New movie about White House butler Eugene Allen rings true, says Denver soul food scholar

Denver resident, author and soul food scholar Adrian Miller is giving the new movie “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” two thumbs up. The film is based on the life of Eugene Allen, a White House butler who served eight U.S. presidents, beginning with Harry S. Truman.

In the course of his own creative endeavors, Miller has interviewed White House chefs and looked extensively at the service of African Americans in the back corridors of the White House. “Every president has had an African American chef, either as head chef or as an assistant chef,” Miller said, in reviewing the new film for radio station KUVO’s morning news and public affairs segment.

The film stars Forest Whitaker as Allen and Oprah Winfrey portrays his wife in this passage of time story. America’s civil rights movement is in full flower as a part of the story that brought generational tension to Allen’s own family, as his son becomes “almost ashamed” of his father’s role as a servant, albeit a prominently placed one, Miller said. “This is a movie about servants, but these people aren’t servile,” he said, praising “the human dignity” that Whitaker brings to the role.

Miller said his wish list for the movie would have included two scenes not covered, the moments in which outgoing presidents came to say their goodbyes and express their gratitude. The film does depict  a scene in which the butler welcomes JFK and Jackie to the White House for the first time. Miller said the film also failed to portray how connected the “back of the house” employees actually were. Civil rights leaders and other luminaries sought them out to gain insight and connections to their famous bosses, he said.

Miller’s new work, “Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time,” is out in hardcover, and he did a recent signing at Denver Public Library’s Blair Caldwell Research Library.

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