The Butler
The Butler poster
Directed by Lee Daniels
Produced by Pamela Oas Williams
Laura Ziskin
Lee Daniels
Buddy Patrick
Cassian Elwes
Elizabeth Destro
Written by Danny Strong
Starring Forest Whitaker
Oprah Winfrey
Music by Rodrigo Leão
Cinematography Andrew Dunn
Editing by Joe Klotz
Distributed by The Weinstein Company
Release August 16, 2013
Running time 132 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $30 million
Gross revenue $146,666,066

The Butler (marketed as Lee Daniels' The Butler) is a 2013 American historical drama film directed by Lee Daniels, written by Danny Strong, and featuring an ensemble cast. Loosely based on the real-life of Eugene Allen, the film stars Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, an African-American who eyewitnesses notable events of the 20th century during his 34-year tenure serving as a White House butler. It was the last film produced by Laura Ziskin, who died in 2011.

The film was theatrically released by The Weinstein Company on August 16, 2013 to mostly positive reviews.


Cecil Gaines, a young boy, is raised by his subservient parents on a cotton plantation in 1920s Macon, Georgia. One day, the farm's temperamental owner, Thomas Westfall, rapes Cecil's mother, Hattie Pearl. Cecil's father, Earl, confronts Westfall, and is shot dead. Cecil is taken in by Annabeth Westfall, the estate's caretaker, who reassigns Cecil to being a house servant instead. In his teens, he leaves behind the Westfall plantation and his mother who has been mute since the incident. One night, Cecil breaks into a pastry shop and is, unexpectedly, hired by the owners. While working in the shop, he acquires skills from master servant, Maynard. After several years, Maynard recommends Cecil for a position in Washington D.C., which Cecil gladly accepts. Ultimately in 1957, he is hired by the White House during Dwight D. Eisenhower's administration, where White House maître'd, Freddie Fallows, shows Cecil the grounds and introduces him to head butler Carter Wilson and co-worker James Holloway. Working in the White House, he witnesses first hand Eisenhower's reluctance to use troops to enforce school desegregation in the South, then the President's resolve to uphold the law by ordering to racially integrate a high school in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Cecil marries Gloria, who had been a maid at the same hotel, and they have two children: Louis and Charlie. The Gaines family celebrates Cecil's new occupation with their closest friends and neighbors, Howard and Gina. Louis, the eldest son, becomes a first generation university student at Fisk University in Tennessee. Cecil is hesitant about this because he thinks the Deep South is too volatile and encourages Louis to enroll at Howard University. Louis joins a student program at Fisk to peacefully engage in a sit-in at segregated public places and is arrested. Furious, Cecil heads to Nashville, where he confronts Louis for disobeying him. Gloria, feeling isolated from her husband, has an affair with the Gaines' neighbor, Howard, and also becomes an alcoholic.

In 1961, after John F. Kennedy's election, Louis and a dozen others are attacked by the Ku Klux Klan while traveling on the freedom riders bus. Cecil is informed of the incident by Kennedy, who subsequently delivers a national address proposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Several months after the speech, Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas and his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, enacts the transformative legislation into law. As a goodwill gesture, Jackie Kennedy presents Cecil with one of the former president's neckties before she leaves the White House.

In the late 1960s, after civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination, Louis returns home and tells his family that he and a few others have founded a chapter of the radical organization called the Black Panthers. Aware of Richard Nixon's plans to suppress the movement and upset at his son's actions, Cecil orders Louis and his girlfriend, Carol, to leave his house. Louis is soon arrested and is bailed out by Carter. The Gaines' other son, Charlie, confides to Louis that he plans to join American forces in the war in Vietnam, to which Louis admits that he wouldn't attend his funeral if he were to be killed. Indeed, a few months later, the Gaines family hold a funeral for Charlie, which Louis does not attend, much to the dismay of his enraged father. However, when the Black Panthers begin to espouse violence as the answer to racism, Louis leaves the organization and returns to college, earning his master's degree in political science, and eventually winning a seat in Congress.

