Lee Daniels’ The Butler: a quick review and discussion with Lee Daniels and Cuba Gooding Jr.


Back in July I had the distinct privilege of sitting at a round-table interview with Academy Award nominated director Lee Daniels (Precious, Monster’s Ball) and Academy Award winning actor Cuba Gooding Jr (Jerry Maguire, Red Tails), who were in town to promote the upcoming movie Lee Daniels’ The Butler.  This “inspired by a true story” film has been widely received and garnered rave reviews from critics and audiences alike.  I’ve personally received several emails, from last night’s screening giveaway winners, and each one of them was filled with emotionally charged statements that sang praises for this film.

As I was preparing to screen the movie a few weeks ago, I was still coping with the recent Zimmerman verdict, and the racially charged reactions that ensued, and appreciating the timeliness of a movie like Fruitvale Station being released.  And my spirit was still in “fighting mad” mode. How appropriate it was for me then to view the story of Cecil Gaines; who in the Daniels’ film is portrayed by Academy Award winning actor Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland).  Cecil Gaines is loosely based on the life of Eugene Allen, who served in the White House under seven presidential administrations as a butler.  His position, and its corresponding demeanor, puts him at odds with his eldest son, portrayed in the movie by actor David Oyelowo (Red Tails, Middle of Nowhere); and his commitment to his job/role helps to introduce conflict into the Gaines family dynamic in more ways than one.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler serves as a pertinent reminder of those whose contributions to the struggle aren’t as frequently discussed or highly regarded.  The film is powerful in its display of the quiet resiliency of the main character, and in Daniels’ remarkable ability to help the audience connect to each character’s truth.  I can’t readily name one film, of recent memory, that took me through various emotions while viewing, and this film accomplished that feat with ease.  There were several persons who left the press screening I attended with tear-filled eyes; some joyful, some with pride.  It is definitely that kind of film.

(l to r, standing) Lee Daniels, Alex Gibson, Le Anne Lindsay, Thomasena Farrar, (l to r, seated) Cuba Gooding Jr., Yaya Alafia
(l to r, standing) Lee Daniels, Alex Gibson, Le Anne Lindsay, Thomasena Farrar, (l to r, seated) Cuba Gooding Jr., Yaya Alafia. Photo courtesy: Le Anne Lindsay (Tinsel & Tine)

What a pleasure it was then to sit with both director (Daniels) and one of the stars of the film (Gooding Jr.),  who were also joined by talented co-star Yaya Alafia (see her full interview in August 13 post), at the posh Rittenhouse Hotel to ask a couple of signature questions.  When you’re part of a round-table time is of the essence, we were only given approximately 15 minutes combined, hence the couple of questions! So listen to the audio below (warning some profanity), and take note of Lee Daniels’ response to my sharing my favorite Lee Daniels’ film!  Shout out to my co-panel Le Anne Lindsay of Tinsel & Tine, and Alex Gibson of the Philadelphia Film Society, and to Brian Chacon for helping with the audio edit.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler opens this Friday, August 16 nationwide.  The film is rated PG-13 and I highly recommend it for ages teen and above (and maybe those tweens who can process mature language and violence).  Stop back and share your thoughts after you see it.

Until next thought family,  Thomasena

In Honor of Black History Month

I cannot start today’s topic without paying tribute to the music/media icon who elevated a local Chicago dance show to the longest continuously running, first run, nationally syndicated show in TV history.  I am of course talking about the legendary Don Cornelius, who passed away Wednesday at age 75.  The circumstances surrounding his death are being investigated, but despite what may have occurred he will always be remembered as the creator of a revered platform that highlighted and celebrated black music, fashion and dance culture.  Nothing can or will diminish Don Cornelius’ contributions to American television, nothing.

So, being it is the beginning Black History Month, I thought it would be fitting to give a few recommendations of movies that are must sees if you haven’t seen and also programs to be aired this month as follows (in no particular order):

