By Earl K. (Dallas,Texas, USA)
Actually I was easily more impressed with the role and acting performance of actor David Oyelowo as Louis Gaines, the son of Cecil Gaines (Forrest Whitaker) than anyone else in the film. I saw him grow into his role as a reserved teen (though he looks somewhat too old for a “teen”) that became more personally involved and affected by difficult, traumatic events ranging from Emitt Till tragedy, desegregation of public schools, boycott lunch counter sit-ins, destruction of freedom bus rides, assassinations of JFK and MLK, protesting Vietnam War, black panther movement, African apartheid, to political elections. Ironically there wasn’t much of any coverage with assassination of Malcolm X in the film.
Although it was supposedly a Father and Son connection throughout the film, Oyelowo’s raw presence and emotional performance overpowered Whitaker to where it seemed more like a Son and Father film. And even the brief frictions and the eventual reunion didn’t move me like I would have expected so. Also I never got a take for Cecil’s view and impressions on the Civil Rights leaders of his era (ala King and Malcolm X). Even his breakdown upon news of JFK passing was too brief and not developed enough for my liking.
While I appreciate the role of Forrest Whitaker as an influential butler who served under several historical US presidents, but didn’t want to “rock the boat” with his past and personal views, I really wasn’t that in awe with his delivery of his acting performance in that capacity as it was hyped to be. Don’t get me wrong, I did think it was solid enough performance but Oscar worthy? Hmmmm…
I liked him when he became elated with the news of having the honor of being the White House butler than when he was fairly entrenched and at the White House – I really wasn’t moved by any of his correspondences or conversations with presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John F Kennedy, Lyndon B Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, etc.
Speaking of the presidents, all were performed by big name actors Robin Williams (Eisenhower), John Cusack (Nixon), Liev Schreiber (Lyndon B Johnson), James Marsden (Kennedy) and Alan Rickman (Reagan). Sorry, but I couldn’t buy into Williams as Eisenhower (even with the makeup effect), and John Cusack as R. Nixon was so miscast and the makeup effect was even more ineffective. For a while, I just couldn’t figure WTH was he even was supposed to be until someone finally said his name. I thought Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan (though very brief cameo appearance) and Alan Rickman (remember him as villain from 1st Die Hard and Harry Potter film?) as Ronald Reagan were excellent and very interesting choices.
Not to spoil the full event but there was one more moment I enjoyed Whitakers’ Cecil role was when he had a final confrontation with his top boss to whom he felt very underpaid and under-appreciated.
I actually enjoyed Cuba Gooding Jr. supporting role as Carter Wilson, Cecil Gaines’ butler co-worker and friend (even much more than I did Oprah Winfrey’s role as Gloria Gaines.) Gooding’s character brought most of the most humorous moments in the film, such that I had hoped to see even more of him.
I never really got into Oprah’s character role as Gloria Gaines as outstanding but I thought it was solid enough, just not a very memorable one. Not anything near what she’s done in Color Purple and The Women of Brewster Place. I actually thought she was portraying a role that many more inspiring veteran actresses could have done. But her big name and significant appearance in the film became attracting and appealed to movie-goers.
Terrence Howard had a brief appearance in the film but his very odd exit (hearsay news) from the film did not make him missed (and I didn’t see the infamous Howard/Oprah kiss that was much talked about). His role started out intriguing and entertaining earlier in the film, but it just wasn’t that developed, combined that with the odd exit, and it is not going to be memorable at all.
I thought the character role of model Yaya Alafia as Louis Gaines classmate and later on companion started out interesting as she was timid but grew into a more stronger personality and I thought her role was going to lead to a more dramatic finish but it didn’t. And just when I was introduced to Oyelowo’s younger brother (played by Elijah Kelley) in his own short humor, his exit was just as quick and abrupt as Terrence Howard’s. Very, very brief and underdeveloped. Because we saw so little of him, it was very difficult for me to have a really moving feeling when he exited the film.
I like that the film reflects upon several eventful historical moments and figure faces in several eras of the Civil Rights movement, but I wish it could have been better developed and more emotionally dramatic in some of the more dramatic events, but it still has its solid moments.
[Maynard starts bandaging up Cecil’s wounds from breaking the window]
Maynard: I’m gonna have to lie to the boss man about that window. Good Lord say, you ain’t supposed to lie.
Cecil Gaines (15): Sorry, sir.
Maynard: Where’s your Ma and your Pa?
Cecil Gaines (15): Ma crazy in the head and my Pa got killed.
Maynard: I’ll make you some ham sandwiches, send you on your way. The boss will be here in a minute. Sundays are our busiest morning.
Cecil Gaines (15): You looking for some help? I know how to serve.
Maynard: You done broke our window, you done stole our food, and now you’re asking for a job?
Cecil Gaines (15): Back in Macon I’m a house nigger, a good one.
