For Lee Daniels, 'The Butler' Was Personal

The director of the civil rights saga says “The Butler” is a father-son love story at its heart .

Forest Whitaker stars in "Lee Daniels' The Butler."

How did your own personal experiences inform the way you portrayed the civil rights movement?

I think that all of the actors, they did research. But, you know, I lived it. I remember being a kid and my earliest memory of civil rights was going to a white water fountain, behind my mother's back and sipping it – tip toeing on my tip toes because I thought it was Sprite or ginger ale or something. I said, "What the hell is this, some kind of joke?" I thought it was going to be candy coming out of there. That was the earliest memory that I had. So all of it is stuff that has been bubbling up inside of me and then, life is so beautiful, because it happens right in front of your eyes. And before you know it, Obama is the president of the United States.

The atrocities that we've had in the United States are insurmountable. And yet, we choose to look overseas and point fingers. We know more about the concentration camps than we do about the camps that were here for over 200 years. Millions of slaves were killed over 200 years and we sort of sweep that under a rug. My kids know more about the diary of Anne Frank than they do about the civil rights movement. I think it's a sad testament of where we are right now in America – not to take anything away from the concentration camps, because that's beyond serious. It was an atrocity that should always be remembered, but I think what we went through should also be remembered as well.

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