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Black Male Identity and 'The Butler'

Forest Whitaker stars in Lee Daniels' 'The Butler (screenshot from movie trailer/the Weinstein Co.)
Forest Whitaker stars in Lee Daniels' 'The Butler (screenshot from movie trailer/the Weinstein Co.)

Writing at the Washington Post, Stephen A. Crockett Jr. says that Lee Daniels' 'The Butler illustrates "the extremes of black masculinity," with Forest Whitaker's character working as a White House butler while his son chooses a different path: engaging in the civil rights movement.

For eons the pendulum of portrayals of black masculinity has swung toward two extremes: Martin on one side, Malcolm on the other. You’re either down for some non-violent protesting against injustice or you’re ready to take up arms until you get justice. That’s it. Nothing else really exists in the murky waters of black maleness. You are either an Uncle Tom or an A.B.M. (Angry Black Man). For every Huey P. Newton there is a Clarence Thomas.

Lee Daniels' 'The Butler' puts the extremes of black masculinity under one roof as Forest Whitaker’s character, Cecil Gaines, becomes a long tenured butler at the White House, while his oldest son, Louis, takes a decidedly different path. The tension between the two plays out on screen as the father and his eldest offspring battle with what being a black man means. The struggle for Cecil is not to lose himself to his profession while maintaining his place as the king of his castle. Louis sees his father as less than because he is a butler, so he seeks outside interest to define himself.


Read Stephen A. Crockett Jr.'s entire piece at the Washington Post.

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.


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