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‘The Butler’ tops first-week release numbers

One of the eight top-grossing contemporary Black films

Cynthia E. Griffin | 8/22/2013, midnight
“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” grossed $25 million at the box office during the first weekend release. Ticket sales topped the ...
Robin Williams and Forest Whitaker star in "Lee Daniel's The Butler." The Weinstein Company

“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” grossed $25 million at the box office during the first weekend release. Ticket sales topped the projected $15 million take, and put the flick well ahead of all the first releases for the weekend—$13.6 million for “Kick Ass 2” and $6.7 million for “JOBS.”

This showing ties it for eighth place among the first-weekend numbers for African American films since 1971, according to the website the numbers.com.

Topping that list is “Bad Boys II” at $46.5 million (2003); followed by “Think Like a Man,” $33.6 million (2012); “Madea’s Family Reunion,” $30 million (2006); Big Momma’s House 2, $27.7 million (2006); 42, $27.4 million (2013); “The Help,” $26 million (2011); “Big Momma’s House,” $25.6 million, (2000); “Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection,” $25.3 million (2012), and “Madea’s Big Happy Family,” $25 million (2011).

“The Butler,” is the fictionalized story about the life of Eugene Allen, an African American butler who served under eight American presidents, beginning with Harry S. Truman and ending with Ronald Reagan. He was also invited to the inauguration of the nation’s first Black president—Barack Obama.

According to Forbes reviewer Scott Mendelson, what makes the film distinctive is that it is about the African American experience “told explicitly and exclusively from their point-of-view,” which he described as somewhat uncharted territory in modern times.

Allen’s character is portrayed by Forest Whitaker and his wife Helen is played by Oprah Winfrey.

The film, which also stars a noted cast of characters including Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz and Jane Fonda, Matthew McConaughey, Vanessa Redgrave and Robin Williams, is set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement and juxtaposes the humble way that the butler fought for dignity and fairness for African American White House staff against the violence his son experienced as a freedom rider.

In a discussion during a special pre-release screening held by the Hollywood Branch of the NAACP, director Daniels (“Precious,” “Monster’s Ball,” and “Shadow Boxer”) said he initially envisioned the film as a love story between a father and son that actually transcended race. But as he looked at the atrocities that African Americans endured during the Civil Rights Movement, the filmmaker realized that the film is so much more.

Like his other efforts, Daniels said “The Butler” was made outside the studio system and produced for a fraction of what it would cost to complete a studio-backed movie.

It was a film he also used to help him reconnect with Winfrey, who had produced “Precious.”