The Gaines Family as Example of Racism

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The Butler is a 2013 historical drama based on the lives of Gaines family in Macon, Georgia. The movie analyzes the cultural and ethical values of the Gaines family and is a preliminary attempt to understand and view the life of African American families during the Civil Right Movement.

A description of the Gaines family

A story of the Gaines family is a story of the three generations that were building their relationships under the pressure of significant historical events that happened in the United States of America in the second half of the 20th century. Cecil Gaines is the main character of the movie whose father tragically died at the hands of his employer in the cotton fields of the state of Georgia. Life circumstances and racial prejudices forced Cecil to move from Macon city, a homeland of his father, to Washington DC. Cecil views a chance to work as a butler in the U.S. capital as an opportunity for him and his family to “begin the world anew”.

Cecil is striving to build a comfortable middle-class life for his wife Gloria and his two sons, Louis and Charlie. He wants them to live far from echoes of slavery, which were still heard in cotton fields of the Old South. When Cecil was invited to work as a butler at the White House, he was so thrilled that he exclaimed, “I never dreamed I could work in the place like that,” (Daniels, 2013)

A viewer sees Cecil Gaines as the wise head of the family who cares about the well-being and happiness of his wife and two sons. With the memory of the tragic death of his father in the plantation of the South, the main character of the film does not want his sons to share the same destiny as their grandfather. He works hard to equip them with a good education and screen his children from hardships and racial prejudices (Nelson-Tabor, 2014).

The Gaines family’s culture and ethnic traits

While watching “The Butler”, which is historical fiction drama, a viewer gets a thorough understanding of the culture of African-American families of the second half of the 20th century and the ordeals of slavery on their lives. The Gaines family is an embodiment of all African American families who were forced to fight for their rights and faced racial discrimination. A major stressor in black family life is the psychological and social pressure of racism in the everyday environment (Friedman et al., 2003. pg. 540).

Communication within the Gaines family seems to be disjointed. Lack of proper communication between Cecil and his wife, Gloria, made her think that he is putting his job first and neglecting the family, this pushes Gloria into alcoholism. Cecil’s children do not also communicate their intentions to their parents, Charlie only told his brother that he wants to join the war in the war in Vietnam but not his parents.

Like most African American families, Cecil makes the majority part of the family decision. However, as his children grew, they like to follow their own heart, not minding the consequences. Cecil’s son, Louis, becomes part of the civil rights movement against his father’s wishes. The political environment of the country forced all concerned African Americans, including Louis to participate in freedom rides, putting themselves in physical danger. Importantly, Louis’s choice to side with the civil rights movement has widened his rift with his father. Cecil’s another son Charlie also devotes himself to a better future of his nation. A young man enlists to fight for his motherland in Vietnam. The main character of the film exclaims “Vietnam took my boy and I didn’t understand why we were there in the first place!” (Daniels, 2013). It is worth emphasizing that both Cecil’s sons are the goal-oriented young men who can make powerful decisions. They sacrificed their interests, including interests of their family, to the good of the community.

The role in the movie is clearly stated. Cecil as the head of the family is the breadwinner. Gloria, though met Cecil where both were working at a hotel, most of her scenes center around her home as a homemaker. The children follow their own way to fight for what they believe in, thereby changing the role of the head of the black American family.

The Gaines family values center on breaking the bonds of their background to live a more comfortable life. Instead of passing down the custom of children working in the cotton field with their parents, they opted for a better and more independent life like other privileged Americans.

Cecil is shown as a man that can adapt to any situation. He broke through his past to become a hotel valet and then a butler in the White House. Gloria however, shows an inability to cope with situations, she descends to drinking because she could not cope with her husband’s work demands. The Gaines children decided to live beyond their background to fight for a just world.

Significantly, historical events test the Gaines family loyalties. However, “The Butler” breaks stereotypes about African American families and the roles of the black head of the family. Cecil Gaines painfully accepts his sons’ decisions to live a dangerous life as well as his troubled wife’s alcoholism and unfaithfulness.

Assessment of the Gaines family’s functional competency

It is pertinent to note that one can describe the Gaines family competence dimension as midrange because we can see that the members of Cecil’s family go through pain and difficulty in functioning over the lifecycle (Beavers & Hampson, 2003).


It seems reasonable to conclude that the film “Butler” has broken stereotypes about African American families during the slavery era. The director of the film has shown that the roles of the black head of the family have changed. His main character Cecil Gaines is a vivid example of a diligent African American father who cares about the interests of his family.

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The Gaines family As Example Of Racism. (2022, Apr 11). Retrieved February 22, 2024 , from

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