Oscar-tipped civil rights drama The Butler has a famous fan: US president Barack Obama.
In an interview with radio host Tom Joyner broadcast yesterday, Obama revealed he was moved to tears while viewing Lee Daniels' historically themed film, which centres on a black White House member of staff who serves seven presidents.
"I teared up thinking about not just the butlers who worked here in the White House, but an entire generation of people who were talented and skilled. But because of Jim Crow and because of discrimination, there was only so far they could go," the president said. "And yet with dignity and tenacity, they got up and worked every single day and put up with a whole lot of mess because they hoped for something better for their kids."
The Butler – full title Lee Daniels' The Butler due to a copyright dispute between The Weinstein Company and rival studio Warner Bros – features Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker as a servant named Cecil Gaines, based on the real-life White House butler Eugene Allen, who served eight presidents between 1952 and his retirement in 1986. Oprah Winfrey plays Gaines's wife, Gloria, with Britain's David Oyelowo as his civil-rights activist son, Louis. Robin Williams, Melissa Leo, James Marsden, Minka Kelly, John Cusack, Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda appear as the various US presidents and first ladies Gaines meets along the way.
"I thought Forest Whitaker was wonderful," Obama said on Joyner's nationally syndicated show. "And Oprah, my girl, she can act. She's just a wonderful actress, so I'm glad they did it."
The president also discussed meeting real-life African American members of White House staff. "When Michelle and the girls and I first arrived, they could not have been kinder to us and warmer to us," Obama said. "And part of it, I suppose, is they look at Malia and Sasha and they say, 'This looks like my grandbaby,' or 'This looks like my daughter'. I think for them to have a sense that we've come that far was a powerful moment for them, and certainly a powerful moment for us. We love them to death. They look after us just wonderfully."
Daniels' film is currently driving all before it at the US box office at a time when civil rights themes are in the forefront of people's minds following the Trayvon Martin case and the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. It topped the north American box office for a second week at the weekend, and has $53m in total so far.
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