Went to see “The Butler” last night, Loved It! Part of me was just gonna “write something” on FB, but I had to write more, and GIVE IT UP to the filmmaking genius of Lee Daniels. Starring Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo and an impeccable ensemble cast, Lee has another future classic on his hands.
Am I bias? Probably, I had the fortune to meet and share quality time with Lee Daniels early on when the world was just beginning to take notice — thank you Lisa Cortes. His production “Monster’s Ball” was about to hit theaters, and was a huge success, granting Halle Berry an Oscar for “Best Actress.” I enjoyed and appreciated the controversial nature of “Monster’s Ball” because it dealt with things that are not generally comfortable, and made you feel uncomfortable while watching, that’s filmmaking. Since, Daniels has gone on to produce and direct other films that don’t depict a bright side, but they always leave you feeling like maybe my life’s pretty good. If you missed it, “Monster’s Ball” was about “a racist prison guard (that) reexamines his attitudes while falling in love with the African-American wife of the last prisoner he executed” (brief descriptions from “imdb”). Billy Bob Thornton, Sean “P-Diddy” Combs, and a then up and coming Heath Ledger also starred in “Monster’s Ball.” His second production “The Woodsman,” starring husband and wife Kevin Bacon & Kyra Sedgewick and David Alan Grier, was the story of “a child molester (who) returns to his hometown after twelve years in prison and attempts to start a new life.”
Lee’s directorial debut starred Oscar winners Helen Mirren and Cuba Gooding Jr. in “Shadowboxer.” “Shadowboxer” is the journey of “a female assassin, (that) is diagnosed with terminal cancer, who decides to carry out one final killing, assisted by (her) lover and stepson, Mikey.” This is not one for everybody, but beautifully shot, editing together an array of visual textures like he did in “Precious.” His first Oscar Award winning film, it afforded another black actress her first Oscar, as Mo’Nique was awarded an Academy Award for “Best Actress” that year. In “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”, set “in New York City’s Harlem circa 1987, an overweight, abused, illiterate teen who is pregnant with her second child is invited to enroll in an alternative school in hopes that her life can head in a new direction.” The film introduced Oscar nominee Gabourey Sidibe, and also featured Lenny Kravitz and Sherri Shepherd. Lee’s third direction was a bit of a sleeper, titled “The Paperboy,” it stars Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman and Matthew McConaughey, it’s a “coming of age story” with the back-drop of “a reporter (w/ a dark secret that) returns to his Florida hometown to investigate a case involving a death row inmate,” David Oyelowo also stars.
Bringing us back to “The Butler,” that features Jane Fonda, Alan Rickman, Robin Williams, Liev Schreiber, Lenny Kravitz, Cuba Gooding Jr., David Banner, Mariah Carey, John Cusack, Vanessa Redgrave, Clarence Williams III, Terrence Howard, and the fresh face of Yaya Alafia. Based on the true story of Eugene Allen, it’s told through the eyes of “Cecil Gaines,” and spotlights his journey from mid-teens till his 90’s. Allen served eight presidents as the White House’s head butler from 1952 to 1986. It’s Lee Daniels’ brightest and more commercially accessible films to date. Although I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it was awesome seeing Oprah on screen again — she and Cuba almost steal the movie — I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the preverbal “Elephant in the Room” for many black people and filmgoers. Last year “The Help”, this year “The Butler” and coming real soon “12 Years A Slave” — while I’m happy there are avenues for thespians of color, imagery’s very real and a mutherfu*ker! As happy as I am that rising visual artist Steve McQueen is being able to get his projects green-lit http://museumofuncutfunk.com/2013/03/15/steve-mcqueen-in-amsterdam-slavery-in-america/ — Why is it that, it’s always “These movies” that get made? The answer is clear and a subject I’ve broached that never gets old because it still exists, but this is not a blog to belabor that blatant aspect of our cultural artistic reality — for more on that http://museumofuncutfunk.com/2012/01/28/the-polotricks-of-black-film-and-the-bittersweet-coveted-oscars/ To that, one of the most poignant moments in the film addresses the stereo-type of black people working as servants. It points out that in lieu of Africn-Americans at one point not even being considered human, working as maids and butlers were a means of certain members of society to observe just how civil and dignified a people they are. Numerous jobs of domestic service provided an aspect of human exchange, that lent to a better understanding between people, amidst social change.
I gasped when I went to imdb to see what’s next for Daniels, as he’s in talks to do “Janis Joplin: Get It While You Can.” With the recent news of Spike Lee no longer being down to direct the James Brown biopic, the other Lee doing something music related is exciting. The nature of the films that Daniels has directed, lend to him pulling off a story about Joplin, considering what we know of the lifestyle she had. Now here’s the question… Is Lee Daniels looking to cast Mariah Carey as Janis Joplin? Why is this a question you may be asking? Well… she’s appeared in three of his films, ala “Precious”, “The Butler” and “Tennessee,” which he produced — I’m actually immortalized in that film, knda — you’d have to watch. Carey’s performance in all three is good, for the parts she plays. Daniels wisely has her cast in parts that didn’t require extremes. Considering she’s one of the best vocalists of our time and the little acting she’s put in thus far, with concerted efforts, I believe Mariah could pull Janis off — but it remains to be seen.
Other projects “in development” for Daniels include “Iced,” which is about a black rock star and supposed to star Lenny Kravitz; “Anna in the Tropics”; “Orders to Kill”; “Paper Mill Road”; and “Miss Saigon” based on the award winning Broadway show. Lee has definitely made his mark in what seems like a reasonably short amount of time considering “Monster’s Ball” was released in 2001. The reality is there’s no such thing as an “overnight success”.
CONGRATULATIONS on the new release Lee, from one who will FOREVER be a friend, fan and supporter of you and your work.