By Ena Moats
In the film, we follow Cecil Gaines, played by a genius Forest Whitaker, on his journey from the cotton field where he experienced the brutal treatment of a slave, all the way to his employment as butler in the White House where racism and inequality still presided along with Presidents Eisenhower (Robin Williams), Kennedy (James Marsden), Johnson (Liev Schreiber), Nixon (John Cusack), and Reagan (Alan Rickman).
Other cast members included Oprah Winfrey (Gloria Gaines), Cuba Gooding Jr. (Carter Wilson), Lenny Kravitz (James Holloway), and Jane Fonda (Nancy Reagan).
In his early life, Gaines quickly learned that, as a black man in a white-dominated world, the key to survival was the ability to keep public and private life separate, to have a face of submission and of dignity, and to know when to put on each mask.
This theme was reflected in the events and movements of history: desegregation of schools, freedom riders, the Civil Rights Act, the fashion trends of ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, and in the personal lives of the Gaines family and its difficulties with parenthood, alcoholism, love affairs, and the struggle of knowing where one’s priorities lie. The complex balance of political and personal relationships developed in the film was very effective in reaching out to the audience, to invoke crying, laughing, and contemplation.