[suddenly Maynard slaps Cecil in the face]
Maynard: Don’t you ever use that word, son. That’s a white man’s word, it’s filled with hate. Didn’t your father ever teach you any better?
[Maynard starts teaching Cecil how to serve at the establishment]
Maynard: Slow down.
Cecil Gaines (15): Yes, sir.
[Maynard shows Cecil how to serve at the bar]
Maynard: Better to look through their eyes, see what it is they want.
[more montage of Maynard teaching Cecil how to clean and serve around the hotel]
Maynard: See what it is they need. Anticipate. When they smile, to look past their eyes.
[Maynard and Cecil are taking a break out by the porch; to one of the workers]
Maynard: Don’t forget to save me them chitterlings.
Cecil Gaines (15): Why do you like chitterlings so much?
Maynard: Cause they taste good eating. The manager of Excelsior in DC, he came by yesterday. He offered me a job as a butler.
Cecil Gaines (15): Must be paying you top dollar, huh, boss?
[Cecil helps Maynard sit next to him on the porch]
Maynard: Yeah, I was thinking about taking it, but I don’t know. I’m too old to be leading that kind of life, I’m just fine right here. I told him to hire you.
Cecil Gaines (15): I’m just now finding my way around this hotel. Ain’t ready for all them high falutin white people and their fancy world.
Maynard: Listen, we got two faces. Us and the ones that we gotta show the white folks. Now to get up in the world, you have to make them feel non threatened. Use them fancy words that I done taught you. White folks up North, they like some uppity coloreds. Yeah.
[1957 – Washington DC]
Cecil Gaines: [voice over] I took that job in Washington. It was the most beautiful hotel I’d ever seen.
[we see an adult Cecil standing inside the lobby of the hotel holding a tray of drinks when a white couple walk up to him]
Cecil Gaines: [voice over] Never in my life did I dream that I’d work in a place as fancy as this. I never dreamed my life would be so good.
Charlie Gaines (10): I gotta pee.
Gloria Gaines: You’re not your Daddy, don’t try that. Finish that homework.
[Cecil walks into the kitchen]
Cecil Gaines: Where’s Louis at?
Gloria Gaines: He’s taking the trash out.
Charlie Gaines (10): Working late again, huh? How was your shift?
Cecil Gaines: It beats working for a living.
Gloria Gaines: I miss you at night, honey.
[Cecil looks at Gloria for a moment and then looks at Charlie]
Cecil Gaines: Didn’t you say you gotta pee? Go on then. Wash your hands when you come out of that bathroom, boy.
[Charlie rises and walks out of the kitchen]
Gloria Gaines: There’s a woman whose son got killed, she’s around doing speeches now. What’s her name, honey?
Cecil and Louise: Mamie Till.
[Gloria gets up to get Louise and Cecil some breakfast]
Gloria Gaines: Mamie Till. Hm, I remember that story just like it was yesterday even though it was three years ago. It was a damn disgrace what they did to that boy, just for looking at a white woman. Beat him up, threw his body in the river, killed him. He wasn’t no older than Louise, he was fourteen at the time.
Cecil Gaines: Crazy white folks down South.
[Gloria places two plates of breakfast in front of Cecil and Gloria]
Louis Gaines: Thanks, Ma.
Gloria Gaines: At least we got it a little better in DC, huh?
Cecil Gaines: Still treating us bad too.
Gloria Gaines: Get on down here, Charlie. Wash your hands.
Charlie Gaines (10): Louis said we should stop taking the white man’s shit.
[Louis hits Charlie on his arm]
Cecil Gaines: [voice over] When the white man call, I always assume the worst.
[Cecil takes the phone]
Cecil Gaines: Yes, sir.
Cecil Gaines: [voice over] I would have put money on it. Guys gettin’ laid off somethin’ that day.
[we see Cecil driving up to the White House; then later he sits and waits in the White House when a white usher walks up to Cecil]
White Usher: Will you follow me please?
Cecil Gaines: Yes, sir.
[Cecil rises and follows the usher and he’s taken to see the maître d’, Freddie Fallows]
Cecil Gaines: I’m Cecil Gaines. It’s a pleasure to meet you.
[Fallows extends his hand and they shake hands]
Freddie Fallows: You as well. Have a seat.
Freddie Fallows: Are you political, Mr. Gaines.
Cecil Gaines: No, sir.
Freddie Fallows: Good. We have no tolerance for politics at the White House.
[Cecil smiles as he looks at Fallows]
Cecil Gaines: How’d you find me?
Freddie Fallows: I didn’t. You served R.D. Warner at the Excelsior Hotel. he oversees operations for the entire White House, you made quite an impression.
Cecil Gaines: I don’t recall.
Freddie Fallows: Mr. Warner and myself make note of potential staff around town. Butler positions rarely open as most stay on for thirty years or more.
Cecil Gaines: I know, I was quite surprised that I got the call.
[Cecil laughs, Fallows watches him for a moment]
Freddie Fallows: It was a surprise for me as well. As the White House maître d’, I normally hire the butlers.
