Every year sees a certain number of films that sprinkle themselves across the race-relations spectrum. In 1989, for instance, we had Do The Right Thing on the one end and Driving Miss Daisy on the other. In 2004 it was White Girls and Crash, in a respectively bizarre contrast. Still, you get the idea: Movies that attempt to call the race relation game as it really is versus movies that align with a culturally accepted notion of race relations as they have played out in America. This year proves no different, with Fruitvale Station on the one end and Lee Daniels’ The Butler on the other. Quite perfectly, both films in question this year have Forest Whitaker involved in some capacity, enjoy the distribution of the Academy Award-hungry Weinstein Company, and, quite expectedly, do indeed pander for those Oscars.
Yet, after seeing both movies, one thing has become clear for me. Fruitvale Station definitely deserves some recognition—if not an actual Oscar or two—while Lee Daniels’ The Butler, which coincidentally was not based on the novel Push by Sapphire, succeeds in little else than whole heartedly accepting cultural norms. Think The Help, but with way more stars and presidents played by stars. If you can get past the film’s non-groundbreaking stature and just accept that its messages, and not to mention its civil rights timeline, are totally off, then maybe, just maybe, you can non-critically enjoy the film.