08/17/2013 09:54 am ET Updated Oct 17, 2013

Lee Daniels' The Butler: Lifting The Veil On Black Life


(The Root) -- I watched Lee Daniels' The Butler in a standing-room-only theater on Martha's Vineyard, with a thoroughly integrated audience of well-educated black and white people, whose ages ranged from teenagers and college students to midcareer professionals and retirees. The audience sat riveted over the entire course of the film, alternatively moved to laugh at the intraracial humor, to cry at the frailties and foibles of the all-too-human characters so vividly brought to life and to sit in pained -- sometimes stunned -- silence at the film's most poignant revelations about the mysteries and horrors of race and race relations in 20th-century America.

I have to confess that I, a film junkie and a student of black cinema, past and present, found myself deeply and profoundly moved by The Butler from start to finish. There are several reasons that I was so engrossed with the film's plot and the brilliantly subtle ways that Daniels brought Danny Strong's extraordinary screenplay to life, but upon reflection, I think the most important of these is Daniels' and Strong's uncanny capacity to lift the veil, as W.E.B. Du Bois so famously put it, on how black people actually talk to one another behind closed doors, when they are free to speak unconsciously, without censoring themselves in front of white people or in the presence of the black thought police. In other words, when no one is around to disturb the unconscious flow of black culture at its most honest and direct.