[Fallows rises from his seat and turns his back to Cecil]
Cecil Gaines: Forgive me for saying this, Mr. Fallows. I certainly wouldn’t want to be hired under circumstances that would make you feel uncomfortable.
Freddie Fallows: Oh, really?
Cecil Gaines: You need butlers that you’ve handpicked. A man to your liking that will fill your vision of a proper White House staff.
Freddie Fallows: Hm.
[Fallows looks at Cecil for a moment as he takes his seat behind his desk again]
[one evening the Gaines family celebrates Cecil’s new job by inviting their closest friends and neighbors, Gloria sings along to the music]
Gloria Gaines: Sometimes they’re just be and Faye up in here. Me, Faye and a little scotch.
[Gloria continues to enjoy the music]
Gloria Gaines: Sing it, Faye!
Gina: What did you do to this potato salad?
Gloria Gaines: Well, I tell you what I did. I put some dill in it because I read in Woman’s Day where pickles drown out the flavor and dill bring up the flavor. That’s what you’re tasting right there.
Gina: Oh, okay.
[Gina eats another bite of the potato salad]
Gina: Yeah, I like it.
Gloria Gaines: It make a difference, don’t it?
Gina: It really does. You must be so proud of Cecil.
Gloria Gaines: You know he got that job himself. the White House called him, he didn’t call the White House.
Gina: He’s a good man, you got a good man.
[just then Gina’s husband, Howard, comes up and sits next to Gina after dancing with another one of the female guests]
Howard: She’s fine. Not like this one right here, old sour puss. You still mad at me?
Gina: I got reason.
Howard: No, you don’t. I told you I went down to the numbers spot, played my little number, got me some barbecue and then I went down and didn’t even get nothin’ to drink.
Gina: I am so…I’m so sick of these number spots stories, Howard. How do you expect me to believe you was down at the number spot…
Howard: Cause whether you believe it or not, don’t make it no truer.
Gloria Gaines: Oh, come on. Come on, stop this now.
Howard: You want to do this right now?
Gloria Gaines: Come on y’all. Come on, come on, come on.
Howard: You don’t believe it? You don’t have to believe it.
Gloria Gaines: Hey, hey, hey.
Howard: You really want to this right now?
Gloria Gaines: Honey, when are you gonna take me to the White House?
Cecil Gaines: You wanna go to the White House, baby?
Gloria Gaines: You know I want to go to the White House.
Cecil Gaines: When do you wanna go?
Gloria Gaines: Don’t play with me now, you know I want to go to the White House.
[Cecil smiles playfully]
Cecil Gaines: When do you wanna go?
Howard: The White House, now that’s a big step up.
Cecil Gaines: It is a sight.
Gina: Ooh! Girl, get up in that house. I wanna hear all the stories.
Gloria Gaines: I don’t know how many stories you’re gonna hear, cause they done swear him to some kind of secret code and he can’t tell me nothing.
Gina: Oh, no, no, no. Girl, you ain’t giving’ it to him right.
Gloria Gaines: Mm-hmm.
Cecil Gaines: That’s the key right there. You listening? Do you hear?
Howard: Girl, who’ve you been giving it to?
Gina: Well, if you had gotten home, I could be giving it to you.
Gloria Gaines: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
[Elroy, Howard and Gina’s on, and Charlie run down the steps to the living room]
Gloria Gaines: Boys, stop running through this house. You know better than that.
Howard: Elroy, get…get over here. Come here.
[Elroy leans over the couch toward Howard]
Howard: Give me some money.
[Elroy smiles which makes Howard laugh]
Howard: Tell them what you’re gonna be when you grow up.
Elroy: I wanna work at the White House, just like Mr. Gaines.
Gina: Ah, that’s my boy.
Cecil Gaines: Right there.
Howard: Louis, What you gonna be when you grow up? Gonna work at the White House like your Daddy?
[Louis is still sitting quietly at the dining table, Gloria watches him]
Louis Gaines: I don’t know.
Howard: I tell you one thing, I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I was thirteen.
Gina: Yeah, a number runner.
[Howard and Gina laugh]
[Cecil arrives at the White House for his first day at work, he smiles at the security guard]
Cecil Gaines: I’m Cecil Gaines. I’m the new butler. Yes, sir.
[Cecil is shown around the White House by Fallows]
Freddie Fallows: There’s sixteen full time maids. We have six butlers, four carpenters, two painters, seven electricians, three dishwashers, three doormen, a full kitchen staff including a pastry chef and three full time calligraphers.
[they walk down the hall]
Freddie Fallows: Two painters, seven electricians, nine engineers. Here comes Warner.
[Fallows stops as Warner walks towards them]
Cecil Gaines: Uh…Mr. Warner, I wanted to uh…thank you for the opportunity of working in the White House.
