racism, and black people’s low social position during the peak of the Jim Crow, when a black woman could only hope to become a maid in a white person’s house. Some historic inaccuracies may be the film’s making a white character an absolutely heroic savior of the African American characters; stereotypical portrayals of both black and white characters, such as, for example, a black woman’s “Mammy stereotype”; misrepresentation of black culture and speech; the misleading, stereotypical portrayal of black men as abusive as well as absent; the director’s failure to portray the sexual harassment of black females; failure to depict White Citizens and Ku Klux Klan’s “reign of terror” and the director’s failure to depict the responses to racism by black activists, which were prominent at the time (Jones 12).
Besides, male characters are absent from the film and, their role in perpetuating black people’s suffering (as members of Ku Klux Klan or as sexual abusers of black women) is completely neglected. The film’s greatest inaccuracy, though, has been its giving a prominent role to the white characters as if they played a decisive role in liberating the black people from the Jim Crow while the black characters received only supporting roles. Given a largely inaccurate nature of the film, it did not change my perception of the subject matter. It is evident that the film was produced for entertainment (of white viewers).
- Boyd, Herb. “Film Commentary: Butler, Bring me a Martini.” New York Amsterdam News 194.
38 (2013): 18-32. Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 Dec. 2015.
- Jones, Suzanne. “The Divided Reception of The Help.” Southern Cultures 20.1 (2014): 7-25.
Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 Dec. 2015.
- Kroenert, Tim. “Making a Mess of Civil Rights History.” Eureka Street 23. 21 (2013): 30-31.
Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 Dec. 2015.
- Lee, Stephan. “The True Story Behind Lee Daniel’s the Butler.” Entertainment Weekly 1271
(2013): 61. Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 Dec. 2015.