Lee Daniels' 'The Butler' Opens in D.C.

Film Recounts Story of District Resident Eugene Allen

8/14/2013, 3 p.m.
Director Lee Daniels' latest film, "The Butler," centers on an ordinary man with an extraordinary perspective.
Forest Whitaker (right), Cuba Gooding Jr. and others star in Lee Daniels' "The Butler.” (Courtesy photo)

Director Lee Daniels’ latest film, “The Butler,” centers on an ordinary man with an extraordinary perspective.

The movie, which opens nationwide this week, takes great liberties with the true story of Eugene Allen, a butler who served eight American presidents over the course of three decades.

It traces the dramatic changes in America, from the civil rights movement to the release of the American hostages in Iran in 1981, and through the years of Reaganomics.

“I think that this movie allows you to see different people reaching for the things they believe in,” said Forest Whitaker, who portrays the Allen-inspired Cecil Gaines in the film. Whitaker, 52, has starred in scores of big screen masterpieces, including “North and South,” in 1985, “The Crying Game,” in 1992, and “Panic Room,” in 2002. He won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Ugandan Dictator Idi Amin in the 2006 film, “The Last King of Scotland.”

The star-studded cast for, “The Butler,” includes talk show diva Oprah Winfrey as Gaines’ wife, Gloria, Robin Williams as President Dwight Eisenhower, John Cusack as President Richard Nixon, Alan Rickman as President Ronald Reagan, James Marsden as President John F. Kennedy, and many others.

Terrence Howard, Lenny Kravitz, Jane Fonda and Oscar winner Cuba Gooding, Jr., add to the Hollywood A-list appearing in the critically-acclaimed feature, which reflects Allen’s tenure at the White House beginning in 1952.

Shortly after obtaining employment at the most famous residence on Pennsylvania Avenue, Allen would prove to be an unofficial confidant to several presidents.

Gerald and Betty Ford once serenaded the Scottsville, Va., native because he and the president shared the same birth date, while Ronald and Nancy Reagan welcomed the butler as their guest at state dinners.

Allen served during the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, Watergate and Nixon’s resignation, and many other watershed moments in American history.

When he left the White House in 1986, many of the country’s first families counted the humble servant as a favorite among all presidential employees.

For years, Allen lived in a house off of Georgia Avenue in Northwest Washington, D.C., until his death at the age of 90 in 2010.

He succumbed to renal failure at Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park, Md.

The film, “The Butler,” opens in the early 1900s in a Georgia cotton field, where Allen’s father worked for decades. It ends with an invitation for Allen to return to the White House in 2009 so that he could meet the first black president in American history.

The two hour and 11 minute motion picture reveals that, as a young man, Allen worked as a waiter and bartender at whites-only venues. When he applied for a kitchen job at the White House, the maitre d’ posed just one important question.

“Are you political?” An offer of employment hinged upon the answer. “You hear nothing, you see nothing. You only serve,” Allen was told prior to being hired.

Not long after Allen started his new job, Eisenhower queried him on the subject of forced integration of schools.