[Warner ignore Cecil and carries on walking past them down the hall, Cecil turns and looks at Fallows who chuckles and shrugs his shoulders]
Freddie Fallows: Come on. Here we go.
[as Cecil follows Fallows he notices a maid cleaning one of the bathroom floors]
Cecil Gaines: Ma’am, I’m Cecil Gaines. I’ll be working with you here.
Freddie Fallows: Mr. Gaines, please don’t do that. Come on.
Cecil Gaines: Yes, sir.
[Fallows shows Gaines the ways of being a butler at the White House]
Freddie Fallows: When lifting a plate, never scrape the bottom. Never listen or react to conversation. The room should feel as if…
Cecil Gaines: Empty…when I’m in it.
[in the kitchen Carter, James and one of the maids watch as Cecil prepares the coffee tray for the President]
Cecil Gaines: Ready.
Carter Wilson: Lord help us.
[Cecil puts on his white gloves then holds out the milk jug to one of the chefs and he pours some milk into it]
Lorraine: Don’t be nervous, man. Just go in and get to it.
[Cecil nods, then lifts the tray, as he goes to walk out of the kitchen Fallows stands in front of him]
Freddie Fallows: You hear nothing, you see nothing, you only serve.
[1957 – The Eisenhower Administration; Cecil enters the President’s office with the coffee tray, Eisenhower is having a meeting with his Chief of Staff Sherman Adams and Attorney General Herbert Brownell]
Sherman Adams: Send federal troops to the South.
[Cecil places the tray in the corner of the room and starts pouring the coffee into the cups]
Herbert Brownell: It if comes to it, yes.
Dwight D. Eisenhower: I can’t see any situation where I’d send federal troops to the South, ever. It could cause another Civil War.
Herbert Brownell: Sir, if the federal government doesn’t enforce Brown then who will? The South must comply with the law.
Dwight D. Eisenhower: It’s just gonna take some time to adjust, that’s all.
Herbert Brownell: I understand, Mr. President. But if Faubus continues to block the Negro children, then what do we do? We must enforce the constitution.
[Cecil serves Eisenhower for the first time and places his coffee cup on his desk, Cecil then goes and stands in the corner of the room, looking nervous and breathing a sigh of relief]
Sherman Adams: Give Faubus more time, with a little persuading he’ll back down. We just want to move slowly.
[after serving Eisenhower in his office, Cecil returns to the kitchen with a tray]
Carter Wilson: How did it go?
Cecil Gaines: I almost shit myself.
[Cecil walks off]
Carter Wilson: I dated a girl once, every time I hit on her she shit herself.
[Lorraine throws her dish towel at Carter]
Carter Wilson: What?
Lorraine: You got no sense.
Carter Wilson: Shut up.
Lorraine: You shut up.
Carter Wilson: I put a towel down.
[after turning off the TV, Louis places a book on top of the poster to cover the advertising of Mamie Till giving a speech about her son’s murder but Cecil notices this]
Cecil Gaines: What is that? Is that that Mamie Till stuff?
Louis Gaines: I wanna go to this.
Cecil Gaines: Absolutely not.
Louis Gaines: How come?
Cecil Gaines: Ain’t no good can come of that.
Louis Gaines: Dad, you heard what Mama said.
Cecil Gaines: That mess right there happened down South.
Louis Gaines: This could have been me.
Cecil Gaines: It happened down South. I got out of there so we could have us a better life. Right now I’m working for the white man, make things better for us. And not just any white man, either.
[pointing to the light switch]
Cecil Gaines: The lights off, go to bed.
[Cecil starts walking up the stairs]
[at the White House, we see Eisenhower painting a portrait in his room when Cecil enters the room with a tray of food]
Cecil Gaines: I have your chicken soup, Mr. President.
Dwight D. Eisenhower: Just set it on the table, Cecil.
Cecil Gaines: Yes, sir.
[Cecil places the tray on the table behind Eisenhower and notices his painting]
Dwight D. Eisenhower: Did you ever complete school, Cecil?
Cecil Gaines: I didn’t go to school, Mr. President. I grew up on a cotton farm.
Dwight D. Eisenhower: I grew up on a farm. Do you have any children?
Cecil Gaines: Yes, I have two sons.
Dwight D. Eisenhower: Do they go to an all colored school?
Cecil Gaines: Yes, sir, they do.
[just then Adams enters the room]
Dwight D. Eisenhower: What is it?
Sherman Adams: State car just blocked up all the colored kids again.
Dwight D. Eisenhower: Faubus promised me the guards would escort the kids in.
Sherman Adams: Governor Faubus lied, Mr. President.
Dwight D. Eisenhower: What is wrong with him? Why is he forcing me to do this?
[Adams looks at Cecil as if to say ‘why are you still here?’, Cecil bows]
Cecil Gaines: Yes, sir.
[Cecil goes to leave the room]
Sherman Adams: Our next move needs to be bold and swift.
