In Praise of ‘The Butler’

Billed as a the story of a father and son living in two seemingly opposing worlds, Lee Daniels’ ‘The Butler’ grosses over $160 million at the box office over a budget of $30 million. I haven’t mentioned the budget of a film before this, but if I didn’t in this case, I’d be missing a key to understanding how extraordinary this accomplishment is in the face of what it took to make the film. So, here it goes: the filmmakers and investors profited on an independent feature that everyone -including Oprah, the leading lady- thought would fall flat in the American market. Why? It’s what one of my film professors calls the “sea of black faces” excuse distributors and marketing agents throw down whenever they’re pitched a film with more than a couple of black leads: “but…how will we market it?” Sad but still true, it’s considered difficult to make money if the leading actors aren’t white. White is neutral in US sales. It was a tough road for the devoted filmmakers and producers who made this box office hit a success in 2013, but they persevered and in the process broke down the barrier for other stories about people of color to be told in coming years. Brava and onward~

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The Butler stars Academy award winners Forest Whittaker, and Oprah Winfrey, and powerful award-winning performers David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz, Yaya DaCosta, Terrence Howard, Vanessa Redgrave, Robin Williams, Alan Rickman, and Jane Fonda.

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