A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Cecil and Louis both show how necessary it is to stand up to injustice, even if it's risky or dangerous. The movie chronicles how each president dealt with issues of race and equal rights and stresses that there's dignity in a job well done.
Positive Role Models
Cecil and his son, Louis, exemplify two archetypal figures in African-American history: the hardworking black domestic (as Martin Luther King Jr. calls Cecil in the movie) and the civil rights activist who defies inequality with non-violent protest. MLK gives a heartfelt tribute to the importance of African-American service workers. President Kennedy tells Cecil that he never knew how hard African Americans had it until he saw televised scenes of Southern terrorism.
Violence & Scariness
Many race-based hate crimes, including scenes that show two lynched black men hanging from a tree; a black sharecropper who's shot point blank for saying one word to his white boss; several scenes of white Southerners (including civilians, police officers, and the Ku Klux Klan) beating up, setting fire to, and otherwise terrorizing black civil rights activists; and the notorious D.C. riots of 1968. A cotton worker is raped (off camera). Jackie Kennedy is shown with blood covering her suit after her husband's assassination. Civil rights workers are shot at, burned out of their freedom ride bus, arrested, and ridiculed.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Married couples kiss and embrace on several occasions -- sometimes in bed. It's suggested that Gloria is having an affair with Howard, who kisses her. Louis is in love with Carol, but they're never shown doing more than kissing briefly. President Carter tells an off-color joke.
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Occasional strong language includes "s--t," "a--hole," "bitch," "ass," "damn," "hell," "son of a bitch," "goddamn," "oh my God," and many uses of racial epithets like the "N" word, "coon," and more. One use of "f--k."
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Products & Purchases
Not too many brands are shown, except for Budweiser beer and a Lincoln Continental.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adults drink a lot (particularly Gloria, who's an alcoholic) and smoke cigarettes (accurate for many of the time periods the movie passes through).
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Lee Daniels' The Butler is a sweeping look at the history of African-American life in the United States, as witnessed by a black butler (Forest Whitaker) who spent three decades working in the White House. Since the movie chronicles the history of the civil rights movement, there are many scenes that portray hate crimes -- like two lynched men hanging from a tree and a black sharecropper being shot for saying one word to his white boss. White Southerners are also shown raping, killing, shooting, burning, intimidating, and otherwise terrorizing black protesters. Adults smoke cigarettes and drink; one character is an alcoholic who has a drink in most of her scenes. There's also some language (one "f--k," plus "s--t" and many racial epithets) and kissing, as well as the suggestion of an affair. Audiences will get an overview of how various presidents felt about race relations, as well as the methods and ideologies of the civil rights movement. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
There's no question that Lee Daniels' The Butler boasts an extraordinary cast, led by the marvelous Whitaker. The scenes with Whitaker and his fellow White House butlers -- played by Lenny Kravitz and Cuba Gooding Jr. (in the best role he's had in a long, long while) -- are funny, heartbreaking, and well acted. Oyelowo proves once again that he's a star on the rise as Cecil's activist son, and Oprah looks like she's having the time of her life drinking, smoking, and dancing her way through the decades (although she never really looks older until her final scenes).
But as well-intentioned as director Lee Daniels is in showing the scope of the African-American experience via one prestigiously employed butler, the movie doesn't live up to either the content or the cast. The film, particularly in the scenes with the various presidents -- all played with enthusiasm by Robin Williams (Eisenhower), James Marsden (Kennedy), Liev Schreiber (Johnson), John Cusack (Nixon), and Alan Rickman (Reagan) -- feels like a remix of Forrest Gump: contrived scenes of a man witnessing history in the making. Even though the film was inspired by a true story, there are parts that are so overly sentimental (like a young Caroline Kennedy improbably discussing the burning of a Freedom Riders bus) and formulaic that it takes away from an otherwise powerful story of African Americans' struggle for equality.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.