The new political drama Lee Daniels’ The Butler takes its cues from a Washington Post article about a black servant named Eugene Allen who worked in eight presidential administrations.
That part of the story is essentially unchanged. The rest of the film, a movie stuffed with politics, historical re-creations and presidential imitations, is rife with inaccuracies that should be corrected.
Note: Some story spoilers ahead …
- President Ronald Reagan was indifferent to the suffering of people of color. Breitbart News reported this week that Reagan biographer Craig Shirley shredded this notion by detailing the president’s legislative achievements and personal outtreach to his black peers.
- The Democrats helped pass the Civil Rights Act: This is more of an inaccuracy by omission. The film showcases how both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson rallied on behalf of civil rights, but what’s left out is the voting record on the historic Civil Rights Act. Turns out “80 percent of the “no” votes in the Senate came from Democrats, including the late Robert Byrd (W.Va.) and Albert Gore (Tenn.), father of the future vice president,” so Republicans teamed up with President Johnson to pass the legislation.
- President Nixon dismissed black Americans–save for their votes: The film shows Nixon (John Cusack) promoting his upcoming election battle with John F. Kennedy by giving campaign buttons to the butler and his fellow black servers. Later, Nixon talks up black enterprise but only with an eye on winning votes. Moviefone.com notes Nixon’s record on school integration outpaced his predecessors, and Allen has spoken fondly of Nixon in press interviews.
- The Butler disliked President Reagan: The real Eugene Allen has expressed affection for all the presidents he served, noting he voted for each when they were inhabiting the White House. A framed picture of the Reagans was displayed on Allen’s living room wall, and he noted that Nancy Reagan gave him a warm hug when he finally retired. Hardly sounds like the character in the movie, played by Forest Whitaker, who appeared to be fed up with the Reagans and quit for that very reason.
- The Butler met Obama: The film uses a framing device of the titular Butler waiting to meet personally with President Barack Obama. There’s no official record of such a meeting, although Allen was a VIP guest at Obama’s swearing in.
Extra: Screenwriter Danny Strong (Game Change) took tremendous liberties with Allen’s life beyond the name change to Cecil Gaines. Strong gave the butler two sons, not one, made the main character’s wife (Oprah Winfrey) a heavy drinker and fictionalized much of his life story prior to entering the White House.