© August 18, 2013
I have something to say about the new movie, “The Butler”. I wonder sometimes why I write anything here, to a seemingly growing group of people I don’t really know and also the disturbingly fundamental fact that I’m not paid for it.
But the movie struck me so strongly and my impression was so different than the somewhat snotty and disdainful recent NPR review that I felt I wanted to cancel them out, in my own obscure microscopic voice. What’s the point of Freedom of Speech if a person has something contradictory and worthwhile to say, but doesn’t bother because there’s no personal reward in it?
But here’s the thing: the premise of the movie that the butler silently observed history before it was public mirrored my own life running a wooden newspaper stand in Chicago’s Hyde Park, saw the headlines thrown from trucks before the public knowledge did and I, too, never expressed and political opinions in my twenty years there because of possible repercussions from the Mayor Richard J. Daley’s repressive political machine.
That means if some local guy working for them heard me express some derisive perspective on how the city was run, my license could be pulled and I was out of business. So, I kept quiet, sold my newspapers and never marched in any protest movement or took part in the famous Grant Park Downtown Chicago demonstration against the Viet Nam War and the Democratic party policies. I am 63 today and my silence gnaws at me, as it did the black White House butler in the film.
Seeing actual black history portrayed before me that happened during my life and how horribly this country treated people who lived here for 300 years, involuntarily, compared to the relatively rapid acceptance of my own immigrant Jewish family over the last one hundred years, because the historic international hatred of Jews was trumped in America because we appeared, to one degree or another, to be white.
The film was magnificent, had me repeatedly in tears not only for the horrors perpetrated on the black people on the screen, but also because though I myself was never prejudiced, I did nothing to stop what was being done to people who were both defenseless and couldn’t hide their skin color. It made me feel ashamed of my country and of myself, as it should have.
I don’t care what the famous reviewers have to say about “The Butler”s performances of the actors or anything else. It ripped up this quiet liberal’s heart. I may be very late in doing the right thing, but this tiny effort on my part telling whoever reads this confession to go see the film, talk about it and make sure your friends see it, is a small down payment on my debt to the Civil Rights Movement of the Sixties and my realization that my voting for Barak Obama was not enough. There was no risk to me in doing that. No bravery necessary.
Just like writing this article carries no consequences, either. But a very small number of people seem to think I can write coherently and just maybe I can make a positive difference in the success of this film. I’d like to think that was true. Thank you for your time.