Meanwhile, Cecil's professional reputation has grown to the point that in the 1980s, he is invited by Ronald and Nancy Reagan as a guest to a state dinner. Cecil realizes that the invitation was just for show, as Reagan plans to veto any Congressional sanctions against South Africa. Cecil does gain Reagan's support in his years-long effort to have the black White House staff receive the same rate of salary and opportunities for career advancement as their white counterparts. When Cecil announces his resignation to the President, Reagan is visibly shaken, and admits that he considers Cecil to be family.

Gloria, wanting Cecil to mend his estranged relationship with Louis, reveals to him that Louis once told her that he loved and respected them both. Believing his son's actions to be heroic rather than antagonistic, Cecil quits his job and joins Louis in a protest against Apartheid in South Africa.

The film then advances to Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, where an elderly Gloria dies shortly before Obama is elected as the nation's first African-American president, a milestone which leaves Cecil and Louis in awe. The film ends with Cecil preparing to meet the inaugurated Obama in the White House.


  • Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, the film's main character, who dedicates his life to becoming a professional domestic worker. Aml Ameen portrays a young Cecil.
  • Oprah Winfrey as Gloria Gaines, Cecil's wife.
  • David Oyelowo as Louis Gaines, the Gaines' eldest and most volatile son.
  • Elijah Kelley as Charlie Gaines, the Gaines' youngest son.
  • David Banner as Earl Gaines, Cecil's father who is killed by Thomas Westfall
  • Mariah Carey as Hattie Pearl, Cecil's mother
  • Terrence Howard as Howard, the Gaines' neighbor who romantically pursues Gloria
  • Adriane Lenox as Gina
  • Yaya DaCosta as Carol Hammie, Louis' girlfriend
  • Alex Pettyfer as Thomas Westfall, maltempred plantation owner who kills Earl after Earl protests at Westfall raping Cecil's mother.
  • Vanessa Redgrave as Annabeth Westfall, an elderly cotton farm caretaker who makes Cecil a house servant following the death of his father
  • Clarence Williams III as Maynard, an elderly man who mentors a young Cecil and introduces him to his profession
  • Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Carter Wilson,the fast-talking head butler at the White House who becomes a longtime friend of Cecil's
  • Lenny Kravitz as James Holloway, a co-worker butler and friend of Cecil's at the White House
  • Colman Domingo as Freddie Fallows, the White House maitre d' who hires Cecil
  • Robin Williams as Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States
  • James DuMont as Sherman Adams, Eisenhower's White House Chief of Staff
  • Robert Aberdeen as Herbert Brownell, Jr., Eisenhower's Attorney General
  • James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, the 35th President
  • Minka Kelly as First Lady Jackie Kennedy
  • Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th President
  • John Cusack as Richard Nixon, the 37th President
  • Alex Manette as H. R. Haldeman, Nixon's White House Chief of Staff
  • Colin Walker as John Ehrlichman, Nixon's White House Counsel
  • Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, the 40th President
  • Jane Fonda as First Lady Nancy Reagan
  • Stephen Rider as Stephen W. Rochon, Barack Obama's White House Chief Usher
  • Nelsan Ellis as Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Jesse Williams as civil rights activist James Lawson
  • Danny Strong, the film's screenwriter, makes a cameo appearance as one of the Freedom Riders who are attacked in Alabama.
  • Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Barack Obama and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson are depicted in archival footage. Actor Orlando Eric Street also portrays Obama in an uncredited role.
  • Melissa Leo was cast as First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, but did not appear in the finished film.


External links

Robin Williams films

Hook (1991)  · Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)  · Happy Feet (2006)  · Happy Feet 2 (2011)  · The Butler (2013)  ·

Forest Whitaker films

Panic Room (2002)  · Phone Booth (2002)  · The Last Stand (2013)  · The Butler (2013)  · Black Nativity (2013)  · Out of the Furnace (2013)  · Taken 3 (2015)  ·

Alan Rickman films

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)  · Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)  · Love Actually (2003)  · Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)  · Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)  · Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)  · Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)  · Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (2010)  · Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2001)  · The Butler (2013)  ·

Mariah Carey films

The Butler (2013)  ·