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I am a localization manager/translator and intercultural consultant living in Berlin (Germany), passionate about languages, cultures, diversity management, dancing and good movies.  

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Blog Action Day 2013: How a movie like "The Butler" can teach us something about human rights

Blog Action Day 2013 is all about Human Rights. 

What does "Human Rights" actually mean?
Every human being on Earth has 30 basic kind of rights, listed in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, created in 1948 by the United Nations in order to promote "universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms". 
At least on paper. 


The reality is very often far away from what proclamed in the Universal Declaration and a big percentage of human population can't enjoy these rights at all. 
The right to life, the right to freedom, the right to a fair treatment while in a court, the right to privacy, the right to a nationality, the right to freedom of thought, the right to freedom of speech, the right to social security, the right to education are among the basic rights that should be self-evident for everybody.

That's understood, right?
Eccept that this is not.
And we tend to forget it.

Last week I have seen a very interesting movie about that.
The Butler (2013) by Lee Daniels, based on a screenplay by Danny Strong inspired by Wil Haygood's article "A Butler Well Served by This Election", published on "The Washington Post" on November 7th, 2008, about Eugene Allen, who serves as a butler at the White House from 1952 to 1986.

The Butler protagonist is Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) instead, born in a cotton plantation where his family was held under conditions of semi-slavery and the word "ni**er" was a normal one. Forced to leave and to look for a job in the "real" world, Cecil discovers very soon that life outside the plantation is as hard and dangerous as in the plantation. He is eventually able not only to land a job as a waiter in luxurious hotel and after that as a butler at the White House, but also to start a family with Gloria (Oprah Winfrey). 

While Cecil Gaines is very busy serving dinner to Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan, "The Times They Are A-Changin" and society is facing in the US traumatic events like the persecution of people involved in the civil rights movement, the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and Malcom X, the Vietnam war.

Like in Forrest Gump (1994) by Robert Zemeckis, where Forrest and Jenny represent two sides of the same story, two souls of a country, two different ways of living in the 60s and in the 70s in the US, in The Butler Cecil and his son Louis couldn't be more different: Cecil grew up while believing that it is "normal" to be harassed and that the only chance for Afro-American people is to remain invisible and aloof, while his son Louis wants to claim rights that he considers fundamental for all and is ready to go to jail for this.

[Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines and David Oyelowo as Louis Gaines:
father and son in The Butler]

When last year Django Unchained (2012) by Quentin Tarantino and Lincoln (2012) by Steven Spielberg came out, movies that relate in a very different way to the years of the Civil War, many people were surprised by the language used in the movies to describe Black people and affirmed to be scandalized by their racism. But even if a very different way, both movies show very well how widespread and socially accepted racism was at the time.

In The Butler Lee Daniels has the courage to show that more than one hundred years after the Civil War, and until the last thirty years, the situation was not that better in the US, the Ku Klux Klan was free to roam the streets terrorizing those who were willing to march for civil rights and so called "respectable" people were able to beat and to insult those who didn't want to accept the racial segregation.

This topic is not new for Daniels, who already created with The Paperboy (2012) an original, poignant, harsch and melancholic depict of Louisiana in the 60s, where a maid, astonishingly well played by singer Macy Gray, faces discrimation and harassment despite having raised the children of her employer as if they were her own. The same "treatment" is experienced by the journalist Yardley Acheman, played by David Oyelowo.

So in my humble opinion it's not by chance that Oyelowo is playing the activist Louis in Daniels' new movie and that John Cusack, after the excellent and spooky villain Hillary Van Wetter in The Paperboy, plays this time Richard Nixon: the only President portrayed in the movie that is not resemblant to the original one, while Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan and Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan are simply amazing.

And it is not by chance as well that the wonderful Afro-American actors who played in Django Unchained (Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson, etc.) are not part of the stellar cast of The Butler (Forest Whitaker, David Oyelowo, Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz, David Banner, Yaya Alafia, Clarence William III, Nelsan Ellis and many more) as if it were important for Daniels to visually distance himself from Tarantino's divertissement.

It is easy to forget that human rights are a universal heritage to protect, as The Butler shows once again while recollecting Ronald Reagan's position towards the Apartheid in South Africa in the 80s, as this were not a problem any longer, since the situation in the US was a little better then.

Even if sometimes a little too bombastic, the movie is well written, well played and absolutely entertaining. And, above all, it pays an important tribute to all those people who fought for human rights in the US and who helped to shape a society more respectful of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Happy Blog Action Day 2013.

Tags: The Butler, Django Unchained, The Paperboy, Human Rights, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Blog Action Day, Blogging

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