Wil Haygood Talks “The Butler”

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Gizelle Salama

Full-time writer and journalist Wil Haygood is best-known for authoring the critically acclaimed book, “The Butler,”  which also resulted in a successful movie. What many may not know, is that he almost never wrote it.

“The Butler” was written off of real life episodes of an African American man’s life, Eugene Allen, working as a butler at the White House for eight different presidents. The worldwide movie and book, originally supposed to be just a story in a newspaper, was almost cancelled after the death of Allen’s wife, a few days after Haygood had discovered him. However, Haygood was informed by Mr. and Mrs. Allen’s son, that Mrs. Allen’s death wish was for someone to write about her husband.

The story was back on board again.

Right before President Barack Obama won the presidential election in 2008, Haygood worked with other news reporters and journalists on running a campaign in Obama’s favor. It was at that time that Haygood was inspired to find an African American citizen that had previously worked at the White House, within the time period where there was various discrimination between different races.

Haygood’s aim of seeking out this individual was that he wanted to show how far African Americans have come, in comparison as to when the law was not in their favor.

“The journalist in me, knew that writing a story like this would be something completely new and unique, [more] than what people are used to,” Haygood said. “For an African American to be elected in the White House was just extraordinarily astonishing,” Haygood added.  

Haygood published seven different books before “The Butler,” but it certainly was his ‘big break.’

“It is something that no one has ever written about before, that is what makes it so amazing,” Haygood said. “The Butler was so big that it was translated to seven different foreign languages.”

So much recognition was given to both Haygood and Allen, even from President Obama himself. The story rapidly spread throughout several states in 2008. Four years later in 2012 a movie was made out of it and that same summer, as the production of the movie was happening, Haygood began writing the book. The Butler was the first movie in American history to feature seven former Oscar Award winners.

“There has never been a movie in all of American history with seven Oscar winners, and this shows that these people wanted to do it so badly. It is just amazing to me still,” Haygood said.

The roles of the characters in the movie were played by well-known actors and actresses Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey and David Oyelowo to name a few. The content of the story was such an important, valuable and sensitive issue, that many of the actors dropped other business and makings of movies and shows to star in “The Butler.”

“The cast of “The Butler” agreed to do the movie for less than half of what they usually receive because of how important the point and message of the movie was,” Haygood said.