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Lee Daniels' The Butler | 2013 | PG-13 | - 5.6.5

Cecil Gaines (Forest Whittaker) works his way up from butler to maître d' of the White House, serving eight US Presidents. He witnesses the sociopolitical changes occurring from 1952 to 1986 and lives to see the nation's first black President elected. Also with Oprah Winfrey, Mariah Carey, John Cusack and Jane Fonda. Directed by Lee Daniels. [2:12]

SEX/NUDITY 5 - A man and a woman kiss in an alley; a few days later, we see them sitting at the end of a bed while watching TV and he is shirtless and she is wearing a sleeveless top as she hugs him from behind. A husband and wife kiss passionately but briefly in their living room.
 In a bedroom scene, a woman appears to be nude, but has a quilt covering her; her husband is wearing a T-shirt and is covered from the waist down by the quilt (sex is implied). A butler asks a kitchen worker to have sex and that he will put towels down on the kitchen floor for it; she declines.
 A man and a woman who are both married to others but are next-door neighbors argue about continuing an affair; they are fully dressed as she asks him to leave even after he tries unsuccessfully to kiss her; and on another night on the front porch we see the man send his wife into the kitchen for something and he enters the other woman's home, implying sex.
 On TV, "Soul Train" girl dancers wear short shorts that reveal legs and tight knit tops that hug their bosoms, which bounce. A black velvet painting shows a naked woman in full nudity except for the crotch area. Two parties feature women wearing long gowns with deeply cut necklines that reveal cleavage. A man stands without trousers on in a butler's ready room, brushing his teeth at a sink. In a bedroom scene at a dressing table and in a bed a woman wears a long nightgown that reveals cleavage. President Lyndon Johnson sits on a toilet and we see his bare thighs and legs under his long shirt. A woman wears a deeply cut tank top that reveals cleavage. A man wearing a sleeveless T-shirt and shorts that extend to mid-thigh sits on a bed.
 A man in a kitchen begins to tell a sexual joke: "She says to put my whole hand in, then to put my other hand in. Now, clap! I said, ‘I can't'"; then he mouths a few words during loud kitchen noise and the punch line is inaudible. A man teases his wife about sex at a party, saying, "Who you been giving it to?" and she laughs. A man says that if you cannot be king at home, you can be king in a strip club. A man tells another man that is in the Black Panthers that black leather clothing makes him look like a woman.


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VIOLENCE/GORE 6 - Two night scenes show two hanged men dead in close-up with blood seeping from the ropes around their necks.
 On a plantation worked by sharecroppers, a male owner takes a bi-racial woman into a shed and we hear screams (rape is implied); the woman's young son shouts and the man exits the shed and shoots the boy's father (there's no blood) in front of him; the boy screams and cries as the owner asks who else wants to be shot and walks away; later, we see the boy's mother sitting in front of her cabin, catatonic and we hear that she is crazy.
 KKK members in a truck topped with a lighted cross stop a bus of Freedom Riders, spit on the windows, break the windows with ball bats, rock the bus and shout unintelligible taunts; men and women on the bus scream while men with torches set fire to the bus; a man wearing a white sheet and hood douses the vehicle with gasoline and the screen goes white; we then see an original photo of the bus in the 1960s, with its top half burned off and the rest charred.
 We hear gunshots off screen and the scene cuts to Jackie Kennedy sitting on a sofa with blood covering the skirt of her suit and her lower legs while she cries and howls in anguish; a butler says in the kitchen, "They blew his head off." A couple is shot at three times on the street and they duck into an alley, unharmed.
 Several violent scenes from the 1950s-1970s Civil Rights Movement show original footage of race riots with African-Americans being beaten by police and dragged away by the feet; in Selma, fire hoses and dogs are turned loose on African-Americans, who scream and cry (no bites are shown) and people are beaten and carried away; in the current time, a man lies in a jailhouse bunk and his face/eyes very swollen and bruised. We hear that Martin Luther King, Jr. is dead and we see streets full of storefronts in Washington, DC smashed in with barrels and bricks; men and women run, screaming and crying and we see footage of inner city rubble and slums. Actual footage of Vietnam warfare is shown with bombs that cause some flames with large amounts of smoke, along with soldiers shooting rifles.
 We hear that a teenager serving in the military is killed in Vietnam; we see a short funeral and a 21-gun salute, followed by a scene of Arlington National Cemetery among rows of white headstones. An older woman needs a cane for support as she walks and later she needs a portable oxygen tank; in a kitchen scene, her husband walks into another room and we hear a thud in the kitchen; when he returns to the kitchen he finds her leaning against the wall with her eyes closed, and we hear that she died; the camera cuts to a short scene of the man sitting in a church alone with the coffin at the front of the sanctuary, topped with flowers.
 African-Americans and supportive whites sit at a Woolworth lunch counter and cannot get service; after several hours, white people come in and slap the seated people in the head, spit in their faces, shake them and slap them while a counter manager tosses hot coffee into an African-American man's face, causing him to scream; the police arrest the people seated at the counter and they receive 30 days in jail.
 A man and his son argue over politics very loudly in several scenes spanning years and the man finally orders the son and his Black Panther girlfriend out of the house; in one scene, the man slaps the son in the face and in another scene, the mother slaps the son in the face; in a third scene, the mother slaps a younger son in the side of the face and neck.
 President John Kennedy becomes very angry when he sees how police handle African-Americans protesters on TV and slams his hand into a table. President Lyndon Johnson curses African-Americans and tells an African-American butler that he will send him back to the plantation.
 A newspaper shows a black-and-white picture of an African-American man with his head and face smashed in. An African-American man punches through hotel window glass to obtain food and we see his bloody hand; an older man bandages the younger man's hand and slaps him in the face for calling himself a derogatory term for African-Americans.
 A group of people is shown being trained to withstand an attack by providing attacks and verbal abuse to each other in groups seated on chairs in a Civil Rights club meeting.
 A speaker at a Black Panther meeting tells the group to kill two whites for every African-American that dies in a riot and a woman says that she is ready to do so while a man says that he is not and he quits the group; we hear that two members of the group were shot dead. We hear that a man was caught in bed with another man's wife and shot dead. An African-American man tells his son that he will get killed in the county workhouse among whites. We hear several times that African-Americans were lynched for looking at white women or for no reason at all. President Dwight Eisenhower says that if he sends troops into the South to force integration, it will be another Civil War. A butler finishes his first assignment serving a President and says to other butlers, "I want to shoot myself." A man tells two women that if someone puts hands on you, then send him to the cemetery. We hear that beatings and torture of Africans in South Africa is commonplace in the 1980s.
 A man throws a nut at a parrot and hits it in the side, making it squawk.