  1. Malcolm X (1992)= I am starting with this film because I recently had a close friend tell me she never saw the movie,  for which I believe Denzel Washington should have won the Best Actor Oscar (instead of that whole Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman nonsense).  Anyway, Spike Lee directed a cinematic masterpiece based on the life of the civil rights leader/activist and not only is it a must see, but a must have for the avid movie collector.
  2. Hollywood Shuffle (1987) = written, produced, and directed by Robert Townsend this comedy, which depicts the struggles of black actors in Hollywood, is too relevant almost 25 years later.
  3. Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (1999) = executive producer Halle Berry stars in this tragic tale of the first African-American to be nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award.
  4. The Great Debaters (2007) = another Denzel Washington driven vehicle based on the true story of Melvin B. Tolson and the historically black Wiley college debate team that participated in the first interracial collegiate debate in the United States.  Also features outstanding performances from Jurnee Smollet, Nate Parker and Forrest Whitaker.
  5. A Soldier’s Story (1984) = adapted from a Pulitzer prize-winning play, this drama featured a much younger Denzel Washington and starred Howard Rollins, Jr. and the late, great Adolph Caesar in a mystery about a murder in a segregated WWII army unit.
  6. Red Tails (2012) = in theaters now, this drama is about the famous first African-American WWII fighter pilots, The Tuskegee Airmen.  See last week’s post for additional notes about Red Tails.
  7. The Color Purple (1985) = Okay, so I love, love, love this movie.  I own it, and will stop and begin to watch if I find it while channel surfing.  I had an opportunity to tell Danny Glover how much I appreciated his taking on the role of Mister and he kissed me!!!! Well let’s just say I don’t remember much after that, but I don’t believe I fainted 😛  This drama, which depicts Black life in the South in the early 20th century, had an outstanding cast, was beautifully filmed and the soundtrack is amazing.  Adapted from the 1983 Pulitzer prize-winning novel by Alice Walker, it received 11 Oscar nods and won NONE.  Yeah, I’ll leave that there before this post takes on another vibe :).  In 2005 a musical adaptation premiered on Broadway and is also a must see if you haven’t seen.
  8. Crash (2004) = I think this Academy award winner was one of the best movies, in recent years, to tackle the issue of race relations in 21st century America.  Also features a stellar cast, including Don Cheadle, Terrance Howard, Larenz Tate and Thandie Newton.
  9. The 2012 BET Honors = will air Monday, February 13th at 9pm on BET. You can also see last week’s post for additional notes about this program.
  10. The 43rd Annual NAACP Image Awards = will air Friday, February 17th at 8pm on NBC.  If you are an NAACP member you still have time to vote for this year’s nominees at http://www.naacpimageawards.net/43/home/.  Voting closes at midnight PST on February 12th.

Well that’s my list.  I would also like to take time to acknowledge that since my gripe last post, TV ONE aired Find Our Missing this Wednesday night at 9pm, with a re-run showing immediately following at 10pm.  Also, I struggled to keep my eyes open this past Sunday at 11pm, only to become aware that BET was airing a re-run of performances from the 2011 Evening of Stars (so, why wasn’t that made clear in the commercials and/or on their website?).  Anywho, I’d like to know what movies you’d recommend for Black History month, and if you’ll be watching the Image Awards or BET Honors, so let me know.  Lastly, I will leave you with a classic Soul Train clip featuring the first performance on the nationally syndicated show.  Do you know who performed?  Hint: she still looks and sounds amazing, and she had a few guys called Pips backing her up :).

Until next thought, Thomasena.

Soul Train, episode one (Tribune Entertainment/Don Cornelius Productions): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-i5wHVfEHU

What’s New Music Movie Lovers?

The Boss Ms. Ross posing in a Bob Mackie at her last concert tour!

Happy New Year Everybody!  I am so glad to see the start of another year, and feel even more blessed that I can do what I love, and I absolutely love blogging about movies and music.  So, it goes without saying that I am thrilled about the upcoming award show season and with several upcoming tv and film projects.  First, I am soooo ready to see Red Tails, the action-adventure movie opening January 20th that depicts the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, an all Black aviator regiment that fought in WWII.  Executive producer George Lucas invested 93 million (58 for budget and 35 for distribution) to make sure this movie was made; despite and because of the long-held Hollywood belief that an action movie featuring an African-American cast would not fare well.   The cast includes such heavyweights as Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Terrence Howard, and also co-stars singer/actor Ne-Yo, Method Man and Tristan Wilds.  Let’s spread the word and support this film people (see link below to view the trailer).

Now I must admit I am not necessarily going to rush out to this next film, but since it stars two divas, one a country music legend and the other hip-hop royalty, I simply cannot overlook!  Yes, I am referring to Joyful Noise, which stars Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah, as well as KeKe Palmer and Jeremy Jordan.  The trailer shows a lot of singing, comedic tussling between Dolly and Latifah, and what seems to be a mix of inspirational and pop songs thrown in for good measure. It also opens this month on the 13th, and is rated PG-13 (some adult language).

Okay and this has nothing to do with movies or music, except for the fact that songstress Brandy will be guest starring this season, but Game On!!!!  Yes, I am very much a follower of The Game series on BET, which has its 5th season opener this Tuesday January 10th.

Lastly, here is a list of upcoming award ceremonies: Golden Globes (Sunday January 15th), Screen Actors Guild Awards (Sunday January 29th), 54th Annual Grammys (Sunday February 12th), 2012 BET Honors (February 13th), and the 84th Annual Academy Awards (Sunday February 26th).

PS – A HUGE SHOUT OUT to the person responsible for Gil Scott-Heron being posthumously honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s Grammy ceremony.  The incomparable Diana Ross (see my personal photo above from her 2010 concert) will also receive a Lifetime achievement statue, and Steve Jobs will be posthumously honored with a Grammy Trustees statue.

Alright people, that’s it for this posting.  Keep checking in for regular film and music news. Better yet click the follow tab (for most viewers will be top left, but also appears in bottom right with some browsers) to receive notifications for new postings. What films are you looking forward to seeing this year?  What award shows will you watch.  Talk to me in the comments section. 🙂

Until next thought, Thomasena

Red Tails official trailer (Lucasfilm, 2012): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpA6TC0T_Lw