The Butler Movie Guide
The Butler is a film based on the life of Eugene Allen, who worked as a waiter and butler in the White
House for 34 years. He started working in the White House in 1952 and retired in 1986 (as the head
butler). In the film Forest Whitaker plays the role of Cecil Gaines, whose character is based on the real
life Eugene Allen.
1. Who made this quote famous? “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that.”
2. Where and when is this film set?
3. What happens when Cecil’s father confronts Thomas Westfall about raping Hattie Pearl (Cecil’s
mother)?
4. Why does Miss Annabeth make Cecil a house servant?
5. What types of skills does Maynard teach Cecil while working at the hotel?
6. In what year did Cecil start working in Washington, D.C.?
7.
Who was Earl Warren?
8.
How many children do Cecil and his wife Gloria have?
9.
What is the first question that the White House maître d’ (Freddie Fallows) asks Cecil when he
interviews him?
10. Who was the U.S. president in 1957?
11. Why was the president reluctant to send federal troops to the South?
12. How did Cecil feel when Eisenhower sent troops to Little Rock?
13. Where does Louis decide to attend college? Where did his father want him to go?
14. What does James Holloway tell Vice President Nixon is his biggest concern?
15. How does James Lawson prepare Louis and some of the other students to engage in a sit-in at a
segregated diner?
16. Why do they call James Lawson’s training sessions “Love Schools?”
17. What types of abuses are the students staging the sit-ins forced to endure?
18. What sentence does Louis receive for his involvement in the sit-ins?
19. How does Cecil react to Louis being arrested?
20. Contrast the image of black White House staff serving its constituents to the college students
seeking to be served at the dining counters. What is the symbolism?
21. How long does the White House staff have to move the Eisenhower’s possessions out, before
bringing the Kennedy’s in?
22. Why does Cecil read about Addison’s Disease?
23. Who was Pablo Casals?
24. What does the KKK do to a freedom bus as it is traveling through Alabama?
25. Where does Louis find himself when he calls home to talk to his parents?
26. Why does Gloria end up having an affair with Howard?
27. Describe the conversation which ensues after Cecil helps pick President Kennedy up off the
floor.
28. What happens to Gloria’s neighbor Howard?
29. How is Cecil’s request for a pay raise received by R.D. Warner?
30. Why does Cecil have a difficult time making it home after Dr. King’s assassination?
31. Charlie joins the military to fight in Vietnam. How does he explain his motivation to his brother
Louis?
32. How does Nixon attempt to persuade the black community to vote for him?
33. What present does Gloria give to her husband Cecil on his birthday?
34. Why won’t Cecil speak to his son Louis when he shows up with Carter at the White House to tell
him that he has received a Master’s Degree in political science?
35. In what state does Louis Gates seek out a Congressional seat?
36. Why does Gloria encourage Cecil to call Louis after he loses the election?
37. How does Cecil convince R.D. Warner to give the black help at the White House a promotion?
38. What type of invitation does Nancy Reagan extend to Cecil and Gloria?
39. How do Cecil and Gloria’s experiences at the state dinner differ? Why?
40. What realization does Cecil come to after the state dinner?
41. Cecil says, “America has always turned a blind eye to what we have done to our own.” What
does he mean by this?
42. When Cecil quits his job, how does President Reagan react?
43. What is Louis doing when Cecil comes to protest with him?
44. Where do Louis and Cecil find themselves after the demonstration?
45. What happens in 2008, that Cecil never thought that he would see in his lifetime?
46. What does Cecil put on when he goes to visit the White House at the end of the film?
47-50. ESSAY: What do you think is the most important event that Cecil witnesses while working in the
White House? Why? (Separate page)
Answer key:
1. The quote is attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr. – You may also want to ask the students what
the quote means.
2. The film is set in 1926, in Macon Georgia.
3. He shoots and kills him in cold blooded fashion.
4. It is likely because she feels remorseful about the death of Cecil’s father.
5. He primarily teaches him the ins and outs of proper etiquette as it relates to catering to white
people.
6. He starts working in Washington, D.C. in 1852.
7. Earl Warren was the (14th) Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
8. Cecil and Gloria have two sons named Louis and Charlie.
9. The first question he asks him is, “Are you political?”
10. In 1957, the president was Dwight D. Eisenhower.
11. He was afraid that he might trigger another Civil War. Eisenhower believed that Civil Rights
issues should be resolved largely by the states themselves, rather than by the federal
government.
12. He was confident that Eisenhower would make things better for people of color.
13. Louis decides to attend Fisk, while his father’s preference was Howard.
14. Holloway tells the vice president that his biggest concern is that the “colored staff” is being paid
40% less. He also mentions the lack of promotions among people of color who have been
working at the White House.
15. They act out role playing scenarios to prepare them for what will happen in real-life situations.
16. His training sessions stress non-violent resistance to unjust laws. Lawson believes that a
resister greatest weapon is the use of love to awaken a sense of justice.
17. They are both verbally and physically assaulted. They are spit on, kicked and doused with
coffee, etc.
18. His sentence is 30 days in the county jail/workhouse.
19. He is outraged. He asks Louis if he is even going to school.
20. While the “colored” staff takes pride in “serving” their country, the whites are offended by the
thought that they would ever have to “serve” people of color. It symbolizes the overt racism
that existed and perhaps still exists in parts of our nation.
21. The White House staff is permitted just two hours to accomplish their task.
22. JFK suffered from Addison’s Disease.
23. Pablo Casals was a world class cello player and composer. He refused to perform in any country
that recognized Franco’s regime.
24. First they stop it, then they torch it.
25. He once again finds himself in prison.
26. Likely because he is always working and is never home.
27. The president asks Cecil, how many pills he takes every day? While Kennedy looked young and
vital, he spent much of his presidency dealing with serious health related issues.
28. Howard gets shot by the husband of a woman he was having an affair with.
29. He request is not well received. Warren tells Cecil that if he is unhappy with his pay, he needs
to look for other employment.
30. Washington, D.C. has erupted into rioting.
31. He tells Louis that, “He wants to fight for his country.” He sees Louis fighting against his
country.
32. Nixon attempts to win their support by promoting and supporting black entrepreneurs. Black
voters constituted 20 percent of the vote at the time.
33. Gloria gives Cecil an outfit that she has personally sewn for him.
34. Cecil won’t speak to Louis because he didn’t (or wouldn’t) attend his brother’s funeral.
35. Louis Gates seeks out a Congressional seat in the state of Tennessee.
36. Gloria wants Cecil to try and mend his relationship with his son. To “pick him up.”
37. Cecil essentially “goes above him” and speaks to President Reagan about making things right.
38. She invites them to the State Dinner as “guests.”
39. Gloria enjoys the dinner, while Cecil feels it is for show and a sham.
40. He begins to realize that his son was a hero, fighting to save the soul of the country.
41. We tend to focus on the evils of the Nazis, etc., but we don’t focus on how we have mistreated
our own people right here in America.
42. President Reagan was sad, because he feels that Cecil was the best butler.
43. He is marching to free South Africans. Louis and the other protestors also wants Nelson
Mandela freed.
44. They are placed in prison.
45. Barack Obama was elected as the President of the United States.
46. He wears his tie from Kennedy and the clip from LBJ.
47-50. Answers will vary, but should be substantiated by supporting arguments.
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The Butler Movie Guide The Butler is a film based on the life of