COTTO: "Lee Daniels' The Butler" takes political correctness too far

This film confirms a longtime trend which sacrifices facts for convenience. Photo: Lee Daniels' The Butler / The Weinstein Company

OCALA, Fla., August 20, 2013 — “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” Oprah Winfrey’s new historical drama, took in over $25 million over the weekend to open at the top of the movie billboards. Audiences are enthusiastic, giving the film an “A.”

The film compellingly details the life of a fictional black man who escapes from the Jim Crow-era South to become a service staff member and eventually the maitre’d hotel at the White House.

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The title character is portrayed by Academy Award-winner Forest Whitaker. His story is loosely based on the true story of a butler who served at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for much of the twentieth century. However, there are too many differences between the script and the facts to call the film a biography.

“The Butler” beat out the long-awaited biopic about Steve Jobs, and crushed the high-priced Matt Damon sci-fi film, “Elysium.” The movie’s success has largely been attributed to Oprah’s public relations blitz ahead of its release.

Despite The Butler’s sizable audience and mixed-to-positive reviews from critics, many historians are angered by its portrayal of Ronald Reagan. In one of the film’s key points, Reagan is portrayed as being a reflexive supporter of the South African government, which then supported apartheid-based public policy measures.

“Ronald Reagan was appalled by apartheid, but also wanted to ensure that if the apartheid regime collapsed in South Africa that it wasn’t replaced by a Marxist-totalitarian regime allied with Moscow and Cuba that would take the South African people down the same road as Ethiopia, Mozambique, and, yes, Cuba,” Reagan biographer Paul Kengor told The Hollywood Reporter.

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He later said that “in the immediate years before Reagan became president, 11 countries from the Third World, from Asia to Africa to Latin America, went Communist. It was devastating. If the film refuses to deal with this issue with the necessary balance, it shouldn’t deal with it at all.”

The misrepresentation of Reagan’s record is not so much about him as it is a way to build historical narratives that conform to certain political beliefs. Will Allen of the National Review notes the differences between Whitaker’s character, Cecil Gaines, and the real butler, Eugene Allen.

“The Butler is not really about Eugene Allen; that much is clear from the opening seconds,” he writes, “in which the camera drifts over a Georgia plantation while Forest Whitaker intones with quiet majesty, ‘The only thing I ever knew was cotton.’ Never mind that Allen was actually born in Virginia.

“Never mind, either, that Allen’s mother and father were not respectively raped and murdered by a cartoonishly brutal white landowner — or that such depredations would not have been casually dismissed in the early 1920s, even if carried out against black sharecroppers.”

Afterward, Allen surmises that “The Butler shows off the best of the family lore — and studiously elides any embarrassing details that might disturb the gliding arc of the (in this case, progressive) moral universe.”

He evidences his claim by noting that the portrayal of Democratic presidents was highly positive, while Republican presidents were depicted in a comparatively negative light.

The rising tide of political correctness, which comes at the expense of factual evaluation, is not only limited to black-white race relations. It has gone so far as to reach the daily lives of those who settled North America in the first place: American Indians.

Over the last several years, controversy has raged about whether or not professional sports teams should be allowed to use mascots derived from American Indian tribes. Some say that this is an insult to American Indians, while others have a different perspective.

“To this date, there have been only two professional surveys that have brought the question before Indian people,” says David Yeagley, a Comanche composer and writer. “The first one was done by Peter Harris Research Group, published in Sports Illustrated, May 4, 2002. That survey found that 83 percent of the Indians surveyed said professional teams should not stop using Indian names, mascots, or symbols.

“The second survey was done by the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg Foundation, published September 24, 2004. According to their findings, 91 percent of Indians surveyed were not offended by the used of Indian mascots for sports teams.

“Clearly, the voice of protest is that of exaggerants, supported by liberal media in propaganda mode.  These liberal Indians were briefed in white psychology, and sent out as errand boys for white liberals.”

He supports his views by considering the views of others.

“I’ll never forget the stunning and honest statement of a Sioux activist in South Dakota, Betty Ann (Owen) Gross,” he says. “Interviewed in the Sport Illustrated issue of May 4, 2002, she said, ‘There’s a near total disconnect between Indian activists and the Native American population on this issue.’

“Why? Because the Indian activists are not tribal leaders. They are usually somewhat disjointed from their own tribal people. Russell Means, for example, never held a tribal office, even in his heyday.

“These Indians essentially hire out as professional protesters. They have their cause, and support comes to them from the Left. They find themselves paid executives of specialized NGOs, with an Indian staffer or two. They simply don’t represent Indian people in any official, tribal way. It is improper to think of them as representatives. They are Indians, with certain politically marketable ideas, nothing more or other.”

Just how much more damage can political correctness do to our society? When will enough ever be enough? How much further can falsities persist in the face of the cold, hard truth?

None of us truly know, despite what we may like to think. What can be certain is this, though: People must learn from history, both in its highest achievements and its lowest pitfalls. If political correctness alters current recollections of the human story, the how will most people be able to learn?

How will we be able to build a better future?

While the forces of political correctness certainly know how to silence people, it does not appear that they have even a clue about answering such an important question. 


Far-left? Far-right? Get real: Read more from “The Conscience of a Realist” by Joseph F. Cotto 

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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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