When Barack Obama became the first black President of the United States in 2008, a story was published in The Washington Post, which detailed the life of Eugene Allen, who had been butler to eight White House presidents over 34 years during the civil rights movement.
Five years later, we are served this film, directed by Lee Daniels of Precious fame, loosely based on Allen’s life.
At the start, we meet a young Cecil Gaines (aka Eugene Allen) working on the cotton fields with his mother and father.
When he is old enough, he leaves in search of a better life and after a chance encounter starts working as a waiter.
Now portrayed by Forest Whitaker, Cecil progresses to become the position of butler in the White House.
So far, so simple, but Gaines’ home life is troubled.
The butler, pleased to have a good job, remains politically neutral. As a result he clashes with his son Louis (David Oyelowo), who is strongly involved in the fight for civil rights.
His wife (Oprah Winfrey) is falling apart, struggling with her husband’s devotion to work and resulting absence from the home, as well as Louis’s stints in and out of prison. It transpires that Louis is a Freedom Rider, and later a Black Panther, who becomes embroiled in many of the landmark civil rights events.