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LANGUAGE 5 - About 3 F-words, 10 scatological terms, 7 anatomical terms, 13 mild obscenities, 24 derogatory terms for African-Americans, name-calling (stupid, crazy, dumb, high falutin', uppity coloreds, criminals, fornicators, Negro, monkey, white boy, Mr. Butler, rich Uncle Tom, ugly, low-class), stereotypical references to white bigots, African-Americans, Black Panthers, politicians, teenagers, parents, plantation owners, war protestors, exclamations (shut-up), 5 religious profanities (GD), 5 religious exclamations (Oh my God, My Lord, Lord help us, Lord, Jesus Christ).


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SUBSTANCE USE - A butler serves President John Kennedy a glass of water and two prescription bottles (we see no medication taken), and a butler takes two prescription bottles from the Dallas assassination and keeps them on his nightstand at home. Glasses of champagne are served at a state dinner at the White House and we see men and women drinking, a man at home asks his wife if she'd like champagne and she says that she no longer drinks, a woman says that her adult son found her drunk on the kitchen floor and cleaned her up and that she is sober now, a man tells his father that his mother is sober, men and women drink from bottles of beer on their front porch, men and women drink short cocktails and bottles of beer, many open bottles of alcohol sit on a table at a party, men and women at home drink wine at dinner, a man drinks a cocktail alone, a woman opens a bottle of wine and then closes it without a drink, a man has a bottle of unopened cognac on his desk, butlers serve cocktails and beer in hotel restaurants and to various US Presidents, and white House butlers and kitchen staff drink a champagne toast in the kitchen. Men and women smoke cigarettes at home as well as on the street and in restaurants and on television shows and at parties, and a woman asks her teen son for a cigarette (he has none).


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DISCUSSION TOPICS - Slavery, Civil Rights, discrimination, war, murder, politics, justice, responsibility, work, family, friends, courage.

MESSAGE - Equality takes a long time to achieve and requires sacrifice.

CAVEATS

Be aware that while we do our best to avoid spoilers it is impossible to disguise all details and some may reveal crucial plot elements.

We've gone through several editorial changes since we started covering films in 1992 and older reviews are not as complete & accurate as recent ones; we plan to revisit and correct older reviews as resources and time permits.

Our ratings and reviews are based on the theatrically-released versions of films; on video there are often Unrated, Special, Director's Cut or Extended versions, (usually accurately labelled but sometimes mislabeled) released that contain additional content, which we did not review.


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