[Cecil gives Eisenhower and Adams one last look before closing the door]
Cecil Gaines: [voice over] When the president sent those troops down to Little Rock, is the first time I ever seen a white man stick his neck out for us. I told Louis that the President was gonna make everything better for us.
[we see the Gaines family entering their house after attending Louis’ high school graduation]
Gloria Gaines: All graduations are long. She was so nosy. I’m gonna make some potato salad.
Cecil Gaines: [voice over] Now I can that I knew what I was talking about.
Gloria Gaines: That was wonderful, I’m so proud of you.
Louis Gaines: Thanks, Mama.
[Gloria turns and stars walking into the kitchen with Charlie following behind her]
Charlie Gaines (10): That hat looked stupid.
Louis Gaines: Your face looks stupid.
[Louis turns to look at Cecil]
Cecil Gaines: Proud of you too.
Louis Gaines: Dad, if you still want…
[from the kitchen]
Gloria Gaines: Don’t start something in there.
Louis Gaines: Did you see one white kid in my school?
[Louis turns and starts walking up the stairs; later we see Cecil holding a tray of cookies for school kids as they get shown around the White House]
Cecil Gaines: [voice over] Why couldn’t Louis see that the President made things better for us?
[Vice President Richard Nixon walks into the kitchen, Carter notices first]
Carter Wilson: Good evening, Mr. Vice President.
Richard Nixon: That looks like a tasty treat.
Carter Wilson: Yes, sir.
Richard Nixon: I brought you all something.
[he takes out three Nixon campaign badges from his pocket and gives one to Cecil, James and Carter]
Cecil Gaines: Thank you, Mr. Vice President.
Richard Nixon: I don’t wanna say anything negative about that Kennedy boy, I’m sure he’s a real nice fella, but do you really want that spoiled rich son of a bitch fuck to be your next President?
[there’s a moments awkward silence]
Richard Nixon: Think about it.
[he looks at all three for a moment, Cecil then awkwardly holds up his badge]
Cecil Gaines: We’ll cheer for you, Mr. Vice President.
Richard Nixon: Thank you, Cecil.
Richard Nixon: Let me ask you something in all candor. As members of the Negro community, what are your biggest concerns?
[Cecil, Jame and Carter don’t reply and try to continue kneading their dough]
Richard Nixon: Now, come on now, boys. Don’t be shy.
[James looks at the other two]
Richard Nixon: Holloway, come on.
James Holloway: Well, since you asked, sir.
Richard Nixon: I did.
James Holloway: The colored help gets paid almost forty percent less than then white help.
Richard Nixon: Is that right?
James Holloway: Yes, sir.
Richard Nixon: Mm.
James Holloway: And it’s very difficult for the colored staff to be promoted.
Richard Nixon: Well, I’ll tell you what. When I’m President, I’m gonna looking to getting you boys the raises and promotions you deserve.
James Holloway: That…that would be swell, sir.
Richard Nixon: You’ve got my word on that.
James Holloway: Thank you, sir.
Richard Nixon: Now, you tell your people to vote for me and that’s exactly what’s gonna happen.
[he throws a Nixon badge on the work table]
Richard Nixon: Give that to somebody.
[he looks at all three and smiles at them, he takes a pastry from the tray, turns and walks out of the kitchen]
[1960 – Fisk University, two girls walk down the steps of the University]
Olivia: What do you mean you don’t wanna date nobody? After all these guys that come on to you?
Carol Hammie: Girl, please.
[referring to a boy that walks past them]
Olivia: Like that one?
Carol Hammie: I’m talking about the meeting. Now come on, tell me what happened?
[Olivia starts explaining to Carol as they walk away; later Louis sees Carol sitting on some steps inside the University]
Louis Gaines: Hey.
Carol Hammie: You looking for love, boy?
[Louis looks at her not understanding her meaning]
Carol Hammie: That’s what we call the Lawson Workshop, the Love School. Is that what you’re looking for?
Louis Gaines: That’s why I came to Fisk.
Carol Hammie: Me too.
[Carol rises and extends her hand to Louis]
Carol Hammie: I’m Carol Hammie.
Louis Gaines: Louis Gaines.
[they shake hands]
Carol Hammie: Come on, follow me.
[she starts walking up the stair and Louise follows her]
Carol Hammie: You’re a good country boy, ain’t ya?
[as Carol takes Louis to the meeting]
Carol Hammie: He’s a doctor. What does your Dad do?
Louis Gaines: He’s in politics.
[they enter the meeting room which is being held in an old basement]
Carol Hammie: You’re gonna need help finding this place anyway.
[they walk into the room as James Lawson is giving his speech to the group members]
James Lawson: …this requires time, dedication and discipline and focus. And we are measuring out accomplishment in waves. Right? This is not a fly-by-night affair, this doesn’t happen over a week. This requires a fierce discipline, which is what we’ve been discussing. How do you measure these things? We go back and we look at somebody like Gandhi. Together we’re gonna study and examine Gandhi’s techniques, what has been so effective in South Africa, so effective in India, for his own people and others, and we’re gonna employ it right here, in Nashville. So we’re gonna form an army, you and I. This army has one weapon and that weapon is love. Now I’m of the…
[Carol raises her hand to ask a question]
James Lawson: Yes?
