The President’s Man: A Eugene Allen Biopic Moves Forward

There’s been some talk of this for a while, but it sounds like Lee Daniels is moving forward with The Butler, a biopic about Eugene Allen, the butler who served eight American presidents. And Forest Whitaker is in talks to star in it. We talk a fair bit about the isolation of presidents from the real world, whether it’s George H.W. Bush’s supermarket scanner gaffe or the weird conservative attempts to paint President Obama as out of touch because he doesn’t currently own a car.

But we don’t really discuss the fact that the White House is the closest thing in America to Downton Abbey: a great house with a long-term staff dedicated to making the lives of its occupants as effortless as possible. Of course, unlike the occupants of Downton Abbey who, as Lady Mary put it “don’t have a life. We choose clothes and pay calls and work for charity and do the season. But, really, we’re stuck in a waiting room until we marry,” the residents of the White House are actually very busy leading the free world and representing the United States. And also unlike Downton, those residents leave every eight years: they don’t get dynastic possession of or attachment to the house, and some of them downright hate it.

Plus, there’s the added dynamic of having Allen, a black man, serve eight white presidents during years of remarkable racial transition in the country. If no man is a hero to his valet, I’d be curious to know if a white president can be a hero to his African-American butler.