(L-R) President Obama, Sybil Wilkes and Tom Joyner
*President Barack Obama said Tuesday that he “teared up” while watching “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” a movie about a black White House butler who serves seven presidents.
“I teared up thinking about not just the butlers who worked here in the White House, but an entire generation of people who were talented and skilled. But because of Jim Crow and because of discrimination, there was only so far they could go,” the president told radio host Tom Joyner. “And yet with dignity and tenacity, they got up and worked every single day and put up with a whole lot of mess because they hoped for something better for their kids.”
Joyner, who interviewed Obama at the White House along with radio morning show co-host Sybil Wilkes, asked the president to name his favorite part of the movie.
“My favorite part was probably some of the jokes Cuba Gooding Jr. told, but we can’t repeat them on the air,” Obama said, laughing.
Joyner added: “I know what scene you’re talking about, and I love that scene too.”
Obama said he thought the acting in the film, which included the president’s supporters Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, was “terrific.”
“I thought Forest Whitaker was wonderful,” Obama said. “And Oprah, my girl, she can act. She’s just a wonderful actress, so I’m glad they did it.”
Dani Weinstein, spokeswoman for the film’s distributor, The Weinstein Co., said that the company made the film available to Obama for viewing at his convenience, but she did not know when he actually watched it.
In addition to discussing the film, Obama talked about his relationship with some of the African-American butlers currently working at the White House.
“When Michelle and the girls and I first arrived, they could not have been kinder to us and warmer to us,” Obama said. “And part of it, I suppose, is they look at Malia and Sasha and they say, ‘This looks like my grandbaby,’ or ‘This looks like my daughter.’ I think for them to have a sense that we’ve come that far was a powerful moment for them, and certainly a powerful moment for us. We love them to death. They look after us just wonderfully.”
President Obama also opened up to the syndicated radio hosts about Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy, commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, the Affordable Care Act and more.
TOM JOYNER: Okay. We’re in the Oval Office of the –
SYBIL WILKES: We’re in — wait, wait, wait. Take that in. Can you take that in? We’re in the Oval Office.
TOM JOYNER: We are in the Oval Office with the President on the day before he does his speech for the — commemorating the I Have A Dream speech. Is it ready?
THE PRESIDENT: Not quite yet. Still working on it. But let me just say for the record right now, it won’t be as good as the speech 50 years ago. (Laughter.) I just want to get that out there early. Because when you are talking about Dr. King’s speech at the March on Washington, you’re talking about one of the maybe five greatest speeches in American history. And the words that he spoke at that particular moment, with so much at stake, and the way in which he captured the hopes and dreams of an entire generation I think is unmatched.
And so all I can do on an occasion like this is just to celebrate the accomplishments of all of those folks whose shoulders we stand on and then remind people that the work is still out there for us to do, and that we honor his speech but also, more importantly in many ways, the organization of the ordinary people who came out for that speech. We honor them not by giving another speech ourselves — because it won’t be as good — but instead by just doing the day-to-day work to make sure this is a more equal and more just society.
TOM JOYNER: Fifty years later, what do you think Dr. King would have said about our progress and his dream?
THE PRESIDENT: I think that Dr. King would be amazed in many ways about the progress that we’ve made. I don’t think that he would look and say nothing has changed. He would say, the fact that we have equal rights before the law; the fact that the judicial system and the courts are accessible; and that African-Americans serve on juries; and that we have thousands of African-American elected officials all across the country; and that we’ve got African-American CEOs of Fortune 100 companies; and we have a large thriving congressional black caucus, and that, as a consequence of some of the doors that he and others helped kick down, Latinos and women and Asians and the disabled and gays and lesbians, that they all also suddenly found a seat at the table — I think he would say it was a glorious thing.
What he would also say, though, is that the March on Washington was about jobs and justice. And that when it comes to the economy, when it comes to inequality, when it comes to wealth, when it comes to the challenges that inner cities experience, he would say that we have not made as much progress as the civil and social progress that we’ve made, and that it’s not enough just to have a black President, it’s not enough just to have a black syndicated radio show host. The question is, does the ordinary person, day-to-day, can they succeed. And we have not made as much progress as we need to on that, and that is something that I spend all my time thinking about, is how do we give opportunity to everybody so if they work hard they can make it in this country.
TOM JOYNER: What do you think he would say about Obamacare?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, he would like that. Well, because I think he understood that health care, health security is not a privilege; it’s something that in a country as wealthy as ours, everybody should have access to.
And starting on October 1st, because of the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — anybody who doesn’t have health insurance in this country is going to be able to get it at an affordable rate. And we were just talking with some folks earlier about the fact that, for a lot of people, it will be cheaper than your cell phone bill, and as a consequence you’ll be getting free prevention, free checkups. And, if heaven forbid you get sick or some family member gets sick, even if you have a preexisting condition, you know that you’re going to have the security — you’re not going to lose your house, you’re not going to suddenly go bankrupt, and you’re going to be able to get the treatment that you need.
So the key is going to be just signing folks up. And one of the things that we’re really going to be emphasizing in the month of September, October and then all the way through March of next year, is letting people know it’s simple to sign up. You go to healthcare.gov. You find out exactly what plan is right for you. It’s going to be affordable. You’re going to be able to get a subsidy, help in terms of paying for it. And we’re really counting on everybody out there to get informed. If you know what it’s about and you screen out all the misinformation, you’ll discover this is something that really is going to help millions of people.