The other day my husband and I saw Lee Daniels’ The Butler with Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey. And based on what the critics had to say, I wasn’t quite sure I’d like it. What I discovered was a powerfully compelling and emotionally charged experience, which took my breath away. I had feelings that ran the gamut—from love to hate, from powerlessness to freedom, from sadness to joy, and from hurt to gratitude. Perhaps because I actually lived through (and survived) the eras the movie addressed (e.g., race riots, integration of schools, Vietnam, right to vote, Kennedy, LBJ, Nixon, and Reagan), it was a journey back through my life. The movie was well done, authentic, and it captured the times in a way only someone who had been there could do. And, Forest Whitaker was truly brilliant. Something about that man just touches my heart.
There were many aspects of the movie which tugged at my heart strings, such as the overriding theme of racism and bigotry in America—then and now. Born in Atlanta, GA in the 1950s, I had a personal and intimate relationship with racism—from being spit at, beat up, called names, and treated differently. Today, seeing the fight Gays have taken to the street, I realize the battle to be treated fairly is never-ending. Not sure why, but we are a nation of haters. I sometimes find it ironic that we focus on the inhumanity of other countries, yet here at home, we continue to deprive American citizens of their rights. I hope I live to see the change.
Something else about the movie that impacted me was how difficult it is to be a parent. Good parents make choices designed to benefit their families, and even those choices have consequences. Many parents—single and coupled can relate to Mr. Gaines’ hard working effort to create a better life for his family. They can probably also relate to the challenges even a good parent faces when they don’t live up to the expectations of the wife and kids. It made me think of my mom and how hard she worked as a single parent to raise two head-strong, self-willed girls—especially me. No matter what I do for her today, I know I will never be able to repay her for all she has done for me.
Finally, the most compelling take-away for me was the power of the human spirit. It’s hard to succeed in America under the best of circumstances, unless you are born rich and entitled. For most folks to get ahead, they just need to work hard. But if you are Black, not only do you need to work hard, you need to work harder than everyone else. Mr. Gaines was living proof of what hard work and determination will do. It’s people like him that’s given me the courage to keep-on, keeping-on, even when I didn’t want to. When very successful and intelligent Black people are at the top of their game, I know what it took for them to get there. People like Oprah, President Obama, Colin Powell, Kenneth Frazer (Merck), Ursula M. Burns (Xerox), Robert L. Johnson (BET), Kenneth Chenault (American Express), just to name a few.
It takes hard work, vigilance, steadfastness, a willingness to not be defeated, and support. It made me proud to watch this Black man come from slavery and create a life for himself and his family. It’s hard for the average person trying to make it, but if you compound that with being a minority, poor, and uneducated you have an even taller hurdle to overcome.
Hooray for every black person in American who has made something of themselves—against all odds. You are the real courageous heroes.
I am Francine Ward, Attorney, Author, Speaker and Grateful Woman. Join my conversation about the movie or any related topic on my Facebook Fan Page, Twitter Page, or in one of my LinkedIn Discussion Groups.,