Carol Hammie: If our only weapon is love, and their weapons are weapons, I mean, isn’t that dangerous?
James Lawson: Oh, you can be killed. Anybody’s uncomfortable with that, you know where the door is. I understand that sounds provocative, but it’s true.
[he pauses for a moment and no one leaves]
James Lawson: Alright, kids. It’s show time.
[Lawson continues his meeting with the group of students]
James Lawson: Gandhi has demonstrated for us that a brown man in his native land, or anywhere that he’s being oppressed, can pull himself out of segregation with patience, with persistence, with intelligence and thought, with discipline, and a bit of sense of humor.
[at the same time we see a group of students, including Louis and Carol, going to a diner and sitting in the whites section]
Diner Waitress: You know y’all can’t sit here.
Louis Gaines: We would like to be served, please.
James Lawson: [voice over] This is unprecedented what we’re talking about, but it needs a patience that none of us have ever seen.
Diner Waitress: You can order food in the colored section, but I’m not gonna be serving you here.
[we see Lawson back at the meeting]
James Lawson: We are organized, we have a leader with every group, we have lookouts with pocket change and the local phone numbers for ambulances ready. And when one wave comes off that launch watch what follows, a whole other wave of Negro students sitting right there at lunch blowing their mind.
[back at the diner, the group of students remain sitting at the whites section]
Louis Gaines: We would like to be served, please.
James Lawson: [voice over] Now, who wants to role play?
Diner Waitress: Jim, we need your help here.
[a white man approaches the group of students]
Male Diner Patron: Now, you all know you’re not supposed to sit there.
Louis Gaines: Somethin’ special’s goin’ on down here, Dad.
Cecil Gaines: What’s so special about another colored man in jail? What are you doing with my hard earned money? Are you even in school?
Louis Gaines: I’m trying to change the ways Negro’s are treated.
Cecil Gaines: You broke the law. That judge just sentenced you to thirty days in the county workhouse. You could get killed.
Louis Gaines: If I can’t sit at any lunch counter I want, then I might as well be dead. We’re fighting for our rights!
Cecil Gaines: Rights! Boy, were trying to survive!
Louis Gaines: We’re trying to change the nation’s consciousness toward the American Negro.
Cecil Gaines: The postcards you’ve been sending me…you’re a damn liar!
Louis Gaines: I have been to school!
Cecil Gaines: Hey!
[Cecil grabs hold of Louis’ collar and pushes him against the wall in anger]
Cecil Gaines: Who do you think you’re talkin’ to? I brought you into this world, I can take you out of it!
[we see the White House staff clearing the furniture and items from inside the White House]
Cecil Gaines: [voice over] The President lives at the White House until the moment the next one is sworn in. So the staff has exactly two hours during the inauguration ceremony to move the whole the old President out and move the new one in.
[1961 – The Kennedy Administration; the White House staff are lined up as they meet President John F. Kennedy, his wife Jacqueline and their children]
Carter Wilson: They say this new white boy is smooth.
Cecil Gaines: I just need to get my butt home to Gloria, cause these hours are killing us.
Carter Wilson: How’s your boy doing Cecil?
Freddie Fallows: Gentlemen, the President’s arriving.
[Kennedy and Jaqueline enter with their young daughter Caroline and baby John Jr.]
Jacqueline Kennedy: Where shall I start?
John F. Kennedy: I’m not sure. This end?
White House Staff: Right this way, Mr. President.
[Kennedy walks over to the line of butlers]
John F. Kennedy: Hello everyone.
Staff: Mr. President.
John F. Kennedy: Uh…I am thrilled to be working with all of you over the next four years.
Jacqueline Kennedy: Eight years, John.
John F. Kennedy: Well, you see who wears the pants around here.
[the staff laugh]
John F. Kennedy: I’m not gonna remember any of your names, but I’m gonna try.
[Kennedy starts walking down the line with Fallows beside him introducing their names]
Freddie Fallows: Jessica.
John F. Kennedy: Jessica.
[to Fallows as he shakes Jessica’s hand]
John F. Kennedy: It’s a good thing you’re here, cause I’m gonna forget.
Freddie Fallows: This is Lorraine.
[Kennedy shakes her hand]
John F. Kennedy: Good to meet you.
Freddie Fallows: James.
James Holloway: Mr. President.
[they shake hands]
John F. Kennedy: James.
Freddie Fallows: Carter.
Carter Wilson: Pleasure, Mr. President.
[they shake hands]
John F. Kennedy: Carter
Freddie Fallows: This is Cecil.
Cecil Gaines: Pleasure to meet you, Mr. President.
