First, The Butler – Lee Daniels’ 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.
All we’ve really known about the project is what I wrote in the last sentence, and many of you have expressed your disatisfaction with seeing another film about a black person in a “service” position.
By the way, it’s inspired by a 2008 Washington Post article by Wil Haygood titled A Butler Well Served by This Election (read it HERE); it pretty much summarizes Mr Allen’s many years of service in the White House, leading up to President Obama’s election.
In the Vanity Fair piece, here’s what I think is a crucial bit of info on the project that I haven’t seen reported anywhere until now; Whitaker states:
“It’s a movie about the issue of how you protest… My son [to be played by David Oyelowo] is an activist who is repeatedly arrested. My character is a conformist, but in his own way, he influences presidents. Eugene becomes more active, particularly at the end of his life, when he makes a decision to fight.”
So that tells me it’s not just a biopic covering Allen’s almost 3 dozen years of life in the White House; and I did wonder why David Oyelowo was cast as his son, thinking at the time that the role would be relatively minor, and it would be all about the title character Whitaker will play in the film.
Reads like it’ll maybe be more of a struggle between generations on how to deal with the racism blacks experienced in this country over those 34 years – the pacifist older father’s approach versus the rebellious younger son’s radicalism. And eventually, the father maybe comes over to the son’s side of things, or they meet each other in the middle.
I think this makes it more intriguing – to me anyway – than just a visual documentation of Allen’s presidential term-to-term life as a White House butler.
The script is said to be done, and the cast is mostly in place with Oprah Winfrey “in talks” to play Allen’s/Whitaker’s wife, Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan, John Cusack rumored as Richard Nixon, and Liam Neeson also rumored as Lyndon B. Johnson.
The Vanity Fair piece goes on to mention Whitaker’s post-The Butler plans, like Better Angels, which deals with child soldiers in the north of Uganda, and a conflict journalist.
“The movie asks, When is the right time to step in?… The journalist gets captured by the Lord’s Resistance Army and is taken to a camp where he finds their leader, Joseph Kony, who hasn’t been seen for years.”
So who’s going to play Kony? Inquiring minds want to know.
Also, the sequel to Waiting to Exhale: he’s waiting for a script, and isn’t sure what to do in the absence of Whitney Houston. Recall the rumor that Oprah might replace her in the sequel…
And the rest of his upcoming roles, calling them “really dark characters“:
Whitaker is also due to play an Arizona parole officer in Bill’s Law and has already wrapped The Truth (with Eva Longoria and Andy Garcia), Freelancers (with 50 Cent and Robert De Niro), Vipaka (with Anthony Mackie), Pawn (with Nikki Reed), and The Last Stand (with Arnold Schwarzenegger).
He’s pushing ahead with his dream of directing and starring in Satchmo, in which he’d play Louis Armstrong. “I don’t know what it is about his spirit that makes you smile,” said Whitaker, who played Charlie Parker in Clint Eastwood’s Bird. “But he was just extraordinary. My first instrument was a French horn, so if you give me a trumpet, I could play it.” Nicholas Pileggi has taken over for Ron Bass on the script, which Whitaker said won’t neglect the fact that “Louis enjoyed pot every day.”
Whitaker is also attached to Roland Joffe’s The Archbishop and the Antichrist, in which the husky, six-foot-two actor would play chirping, five-foot-two clergyman Desmond Tutu.
So, dude is busy, right?
He’s been talking about that Louis Armstrong project for a little while now (see my post earlier today on the 50+ biopics of black public figures in limbo HERE); but this is the first I’m hearing about the inclusion of Satchmo’s daily pot habit; I’ll duck to avoid the flying tomatoes :)
Onward Mr Whitaker… onward…
You can read the full Vanity Fair piece HERE.