'The Butler' and the Writer

Forest Whitaker in Lee Daniel's The Butler

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with the green tie Jackie Kennedy had given him and a Sinatra fedora he bought for the occasion. Allen teared up, Haygood recalled.

“When I worked in the White House, you couldn’t dream of a moment like this,” he told the writer.

At Allen’s funeral, a statement by Obama was read. “Eugene Allen witnessed great milestones in our nation’s history and his life represents an important part of the American story.”

During the filming of The Butler in New Orleans, Haygood was on the set.  It was a giddy experience, chatting with Oprah and accepting an invitation to spend the evening with Forest Whitaker.  The actor told Haygood it was the most challenging and complex role of his career — a strong statement from an actor who played the dictator Idi Amin. Whitaker wanted to capture the complex emotions of a man who kept the White House running, yet had to be the man of his own house in an era of sweeping change.  

Charles Allen visited the movie set too. He knew what he was seeing wasn’t real life.  Some events had been fictionalized — Forest Whitaker's character only served five presidents, and he had a son who was a Black Panther. It was Hollywood, and the discrepancies didn’t bother Charles. “Come on, you know it is not going to be a documentary,” he said.

But what felt so utterly real to Charles Allen was Whitaker’s portrayal of his father, especially in his later years. The actor had picked his brain about Allen, and it showed.

“He was so much like my father, it was eerie,” Charles said. “The movie was bittersweet and surreal. Without Wil, it would have never happened.”