Could YOU ever serve a white person/family with a smile on your face?
This weekend Lee Daniels’ The Butler opened across the country to rave reviews and tearful adulation. Lee recently sat down with the New York Times to talk about the film and surrounding issues.
On The POTUS having servants…
Your new film, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” stars Forest Whitaker as a man who was a domestic servant in the White House from the 1950s through the 1980s. What did you think when you learned that there are butlers who serve the president?
It goes back to kings and queens. There are servers, and there are people that are served. There’s something contradictory about that in a democracy, certainly. But someone’s got to take care of them, too. And thank God, or else I wouldn’t have a movie.
On difficulty finding funding due to racial subject matter…
Did the success of your film “Precious” help get this one made?
It was a rough journey getting this film financed because the studios didn’t want to do it. They weren’t interested in this film at the budget that we had. The president of one studio told me, “If you were a Jewish filmmaker and this was a film about the Holocaust, we wouldn’t have this problem.”
Meaning, because it’s about a black character, it wouldn’t attract a wide audience?
I think that’s what she meant. I appreciate her honesty.
Being a boxed into being a “black filmmaker”
Do you think people expect you to make movies exclusively about the black experience?
I’m not going to be labeled a black filmmaker. I am not here to just tell black stories. I’m here to tell all kinds of stories, musicals and dramas. Could I do a spaceship movie or black people on Mars or whatever? Sure. A comedy? Yes.
On African-American’s treatment of whites based on racial stereotypes…
The film raises the idea that black servants who do their job with dignity are, in a way, being subversive by undermining racial stereotypes. Do you agree with that?
I think that for that time, absolutely, it was correct, and even for now I think there is some truth in that. I come from a family of domestics. I think most African-Americans of my age do. They were trusted by their bosses. I have met so many white people that spent more time with their nannies than they have with their own parents.
Flip the page to read about how Lee wanted Barry-O in the film, tried to turn Oprah Winfrey into a serial killer, and banned Mariah Carey from make-up!