The Romance of American Blackness
Lee Daniels' The Butler (movie)
In last week's Radio Derb I uttered some unkind words about Oprah Winfrey. The week before that, in a VDARE column, I had been uncharitable about the movie Ms. Winfrey has been so vigorously promoting recently and in which she takes a leading role. The movie's called The Butler and tells the story of a black man from humble origins who becomes a White House butler, serving presidents from Eisenhower to Reagan. In that VDARE piece I described the movie, on indirect evidence, as "black grievance porn."
It's not good journalistic integrity to insult a movie one hasn't actually seen; and besides, Ms. Winfrey has friends in high places. I therefore decided to go and see The Butler in hopes I might spare myself an IRS audit by finding something positive to say about the movie.
Not to keep you in suspense, gentle reader, but I couldn't. The Butler is dreck. It's dreck in a way that will bear a few hundred words of commentary, though, so here goes with a sort-of review.
Preparing this column in my mind before seeing the movie, I thought it would be neat to open by telling readers something about the demographics of the audience. Who goes to see black grievance porn? Just blacks? Aging white hippies? Young metrosexual products of college white-guilt indoctrination sessions?
Sorry, I still don't know. The showing I caught was at 1 p.m. on a weekday in my mostly-white suburb. I counted 36 in the audience. There was just one twentysomething black couple; everyone else was white and old. Movie-schedule-wise, I guess I got the Early Bird Special.
The opening scene of The Butler shows the title character, Cecil Gaines, as a child in 1926 Georgia. He is picking cotton with his mom and dad and many other blacks. Young White Master swings by the field and with a sneer of cold command orders mom off to a nearby hut for a very audible quickie. Dad dare not object, but when Young White Master comes out adjusting his clothing, dad glares at him. For that, YWM shoots dad dead and suffers no penalty for the crime. "Any white man can kill any of us at any time," the child Gaines is told.
What nonsense! Even in slave times, a white man who killed a black slave in the South could expect some measure of justice. "Ten-year sentences were common, and occasionally the death penalty was invoked," says Eugene Genovese in Roll, Jordan, Roll. Were matters actually worse in 1926? Could the producers of The Butler not afford a historical consultant — not even one who was, like Genovese when he wrote that book, a Marxist?
Well, well, I guess all is permitted in the promotion of black grievance culture. Stick around: Another movie or two, and we shall see the white folks at dinner served up with a black baby that is roasted, basted, and stuffed.
The Butler goes downhill from there. Gaines ends up in the Eisenhower White House just as Ike is ordering federal troops into Little Rock. We are then taken on a plodding tour of the civil-rights battlefield: lunch counters, Freedom Riders, dogs'n'hoses, MLK, Selma, the Voting Rights Act, Malcolm X, the Panthers …
Speaking to Parade magazine about the movie, Ms. Winfrey opined that young people "don't know diddly-squat about the civil rights movement." Speaking as the parent of two young Americans who, in their passage through public high schools, experienced twelve Black History Months apiece, I'll see Ms. Winfrey's diddly-squat and raise her a fiddle-de-dee.
The only non-civil-rights issue that passes before our eyes is the Vietnam War, in which Gaines loses a son. I braced myself for the old quip about Vietnam being the war in which black men were sent to kill yellow men on behalf of the country that white men stole from red men, but the producers unaccountably omitted it. (In fact: "Overall, blacks suffered 12.5 percent of the deaths in Vietnam when the percentage of blacks of military age was 13.5 percent of the population.")
Eisenhower, who did after all send those troops to Little Rock, is given a fair shake, and JFK is of course cool and sympathetic, but the other presidents are cartoon characters from the Cultural Marxist comic book: Nixon a creepy drunk, LBJ a crude boor (well …), Ford a cipher. It seems for a while, incredibly, that Reagan might get fair coverage, but then he vows to veto sanctions against South Africa. See? — just another white devil determined to keep the black man down.
The movie's non-presidential whites are snarling, spitting bullies, except for a handful of non-talking parts: Pablo Casals, for example, is praised for his hostility to General Franco. That would be the General Franco who saved Spain from becoming Stalin's first European satellite.
The Butler is romantic in the precise sense given by Webster's Third: "marked by the imaginative or emotional appeal of the heroic, adventurous, remote, mysterious, or idealized characteristics of things, places, people."
Watching it and reading what Ms. Winfrey has said about it, you realize how deeply and narcissistically absorbed American blacks are in this romance — the romance of American blackness. Nothing else really exists for them. Ms. Winfrey has endorsed three politicians, to my knowledge: Barack Obama, Michael Tubbs, and Cory Booker. Notice anything?
If there are few likeable whites in The Butler, there are no unlikeable blacks at all. Everyone is well-spoken and well-behaved except when righteously angry. All are struggling to keep their honor and self-respect in a society whose every hand is against them. The proverbial visitor from Mars, given only this movie to work from, would be baffled why prejudice against blacks exists.
Where, you find yourself wondering, are the other blacks: the feral, criminal, ebonics-jabbering lumpen-negrotariat of the slums? Where are their innumerable white victims? Wasn't there any room for these souls in Oprah Winfrey's movie? Not romantic enough, perhaps.