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Hey all, we had an amazing moment during the press conference for Lee Daniels' The Butler.  The film chronicles the life of a sharecropper’s son who served as butler to seven US presidents during the tragedies and triumphs of the Civil Rights Movement.  Director Daniels and cast members Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard and Mariah Carey gave incredibly thoughtful responses to LMD’s question about a compelling scene.

Dig it!


Lee Daniels’ The Butler Press Conference

Lee Daniels, Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Mariah Carey, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz, David Oyelowo, Yaya Alafia, Terrence Howard, James Marsden, Minka Kelly, Liev Schreiber, Jesse Williams, writer Danny Strong


The Lady Miz Diva:  Early on in the film there’s a line that just struck me that says, “We got two faces, one is ours, one we show the white people.” It’s one of the lines that I feel is parallel to today.  I wondered - for anyone who would like to answer – if that is parallel to your experience as someone who has strived and achieved success in a white-dominated business and how we get past that point {of having to wear two faces}?

Terrence Howard:  Well, this is the face that we show the white people.

{All laugh}


Lee Daniels:  I talk about that in the New York Times piece about me, The Two Faces of the African-American. And I think that we bring it to light here was important for me because I think that as I grew in Hollywood, I had to put on a face; I had to talk with a certain diction and I had to be a certain way, I had to dress a certain way. I had to present myself in a certain light so that I could get ahead, and it wasn’t until I found myself and be myself that I could present that.  It was when Obama was elected that I was able to be me and the two faces met.


Oprah Winfrey:  I don’t feel that at all.  I feel that I have made a living being myself.  When I was 19 years old, I interviewed Jesse Jackson as a young reporter in Nashville, Tennessee, and he said to me then, “One of your gifts is being able to be yourself on TV.”  So, when I moved to Chicago, and I was up against the then-“King of Talk,” my boss at the time called me in the office and said, “Listen, we know we’ll never be able to beat him, so just go over there and be yourself.”  So, I have made a career out of my own authenticity.  I only have one face that I present to the white world and the black world, you know?  I talk to my dogs in the same way.  So, it’s always been the same for me, and I say that with great pride and homage and honour to the people who were the generation before me.  That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to be in this movie.  It is because I am the daughter of a maid, and my grandmother was a maid, and her mother was a maid, and her mother was a slave.  So, the domestic worker in the speech that Dr. King gives to my son in the movie; I feel validated by their courage.  I feel validated by the war that the butler and his entire generation fought in their own way and the fact that there’s another generation of freedom riders, or freedom fighters, who, because of evolution and growth and change decided we’re not going to do that anymore.  I think that was also necessary.  So, both wars were necessary for the time.

But there was a wonderful poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar, called We Wear the Mask that I learned as a little girl, but because of the courage, because of the conviction of an entire generation whose shoulders we all stand on, I never had to do it.


LD:  That’s the reason why you’re Oprah Winfrey, because unfortunately, many of the people that I know, and what I’ve had to experience have had to do...


OW:  I mean, yeah, obviously, you do it as a black man.


LD:  … as a black man.


Cuba Gooding, Jr.:  Well, now, I would like to take it from there…

{All Laugh}


Mariah Carey:  Take it!


CGJ:  I love you, Oprah, and I love exactly what you said cos I feel that same way in a lot of aspects of my life, but there is that very aggressive aspect of my life that I have a specific face for.  I’ve been in organised sports for all my life.  I’ve been a professional ice hockey player in tournaments and people generally think of ice hockey as a predominantly white sport - which it is - but I played in certain areas where I know that people are defensive for me to be present with them.  So, I know that if I act the way that I act in the boxing gym, with predominantly black and Hispanic aggressive men; there’s a difference face that I put on in that environment.  It’s a very accountable environment, where you have to watch what you say and how you speak, or you will be held accountable physically.  So there’s a certain face I wear there and there’s a certain face I wear in that locker room surrounded by certain people who have very different opinions about black people, but they have to respect me because of my skill level there.  Then there’s a very different face that I wear with my children in these very expensive schools that I have them in.  There’s a very specific face that I wear as a celebrity.  And I think the film is indicative of the faces that black men had to wear in this time, specifically in the South and specifically as a domesticated and professional people.  And then there was also other faces that David Oyelowo’s character had to wear around people that he obviously at some point had a disconnect with, with the storyline and with Yaya {Alafia}’s character being that of the Black Panthers.  So, the black male in this time of Civil Rights Movement had to wear many faces that we have been talking about for the past few days.  And I think that the Trayvon Martin situation was another thing that sparked another reminder that we do need to wear certain faces that represent a mentality indicative of our surroundings.  Terrence spoke very wonderfully about it yesterday, in terms of if Trayvon had recognised the face that he needed to wear at that particular moment, it might’ve been a very different outcome.  So, I think that even though we’ve talked a lot of wonderful statements being made about historical times and presidents and what not, but I think what attracted me to this movie was the duality of the existence of the African-American male through this time period that was so wonderfully detailed by Mr. Lee Daniels, through the Civil Rights Movement, the relationship, the face that the butlers got to wear around Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, and the very different face they had to wear around Nixon.  So faces are a theme in this movie that can’t be ignored or slighted, and I think it’s something that even though we all wish that we could be as open as certain personalities, we as African-Americans still deal with this very real situation about the many faces that we’re required to wear.


MC:  Something that Lee and I spoke about several times was the whole duality of it, and I think Lenny {Kravitz} and I had spoken about this too.  My mom who is Irish-American, my father was African-American, and actually Oprah and I did a show about this; that there were some young interracial – we were taught to call ourselves interracial, when I was little but biracial children, multiracial children, I’m not sure what the correct term to use is now.  But I think it’s going to be healthy for kids to be able to grow up to see this movie because I mean, we were talking about it before, there’s something about it that’s so… it’s deep when you look at these times and you say, ‘Well, how glamourous that was. How that must’ve been for certain people.’ And then I would say to myself cos my mom was very active in the Civil Rights Movement, but she was the one who had to go and get the house whenever they wanted to buy a house, cos my dad wanted to kind of assimilate and give his children a chance to get to another level and not grow up like he did in the Bronx and Harlem and different places where his mom had come from down south and migrated upwards.  I think that this is something that it’s just so brave.  {To Lee Daniels} It’s the same bravery you had and always have in your work and I just wanna say personally thank you for doing it.


TH:  I wanted to add something to this because I started off saying this is the face we show white people.  Cos most human beings are fragmented and not solid and whole within themselves and come to terms like Oprah has come to terms with who and with all that she is; even white people have a face that they show to white people. Everyone shows what they hope will gain acceptance into the world.  But once you’ve accepted yourself and recognised your connectedness to the entire being, to the universe, and you are moving in a cooperative manner as exemplified by Cecil in the film.  He had the stillness of being to wait on God’s hands, to wait on the universal purpose and once that was accomplished – it wasn’t accomplished at a time when he hoped it would be accomplished, but it was accomplished when it was necessary.  Those musical octaves, at the end we will come to a crescendo and there will be balance, but you have to trust that and we have to move as a solid people.  But until then, we will be fragmented, and we’re gonna blame everyone when you see them have a false face or a false tone, when it’s the reflection of our own tones or our own falseness.  So, we’re all playing.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

August 5th, 2013




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