'Lee Daniels' The Butler' L.A. Premiere: Director, Cast Talk About the Film's Social Impact

8:32 AM PST 08/13/2013 by C. Molly Smith
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Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker at Monday night's premiere

The stars and helmer also discuss the upcoming trend of movies featuring African-Americans fighting for justice.

Monday night’s Los Angeles premiere of Lee Daniels' The Butler attracted both up-and-coming and legendary stars to L.A. Live’s Regal Cinemas.

Those in attendance included director Lee Daniels and actors Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Jane Fonda, Cuba Gooding Jr., David Oyelowo, James Marsden, Minka Kelly, Alex Pettyfer and Elijah Kelley.

Harvey Weinstein introduced the screening, joking about the dispute between The Weinstein Co. and Warner Bros. over the film’s title.

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"The MPAA gave the best title fight since Frazier-Ali," Weinstein quipped, addressing the crowd. As for the rest of the night, Weinstein said, "I'm off the record tonight."

Following the screening, Daniels said working with his star-studded cast "was an out-of-body experience -- I had to pinch myself every day."

But in addition to celebrating Whitaker's performance as titular butler Cecil Gaines and Daniels' directorial skills, cast members addressed the social issues reflected in the film.

Especially in the wake of the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman verdict, a film about the civil rights movement and racial prejudice becomes all the more relevant.

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"It's a subject matter that's to me always relevant no matter how far we've come. And also, I think it's an opportunity to remind everyone and introduce these historical events to a generation that may not be that familiar with them," Marsden, who plays John F. Kennedy, noted. "So I think [the film] will have a social impact."

Oyelowo, who plays Whitaker's character's son, who gets involved with the civil rights movement, added: "I hope that it’s going to entertain and educate people about what this country is and what it's about, and how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go."

The Butler seems to mark the beginning of a trend of films focused on black people fighting for justice, with 12 Years a Slave and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom set to hit theaters this fall.

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"These stories are being told by black people, and therefore you have black protagonists who are at the center of their own story," Oyelowo explained. "There isn't a white character through the eyes of which we are getting to see this history, and I think that's a big shift. I hope that trend continues."

Daniels has faith it will.

"Honey, it's going to be a party," the director predicted. "[These filmmakers] are all my friends, and they're all making cinema. They're all very serious about their craft. It's a great thing not only for African-American cinema, but American cinema."

Lee Daniels’ The Butler hits theaters on Friday.

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