Australian Council on Children and the Media

Butler, The

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Not recommended under 13, PG to 15 (Violence; Disturbing scenes and themes)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Butler, The
  • a review of Butler, The completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 7 November 2013.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 13 Not recommended due to violence and disturbing scenes and themes
Children aged 13 to 15 Parental guidance recommended due to violence and disturbing scenes and themes
Children 15 and over OK for this age group

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: Butler, The
Classification: M
Consumer advice lines: Mature themes, violence and coarse language
Length 132 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

The Butler is based on a true story. Cecil Gaines (Forest Whittaker) has a hard start to life working in a cotton field in Georgia during the 1920s. There he sees his mother abused and raped by the son of the plantation owner and his father shot dead by the same man. As soon as he is old enough, he leaves the plantation to find work out in the real world. This is much harder than expected and when he has to rob a store to get some food, he appeals to the cook’s better nature and asks him to take him in. This he does and trains him to be a ‘house nigger’.

Cecil is so good at his job that he is spotted by an employee of the White House where he is offered a job as butler during Eisenhower’s term as President. Cecil goes on to serve eight different presidents during a time of many momentous events including as the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. One of Cecil’s sons Louis (David Oyelowo) joins the Civil Rights Movement and later, the Black Panthers, which causes much division between them.  Eventually Louis is estranged from his father. All of these events have much impact on Cecil’s life and that of his wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) as well as on American society.

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Racial prejudice and civil rights; Protest riots

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is quite a lot of violence in this movie including:

  • The opening scene shows Cecil remembering his early life when lynchings were common and two black people are shown hanging from ropes.
  • The son of the plantation owner, Thomas Westfall (Alex Pettyfer) grabs Cecil’s mother from the cotton fields and takes her into a shed. Screams are heard coming from the shed.
  • When Thomas comes out of the shed, Cecil challenges his father Earl (David Banner) to do something about it. Earl calls out to Thomas who shoots him dead on the spot.
  • Cecil breaks a shop window to get some food and cuts his hand badly.
  • The civil rights action group to which Louis and his girlfriend Carol (Yaya Alafia) belong perform role plays where some of them are seated and the others pretend to be thugs hitting and taunting them.  They rehearse not reacting.
  • The civil rights group go into a café and sit in the “non-coloured” area where they are subjected to dreadful treatment by a group of thugs. They are shaken, pushed and pulled off their chairs; they have sauce and mayonnaise squirted all over them and are spat on and kicked. Louis has hot coffee poured over him. This scene is quite confronting.
  • Louis’ group is on a bus which is attacked by the Klu Klux Klan wearing white robes and hoods and carrying burning torches. There is a huge burning cross nearby and the crowd which has joined the KKK start rocking the bus. One of the KKK smashes the windows with a baseball bat and throws his burning torch inside, setting the bus on fire. Actual newsreel footage of a similar event is shown.
  • There are several scenes of clashes between protestors and police – water cannon are used, police hit protestors and dogs attack them as well. Again real footage is shown. Louis and Carol are bailed up by an aggressive German Shepherd dog.
  • Louis is shown after having been beaten up in prison.
  • Some footage is shown from the Vietnam War protests and riots.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

Children in this age group are likely to be disturbed by the violent scenes described above

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

Children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by the violent scenes described above

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

  • Several of the above mentioned violent scenes are likely to disturb children in this age group.
  • The shooting of John F. Kennedy is mentioned though not shown. Jackie Kennedy is shown covered in blood.
  • Gloria tells Cecil how when she heard that her younger son Charles had died in the Vietnam War she drank to the point of passing out and had ‘gone to the bathroom over herself’. Louis had found her in that state and cleaned her up

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Children in this age group may also be disturbed by some of the above-mentioned scenes

Product placement

The following products are displayed or used in this movie:

  • McDonalds
  • Coca Cola
  • Exxon

 

Sexual references

There are some sexual references in this movie, including:

  • Some bakers are making dough to be in the shape of a breast with a nipple.
  • Cecil and his wife Gloria are shown in bed together.
  • A neighbour tries to seduce Gloria.

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some nudity in this movie, including:

  • A briefly shown poster of a naked woman

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • quite a lot of drinking in various situations
  • several characters smoke
  • Gloria Gaines has problems with alcohol and pills throughout her life

Coarse language

There is some coarse language in this movie, including:

  • damn
  • shit
  • butt
  • crap
  • arse
  • Jesus Christ
  • Goddamn
  • sons of bitches
  • fuck

In a nutshell

The Butler is a drama based on a true story which is both heart wrenching and triumphant. It is a long film, spanning many years from the time of slavery, covering the Civil Rights Movement and years up to the eventual election of Barack Obama. It is historically important to realise that all this happened during the life of one man. Due to the themes and a number of violent and disturbing scenes the film is more suited to older teens and adolescents as well as adults.

The main messages from this movie are that people shouldn’t be discriminated against because of the colour of their skin and that it’s important to stand up for what you believe in.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • respect for all people
  • non-violent protest

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