Back to IndieWire

Forest Whitaker In Negotiations To Headline Lee Daniels’ “The Butler” (Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo Also In)

Forest Whitaker In Negotiations To Headline Lee Daniels' "The Butler" (Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo Also In)

Last I wrote about this project a couple of weeks ago, Oprah Winfrey was said to be eyeing a role in director Lee Daniels’ The Butler, to be produced by Laura Ziskin (Pretty WomanAs Good As It GetsSpider-Man 12 & 3) – the drama based on Eugene Allen, an African American who worked as a butler in the White House for over 34 years, serving 8 presidents from 1952 to 1986.

Also… Recall it was rumored that Denzel Washington was Daniels’ man for the starring role as the butler, but word has been that he wants David Oyelowo instead (who is also attached to star as MLK in Daniels’ in Limbo project Selma, and will appear in Daniels’ recently-completed thriller The Paperboy).

First announced in mid-2010 as a Sony Pictures project, The Butler is now being financed independently, and Daniels has reportedly been busy “putting together a top-notch cast.

And adding to that “top-notch” cast is Forest Whitaker, who Variety says is also now in negotiations to play the title role, as Eugene Allen, the titular butler! David Oyelowo would instead play his son in the film.

As already reported, Oprah Winfrey would play the butler, Eugene Allen’s wife.

Other actors being offered roles include Mila Kunis to play Jackie Kennedy, and John Cusack to play Richard Nixon. Hugh Jackman’s name is also in the mix, but no word on what character he’d play.

Allen started at the White House as a “pantry man” in 1952 when blacks weren’t allowed to use public restrooms in his native Virginia. He ended up serving eight presidents, and had a unique front row seat, as political and racial history was being made, from the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement, to the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., President John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy Jr.

The film is based on a series of articles written on Allen by Wil Haygood.

If financing comes together for this (based on this cast thus far, as well as the producer names, I’d be surprised if it didn’t eventually) this could be one of those films that’s buzzed about during awards season, during whatever year it’s released.

Stay tuned…

This Article is related to: News and tagged ,



Excuse us Tambay as the big boopers continue to hi-jack the sh*t out of this post LMBAO. Damn, I am getting awfully jealous up in here. So excuse my French and street vernacular, but y'all (below)have shown signs of being some good-ass writin' MF'ers :-). Yeah, I said it, BONDGIRL, CHARLES "Micheal" Jordan and Jug are killing this freakin' post. Come on now… this party would be "almost" complete if Accidental Visitor, Nadine and Cherish sharpened their pencils and joined the conversation. Are you kidding me… y'all have me feeling like Willie lump-lump up in here. I am not worthy but I sure am loving being in the wake of such bad-ass scribes and wordsmiths. I am telling you guys right now, I'm stealing some of yo shit and calling it mine *lol*


All good. :D

@Jug (or anyone else that can answer this)-
Was Denzel actually attached to The Butler or was he just mentioned by Lee Daniels as who he'd like for the part? I ask because this doesn't seem like a "Denzel role". The Butler sounds far too, as MFA said, passive for Denzel these days. Denzel and Samuel L. Jackson are cinemas baddest two Black men in the country right now and a part like this seems… regressive to me.

@Charles Judson-
Great comments. I don't know if I agree with all of it, particularly the rebirth of the R-rated comedy and the cinematic lineage of Project X, but well thought out. As to The Wire: at this stage in Black tv/film development, I don't know if we will ever see a mainstream Black created property as morally ambiguous and challenging as The Wire. I hate that I think like this but look at the majority of Black created projects over the last decade: comedies, biopics, religious dramas, chick flicks, remakes.


The timing is unfortunate, but this movie seems less like The Help and more like Remains of the Day (which was a pretty good movie). I suspect it will have that similar ROD feel and be backed up with a better plotline than The Help, of course, given its connection to real-life events. My major PROBLEM is Lee Daniels who, by association, can make anything dirty and my UNEASE is at the re-emergence of the Black man as domestic servant returning to the Zeitgeist. I'm eager to see how this develops.


His story deserves to be told too. I think the title should change though. I'm sure defining that man by his job title in not the intent of the film..


They're actually moving forward with The Lone Ranger. I guess they're just gonna ignore the whole "redface" thing with Depp playing Tonto. Go figure.
I know that projects fall apart for any number of reasons all the time, but The Butler, a film about Black domestics, suddenly gaining traction after The Help's success tells me that this may be a mini trend.


Do you berate everyone you disagree with or is that just an internet thing? Just asking.
Anyway, to your point. You're actually telling me that The Help's success, which includes huge box office, critical response, and public acceptance, didn't get The Butler moving forward in production…even though it was announced (according to the above article) two years ago and there had been no real movement until recently? OK.


