Lee Daniels’ movie The Butler is based on the story of Eugene Allen, who worked for 34 years in the White House under eight presidents.
Eugene Allen was hired in 1952 as a pantry worker and worked his way up to butler after several years. This contrasts the movie, which has Cecil Gaines starting to work as a butler immediately. In 1980, during the Reagan administration, Eugene Allen was promoted to maitre d’, the position he held when he retired in 1986.
Eugene Allen’s name was changed to Cecil Gaines for the movie.
“While the movie The Butler is set against historical events, the title character and his family are fictionalized,” states director Lee Daniels.
Louis Gaines character, portrayed by actor David Oyelowo, is entirely fictional
“We were able to borrow some extraordinary moments from Eugene’s real life to weave into the movie,” he added.
Danny Strong, who penned The Butler script, told WorldandFilm.com: “It’s important to understand, there’s a reason why the character’s name is Cecil Gaines. Because this is not the Eugene Allen story. It’s not just about him. We were hoping to capture the essence of Eugene Allen, and I think we did. But it’s not just about him. It’s about several other people I spoke to that worked at the White House as well so that the film would create this universal truth for many people of what that experience was like.”
The Louis Gaines character (Cecil Gaines’ eldest son), portrayed by actor David Oyelowo, is entirely fictional, as is the subplot involving the character. This includes Louis Gaines joining the Freedom Riders and the Black Panthers, and the rift that develops between him and his father as a result.
In real life, Eugene and Helene Allen only had one son, not two.