John F. Kennedy: How are you?
[they shake hands and Kennedy moves down the line]
Cecil Gaines: Mrs. Kennedy.
[to the next member of staff]
John F. Kennedy: How are you?
[just then Caroline drops her doll and Cecil picks it up for her]
Cecil Gaines: Got her, she’s alright.
[he hands the doll to Caroline and she smiles at him]
Cecil Gaines: Pleasure to meet you, Miss Caroline.
Gloria Gaines: How pair of shoes does she have?
[Cecil doesn’t reply prepares to lie down to go to sleep]
Gloria Gaines: I said how many pairs of shoes does Ms Jackie Kennedy have?
Cecil Gaines: How the hell do I know!
Gloria Gaines: You’re in that old White House day and night, thought you knew everything.
[she continues applying her lipstick]
Gloria Gaines: Come in here tryin’ to tell me what to do. Worried about me drinkin’, you ought to be worried about your house. My boy’s in jail, Cecil. My boy is in jail and you can’t come home. You…you don’t see him here trying to talk to you. I bet you wish I spoke French, just like Jackie. Jackie Kennedy. Que sera sera. You like that? You like the way she talk?
[Cecil doesn’t reply and just lies in bed staring ahead]
Gloria Gaines: Cecil, you hear me talkin’ to you? You ain’t asleep.
[we see Cecil standing in the corner of the room as the Kennedy’s and their guests listen to a private classical music being played for them]
James Holloway: Bobby told the President they shouldn’t worry about the Negro citizens, poles show the U.S. does not support civil rights.
[at the same time we see Carter getting changed in the staff changing room]
Carter Wilson: Told you that white boy was smooth. I know too smooth for my money.
[we see Kennedy as he listens to the music; then it’s back to the changing room]
Carter Wilson: Hey, Cecil. How’s your boy doing?
Cecil Gaines: Out of jail. Says he’s back in school, but I think he’s doing that Freedom Rider thing.
James Holloway: How’s Gloria doing with her drinking?
Cecil Gaines: She’s hanging.
Carter Wilson: They say that cat that’s playin’ is a big deal.
James Holloway: Pablo Casals, world famous.
Cecil Gaines: Of course he’s world famous. You think Ms Kennedy is gonna have uh…some back woods country fiddler here playing out there for them?
James Holloway: Nah.
Cecil Gaines: Why don’t you start a band, maybe you can go out there too? You know, in fact, let’s all start a band. I’ll play the bongos. What about you?
Carter Wilson: I play a mean uh…skin flute.
[Cecil playfully taps on his locker with his hands]
James Holloway: Casals is a righteous soul, he refuses to play in any country that recognizes Franco’s regime.
Carter Wilson: Who’s Franco?
[there’s a moment’s pause]
James Holloway: Forget it, man.
Carter Wilson: Huh?
James Holloway: Forget it. You’re ignorant.
[Cecil is sat in Caroline’s bedroom reading to her out loud from the book ‘Madeline’]
Cecil Gaines: In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines. The smallest one was Madeline.
Caroline Kennedy: Like Caroline!
Cecil Gaines: Mm-hmm.
[continues reading from the book]
Cecil Gaines: She was not afraid of mice.
Caroline Kennedy: Why do people ride on the Freedom Bus?
[Cecil doesn’t know how to reply]
Caroline Kennedy: Uncle Bobby told my Daddy that the Freedom Bus exploded today.
[Cecil and Gloria watch news report about the Freedom Bus explosion]
Cecil Gaines: [voice over] I didn’t know if my boy was dead or alive.
Voice of Victim on News: As I got off the bus a man came up to me and I’m coughing and struggling, he said, “Boy, are you alright?.” As I nod my head and the next thing I knew I was on the ground, he had hit me with a baseball bat.
[at that moment their phone rings and Cecil picks up the phone]
Cecil Gaines: Hello?
Louis Gaines: Hi, Dad. I’m in Mississippi.
[we see Louis is making his call from jail]
Cecil Gaines: I thought you was in Alabama.
Louis Gaines: We spent two weeks in jail there, now we’re in Mississippi.
Cecil Gaines: I want you to listen to me, Louis. I want you to come home. I know we ain’t seeing eye to eye, but your Mama, she wants you home.
Louis Gaines: They’re keeping me.
Cecil Gaines: How long?
Gloria Gaines: What is it?
Louis Gaines: I don’t know. They say three months until I can get out. I’m gonna take another ride.
Cecil Gaines: What are you talking about?
Gloria Gaines: What’s he sayin’?
Cecil Gaines: What are you talking about?
Gloria Gaines: Let me talk to him. Give me that phone.
[Gloria picks up the other phone and listens in]
Louis Gaines: It is my right to ride that bus, that is my legal right. I want to exercise my rights as an American citizen.
Gloria Gaines: American citizen? What you talkin’ about? You know what they’re gonna do to you? They’re gonna lynch you, and they’re gonna throw your little ass in the river. They’re gonna kill you.
