Back in September I wrote a movie review for Lee Daniel’s “The Butler.” While it was not a horrible movie, I concentrated most of the review on my disdain for the changes to the actual story it was based on and the idea that it was too similar to other civil rights movies.
Honestly, I thought no one would read it. Usually when I see The Pacific Index newspaper on campus, it’s either being used as a placemat or in a stack of other newspapers waiting to get picked up.
Most people I know don’t care for movie reviews; I figured once the review was published, there wouldn’t be much of an impact and that the next time I’d see it, it would be in a portfolio for future writing jobs.
I was wrong.
A couple months later, I received word that the Black Student Union read my review. In fact, it was read out loud during a meeting. To say the least, the response was not favorable. At first, I thought maybe they misinterpreted what I was trying to say. After talking to some Black Student Union members, it turns out that while some of what I wrote didn’t come out the way I wanted it to, they got the overall message.
“At first, I felt a little upset, because how can you judge so quickly when some people don’t know the full history,” said Patrice Fuller, president of the Black Student Union. “To me, I think it needed a little bit more of a background to it from your point of view, like what movies you’ve seen that happen to be the same thing that you saw in The Butler.”
While some of my criticisms of its accuracy were agreed upon, the issue still arose that events like the ones portrayed in the movie did happen to other African-Americans at the time.
It is common knowledge now that Daniels’ movie was only loosely based on the life of butler Eugene Allen.
The story portrayed in the film, however, still managed to be a touching and relatable story, even to those who knew of its dramatization.
“In the end, it still got us a clear view of knowing that we weren’t appreciated still,” said Fuller. “Maybe the dramatizations were a little bit much, but at the same time [the movie] still got the point across.”
Movies like “The Social Network” and “American Hustle” used a true story as a minimal basis for their respective narratives, while movies like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “The Fourth Kind” were so detached from their source materials, they might as well have been labeled complete fiction.
“The Butler” sat on the thin line between those two types of biopics. It leaned toward the former, but when changes were made, they were so dramatic it would inch toward the latter.
Some of those events in the movie did happen, though. It happened to other black figures, known and unknown. And that’s where audiences find a sense of relatability and truth.
“The Butler may not have shown the true story of Eugene Allen, but it did show the true story of all the unsung black heroes or all the unsung black people that are still living today,” said adviser for BSU, Yashica Island. “There are so many stories of black people and “The Butler” was a great representation of how black people have lived their lives and have been oppressed. So it may not have been Eugene Allen, but it is the story of many black people.”
I talked to a few people who were deterred from the film because of my article, to which I reminded them that the movie wasn’t bad and that they should watch it to formulate their own opinion. I wrote that I didn’t think the movie provided enough emotional depth to make audiences care about certain issues.
What I should have said is it didn’t provide enough depth for me, because audiences are mixed and subjective.
People who have seen this movie come from different backgrounds and I can’t speak for all of them.
I wrote that some of the white people were presented as “overly racist caricatures,” but that was because in my experience I have seen people judged based on over-the-top stereotypes presented in the media. However, another person may see the portrayals as realistic and a quick trip to YouTube can remind you that over-the-top people really do exist in this world.
Island reminded me during our talk that more people from this school might read my review before seeing the movie. After seeing the controversy that arose and the influence that it had on readers, I finally realize that my articles serve as more than a placemat.
They not only provide a fresh perspective from a Pacific University student, but can be used as a foundation for discussion and debate.
They can be a catalyst for quarrel and a call for unity. Writing can give a voice to an underrepresented body, or to those who feel unheard. And as I have learned from this experience, someone is listening. Often more closely than you think.