Parents' Guide to

Lee Daniels' The Butler

By Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 13+

Well-acted civil rights tale is moving but too formulaic.

Movie PG-13 2013 113 minutes
Lee Daniels' The Butler Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 15+

Based on 5 parent reviews

age 15+

age 15+

Great Closure to a Civil Rights Unit

Over the course of the unit, I have the students research and the Civil Rights topics mentioned in this movie. The lunch counter sit-ins, the freedom rides, the children's march, and many others. I use the movie to tie everything together for them in a visual manner. I find it has a greater impact when the kids know about each topic that is brought up in the movie.

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (5 ):
Kids say (9 ):

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.

Movie Details

  • In theaters: August 16, 2013
  • On DVD or streaming: January 14, 2014
  • Cast: David Oyelowo , Forest Whitaker , Oprah Winfrey
  • Director: Lee Daniels
  • Inclusion Information: Gay directors, Black directors, Black actors, Female actors
  • Studio: Weinstein Co.
  • Genre: Drama
  • Topics: History
  • Run time: 113 minutes
  • MPAA rating: PG-13
  • MPAA explanation: some violence and disturbing images, language, sexual material, thematic elements and smoking
  • Last updated: October 9, 2023

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