(Photo : Weinstein Company )
Controversy continues to build for the upcoming "Lee Daniels' The Butler."
During a press conference in New York on Monday, August 5, a critic told director Lee Daniels that she was concerned about the portrayals of the presidents and Black Panther party in his upcoming film.
"When I saw the young man who was to portray JFK, I was concerned because there was a disconnect between the president and what I saw. And that was true for Regan as well as LBJ," said the reporter.
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In the film, the presidents are given limited screen time and are generally showcased from the perspective of Forest Whitaker's Cecil Gaines. As a result, the audience views some humorous moments including Lyndon B. Johnson (Live Schreiber) on the toilet and John F. Kennedy (James Marsden) laying on the floor in his bed room.
Daniels asked the critic if she liked the performances and she asserted that she did not. She also noted that she disapproved of how Daniels portrayed the Black Panther party and mentioned one particular scene in which Gaines' Louis (David Oyelowo) shows up at his home exposing his nipple.
"When Louis was presenting himself at the table as a Panther... I interviewed Panthers. They did not look the way he was dressed in attire," she said.
Daniels disapproved of her statement and made a swift retort. "I had uncles that were Panthers," he said. "And Louis was based on my uncles that were Panthers. So you might have interviewed Panthers but I have lived with them. And I am proud of my uncles that were Panthers."
Daniels then went on to defend his actors who portrayed the presidents. "And in regards to the presidents I think they have done tour de force job and I think that's what makes me a filmmaker and you an interviewer," he said to applause from other reporters in the room.
Whitaker then took the baton and defended his colleagues' work. "I have played historic characters a number of times. This is not a documentary. These are artists trying to convey a spirit of person in a time. Liev and James did, I think, beautiful jobs," he said.
He added, "I didn't look anything like Charlie Parker. I don't really look anything like Idi Amin and I feel like what we're trying to find is like the spirit and the soul of the character..."
Schreiber also took the time to comment on the criticism and even expressed empathy for the critic.
"I am authentically sorry that you didn't like what we did," he said while Daniels denied any authentic apology. "I really am... But I think part of the task was in those particular roles was to be present in those historical figures, and this is where I'm talking about perspective and context, where they may not be as you or history remembers them. They are seen through the eyes of the Butler and his family.
"I agree with you. Watching the film, there is a huge disconnect from what I remember about Lyndon Johnson, who was one of the most prolific presidents of our time in terms of passing legislation... but that wasn't the story," he added. "And it was important as actors that we contextualize our performance and everything that we were doing around this very tough nut of a perspective to make the film unique. So I appreciate your perspective but I think that what we were trying to do was a little more difficult."
Regarding the Panther outfit, Oyelowo noted that the critic was looking at the film from a general perspective when in fact the hope of the team was to create a story based on specificity.
"We are dealing the world of specificity. If you look at history from a distance you can make all sorts of decisions," he said. "But we are dealing with a family. A very specific family. When Louis turns up to that house to sit around that table with his hat on... he chooses to keep his hat on. He turns up in a mesh-leather shirt with his nipple showing. That is a statement that he wants to make to his specific father because of their specific relationship."
He also told the critic that black culture was often portrayed in film from a white perspective and that a little more open-mindedness was needed when dealing with "Lee Daniels' The Butler."
"To have that broad view I think is... you have drunk the Kool-Aid. You have been indoctrinated into a way of looking at black people that we are trying to defy. Which is to be specific," he concluded.
The film's title previously caused controversy. The original title "The Butler" was altered because Warner Bros. owned the rights to the name from a 1916 short film. The film's distributor Harvey Weinstein appealed the decision but was rejected by the Title Registration Bureau. "Lee Daniels' The Butler" was authorized as an appropriate and legal title.
"Lee Daniels' The Butler" hits theaters on August 16, 2013.