Question: What does The Butler have to do with Israel?
Answer: Nothing, unless you are Alice Walker, who is so obsessed with demonizing Israel, she finds a way to include a reference to us in a review of the movie.
Lee Daniels’ The Butler was received in my neighborhood by a packed house, all colors and kinds, almost all of them, at different points, talking back at the screen in some fashion. At the end, there was a rousing, heartfelt offering of applause. The enthusiasm is well deserved because the acting, everyone’s acting, is superb. Superb also is the courage to depict realities in our past that don’t often, if ever, make it to consciousness, not to mention to the screen. For example, there is that haunting early scene in which the son of the plantation owner (I’m guessing he’s the son and not the father) rapes his pale skinned sister, who happens to be the mother of Cecil Gaines, the butler -to- be. When her husband, prodded to make a stand by his young son, utters a single sound about what has happened, the white man, clearly a sociopathic crazy person as many slave owners and over-seers of sharecroppers had to be, shoots him dead.
I will see The Butler again, to savor the flawless directing, and the acting: by Terrence Howard, Vanessa Redgrave, Clarence Williams, III, David Oyelowo, Isaac White, Cuba Gooding, Lenny Kravitz, John Cusak, James Marsden, Minka Kelly, Alan Rickman, Robin Williams, Liev Schreiber and anyone else I may have left out. I would have appreciated a fuller interpretation of how the gentle Civil Rights activist – after being beaten badly enough to be hospitalized – became a militant member of the Black Panthers. Without this exploration of her experience she comes off as a sullen “bad girl” with way too big hair. I also experience a doomed feeling when I think of any black person, under the present system of government, so crooked in the present and so cocooned in the past, trusting a president, of whatever color, to do the right thing by us. And by “us” I mean all of us.
A couple of years ago I was part of a Freedom Flotilla that attempted to bring aid and expressions of caring to the blockaded people of Gaza. We were turned back by armed commandos of the Greek coast guard. An artist on our boat had made caps for us to wear that had the words STAY HUMAN printed on them. The ability of our parents and grandparents, our ancestors, to stay human in situations where it would have made more sense to go mad, strikes me often as miraculous. But yes, they stayed human. That is what the butler did.