Louis Gaines: Ma, then they’re just gonna have to kill me.
Cecil Gaines: [voice over] I didn’t know if I was gonna get home alive. It was the first time I felt like I didn’t belong in my own neighborhood. The whole world was changing and I didn’t know how to fit in.
[we see Louis and Carol watching Jesse Jackson talking about King’s death to the media, Louis cries as he watches]
Jesse Jackson: The white people’s best friend is dead. The black people’s leader, our Moses, the once in a four hundred or five hundred year leader has been taken from us by hatred and bitterness. Even as I stand at this hour, I…I cannot even allow hate to enter my heart at this time, for it was sickness, not meanness, that killed him.
Louis Gaines: [to Cecil] I’m sorry, Mr. Butler! I didn’t mean to make fun of your hero!
[suddenly Gloria slaps Louis hard in the face knocking him against the wall]
Gloria Gaines: Everything you are and everything you have is because of that butler. Now you take that triflin’ little low class bitch and get out of this house.
[Louis looks at Gloria for a moment before walking out, Carol follows him and leaves]
Cecil Gaines: [voice over] Vietnam took my boy and I didn’t understand why we were there in the first place.
Cecil Gaines: I’ve been here for twenty years now. For all that time the black help has been paid a smaller salary than the white help. And I just don’t think that’s right, Mr. Warner. There are black housemen who should be engineers by now, they should have been promoted years ago.
R.D. Warner: You think so.
Cecil Gaines: I’m gonna have to be paid the same as the white help, or I’m gonna have to move on.
R.D. Warner: I guess you’ll be moving on then.
[Warner then carries on looking at his paperwork]
Cecil Gaines: I told the President that you’d say that. He told me to tell you to take this up with him personally.
[there’s a moment’s pause as Warner and Cecil look at each other]
Cecil Gaines: Excuse me.
[Cecil turns and walks over to the door]
Cecil Gaines: [voice over] It was different sittin’ at the table instead of servin’ it, real different.
[Cecil looks at one of the butlers serving at his table]
Cecil Gaines: [voice over] I could see the two faces the butlers wore to survive and I knew I’d lived my life with those same two faces.
[Cecil looks over to Gloria who has been sat at different table]
Cecil Gaines: [voice over] Gloria looked so happy, I didn’t feel the same way. I guess I wished we were there for real instead of for show.
[Louis and Cecil are sat inside a jail cell full of other protesters]
Louis Gaines: Don’t worry, Dad, we’ll be out of here in a few hours.
Cecil Gaines: Who said I was worried?
Cecil Gaines: [voice over] After goin’ to jail I thought I’d seen it all. But I never imagined I’d see a black man be a real contender for the President of the United States.
[2008 – the Gaines’ are having supporting the election of Barack Obama for president, Cecil sits next to Gloria watching their guests]
Cecil Gaines: [voice over] Gloria and I would walk to our polling place every night to see what we’d be votin’ for Barack Obama. We’d just stare at it, smile.
[Cecil irons his tie and gets all dressed up in his suit and tie, he places the pin Lyndon Johnson had given him years before on his tie and puts his jacket on]
Cecil Gaines: [voice over] Just look through their eyes, see what it is that they want, see what it is that they need. Anticipate. When they smile, to look past their eyes.
[we see Cecil as he was sat in the opening scene, waiting in the Entrance Hall of the White House, he sees the usher, an African-American man, walk up to him]
Admiral Rochon: Mr. Gaines, I’m Admiral Rochon, the Chief Usher.
[he extends his hand and Cecil takes his hand and rises]
Cecil Gaines: Nice to meet you.
Admiral Rochon: Pleasure’s all mine, sir.
[Rochon gestures for them to start walking]
Admiral Rochon: I just wanted to tell you what an honor it is to meet you, sir.
[as they walk down the hallway]
Cecil Gaines: The honor is mine.
[Cecil is sat in the living room watching TV showing news report of Obama being elected as President]
Cecil Gaines: Louis, come on down! Come down!
[Louis joins Cecil and they watch as Obama gives his speech]
Barack Obama: If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.
[tears roll down Cecil’s face as he listens to Obama and Louis puts his arm around his shoulders]
Admiral Rochon: The President is so excited to meet with you.
Cecil Gaines: Yeah. Well, that’s just fine.
Admiral Rochon: Come on, I’ll show you the way.
[as Rochon goes to lead the way]
Cecil Gaines: I know the way.
[Rochon watches as Cecil starts walking towards Obama’s office; as we watch him walk we hear parts of the famous Presidential speeches from Kennedy, Johnson and Obama]
John F. Kennedy: The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities.
Lyndon B. Johnson: It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life.
Barack Obama: We will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can.
[as the screen fades to black we see the quote “This film is dedicated to the brave men and women who fought for our freedom in the Civil Rights Movement”]