I need to add one more thing. Back in 1968, there was a large outcry against the film adaption of William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner. Styron's book shares a number of similaries with Stockett's The Help, as his main character is self loathing, much like Aibileen in The Help (novel). James Baldwin, Styron's friend, championed the novel, much like Octavia Spencer did with Kathryn Stockett. Back in 1933 Fannie Hurst had Zora Neale Hurston speaking up for her novel Imitation of Life, and for a time Hurston was able to convince Langston Hughes to do the same. However Hughes soon changed his mind, lampooning the novel with his own stage play called Limitations of Life. I'm not sure why publishers and Hollywood seem to think the docile, suffering in silence minority is so beloved. These are overused caricatures, and were originally created to show blacks how "Good Negroes" should behave. Everyone gets angry. Even Jesus did when he threw out those defiling his father's house. Yet there are those who want to hold on strongly to an image of African Americans that was never created by us, but constaintly pimped as "authentic."


Talk about knee-jerk reactions! I…think it sounds like it could be interesting. *runs and ducks from the rotten tomatoes*


In 1979 Backstairs at the White House was a popular miniseries which covered the life of Lillian Rodgers Parks. Parks worked for over thirty years as a maid and seamstress, and had been introduced to the job by her mother who was the first in their family to work at the White House during the tenure of several presidents.
During an exchange I had on twitter with one of the executive producers of The Help, I mentioned that Backstairs was out on DVD. The miniseries included Louis Gossett Jr, Leslie Ugghams, Robert Hooks, Paul Winfield, Hari Rhodes, Olivia Cole among others.


According to the article, The Butler was ANNOUNCED in 2010 under Sony but apparently went nowhere since it's just now being financed independently. Being announced and actually GREENLIT are two different things. If The Butler was greenlit before The Help, why is it just now being cast? Trust that if The Help had bombed or even underperformed, The Butler would still be in turnaround. And yes, that 25% Black b.o. you mentioned (link?), not to mention all of the word of mouth support by the NAACP, etc, absolutely sent a message to Hollywood.


…and this is what happens when movies like "The Help" become critical and box office hits. Hollywood rushes out to make 5 more just like it. Well, we've got no one to blame but ourselves. We supported that film in droves and Hollywood heard us. They're giving us more of what we want…right?


Read the script a while ago…

It wasn't bad but I'm hoping it is extensively rewritten. For one, Eugene the Butler is remarkably passive. This is a dramatic failure first and foremost. It's just not entertaining. It's not how protagonists are supposed to act. This passivity also has political/social implications. I try to avoid breaking things down along a sellout-righteous dichotomy because it's not that simple. Not even Malcolm X could be Malcolm X all the time. But it takes a real insightful historian or storyteller who accesses history to find the ways in which blacks applied about a million different strategies to cope with daily discrimination, degradation and terrorism. Eugene only plays one card for 2+ hours and I'm tired of this depiction because it isn't true.

The script also gave a "Greatest Hits" of the Civil Rights movement that's very superficial and nothing new.

I'm hoping that future drafts address these issues. Has the potential to be a powerful story.

Miles Ellison

So which president gets the doo doo pie?


Listen, you have to give it to white folks, they brought pimpin' to town and the beat goes on. Lets see, they gave us The Help and "we" got an Oscar. And we can't forget Forrest Whitaker's part as the brutal cannibalistic Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, and "we" got an Oscar. And who can forget Morgan Freeman driving that old white women? And again, "we" got an Oscar. So here we are in 2012 with the new version of Uncle Tom's Cabin. I mean, we're talking about the White House and maybe Mr. Eugene Allen wasn't an Uncle Tom, but I'd bet my last nickel he was not sitting with those presidents listening to James Brown's "I'm Black and I'm Proud" nor Aretha Franklin's "Respect". Come on now, can't you just see him standing around a corner (like Viola did in The Help) as Nixon and his boys told nigger jokes? And everybody knows Lyndon Johnson was a redneck. I wonder if they will have a scene in which Mr Allen opened the back door for Marilyn Monroe? You know ol'Johnny boy was hittin' that in the broom closet. Yeah, come to think of it, I think a better movie would be "The Secret Diary of The Presidents Butler!". I'd pay money to see that. I can picture a scene in which the Butler is seen easedropping on the good ol'boy while they called him Bojangles. And then, in the next scene we'd see them trying to persuade him to do a little tap dance. But then, after he refused their invitation, we'd see him dance into the room holding a trey of frosted Martini. But reminiscent of Octavia Butler's pie scene in The Help, unbeknownst to the big bad wolfs, Mr Allen stuck his dick in every glass and wiggled it around the rim and farted in the salad. Yes sir, I wanna see THAT movie :-)


Mr. Whitaker, is that little golden statue really worth that much to you? How cute that a black man would be directing this nonsense as well. If a return to slavery is what they're pushing….I got dibs on house n*gga!


sounds about right….


LMBAO… I hear the shamans of our ancestors laughing at the ignorance further descendants because of course they warned them what would happen in their arrogance.


I thought we weren't supposed to be playing servants anymore?

Miles Ellison



Sickening, the entire project.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *