2013 award season kicked off last August with the release of Lee Daniel’s The Butler. The movie is blatantly and purposely Oscar bait, which is often obnoxious, but it cuts through the nonsense and manages to be a fine and even necessary piece of cinema.

Naturally, Lee Daniels’ The Butler is about a butler. Forest Whitaker plays Cecil Gaines, a man who after being hired to serve in the White House, is given a front row seat to much of American history. He serves through eight presidents (and is involved with or present for nearly every major cultural event that happened during the civil rights movement, sort of like a political Forrest Gump.

Cecil functions more as a conduit than a character. He is our window into this world. It is through him that we experience the film and it is his perspective that we are getting. Which is important because it is one that is distinctly African-American.

The biggest problem with movies about civil rights is that they’re often more concerned with how white people feel about the oppression rather than what the oppressed feel. What sets this movie apart is that it’s about African-Americans experiencing and eventually overcoming their treatment as second class citizens, and I’ve never seen it done this well.

It’s also a competently made film. Lee Daniels is technically astute as a filmmaker and his movie looks nice. Especially in the production design. All of the sets are authentically built to period and I bought into the world that he created.

The performances are impressive as well. Particularly from Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey. We’ve come to expect excellence from Whitaker, but Oprah had to remind us of her talent as an actress. Few remember that she was nominated for an Academy Award back in 1986, an honor that she very much deserved. She was great in The Color Purple and she’s even better in The Butler. Her screen presence is undeniable and she steals every scene she’s in despite being up against some serious talent.

Danny Strong’s script is solid. It flows smoothly through history, and covers a lot of ground in a small amount of time. There are moments where it’s clunky and it’s hard to believe that this character was present for almost every single major event that happened in America during the 20th century. These issues ultimately keep the film from being great, but it doesn’t do enough to drag The Butler down from success.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler may not be a perfect film, but it’s enjoyable and one that everyone should see.

What did you think of Lee Daniels’ The Butler?  Let me know in the comments section below.