In August, 2013, Ebony Magazine published a story on a real-life character which inspired the movie: The Butler, by Lee Daniels. It is the story of an African-American butler who served 8 Presidents in the United States of America until 1986. The period he served was dominated by racial discrimination.
The man, Eugene Allen, never thought a black man would ever become a boss at the White House despite his many personal convictions. Wil Haygood, an acclaimed reporter with the Washington Post, had dug out the story through 3 weeks of trial, with over 50 phone calls. He had painstakingly spoken to the 89 years old man and even watched an episode of a show; The Price is Right, with the man in his home, in the company of his wife, before he was granted an interview, after maybe, convincing him. He later published the story to an appreciative audience who wrote back in thanksgiving.
The inspiring butler died in March, 2010. His son, Charles, is a retired investigative officer. His wife, Helene had died few years before the man in 2007. Today, a movie has been made, purely inspired by Allen’s life at the White House when it wasn’t a jolly ride to be black and employed to serve the President of the United States of America as a butler. The character of Allen played by Forest Whitaker portrays an African-American butler at the White House who served 5 Presidents, unlike Allen’s 8.
While I think the story is important and very inspirational to the black race and anyone who admires determination and courage, I wish to thank Haygood for his skilfulness in plucking the story. At the man’s death in 2010, President Obama sent a message to be read at the funeral, where he called him a hero in selected words, saying Allen’s ‘life represents a very important moment in America’s history.’
I think about my country, Nigeria. A nation ridiculed in tribal sentiments, where it is a crime to be born into certain minority tribe in the country. When you are from certain tribes you are to either remain a house-help or a gatekeeper. When you shoot outside the expected career, you are discriminated against. Your cheques may not be signed. Your manuscript may not be published by a certain group. You are nothing. You are from a minority tribe. Why would you want to cross a line that had been drawn for you? Why do you want to be so ungrateful to a system that has so far sheltered you?
There are many Allens in Nigeria who have served the many administrations in Nigeria. They have experiences and histories that, if examined or talked about, may give the everyday man hope to live again. I believe that we live on inspirations. Every day we find something interesting to spark up the mind to wanting to live for another day. In the midst of madness, we find sanity in hope, that maybe our country will someday have peace, unconditional peace that would not question tribal identity, where tribal men would not boast of having ruled Nigeria from day one and had borrowed the country money or cars like it was a big deal.
Allen is long dead. The movie: The Butler would be watched and forgotten. What may not be forgotten would be the impact Allen created by his service and recounting his story to a man who documented it. It is inspiring. I pray someone, someday, comes up with a very interesting story of a Nigerian who did something inspiring, brave and selfless and inspire a lot of the young people who are in search of genuine heroes. Lots of stories are around us. Lots of events too, which can spark movies. Until then, I look forward to enjoying Lee Daniel’s flick.
Article by Nwilo Bura-Bari Vincent