Lee Daniels’ The Butler, which opens Friday, is loosely based on the life of Eugene Allen, a butler at the White House for 34 years and through eight administrations. So loosely based, in fact, that it’s hard to determine which parts of the story are based on Allen’s real life — and which parts are added for dramatic effect.

Throughout his tenure at the White House, Allen quietly witnessed presidents make a series of monumental decisions impacting his civil rights as a black American.

Daniels’ film replaces the real Eugene Allen with the fictional Cecil Gaines, using the unique perspective of a White House butler as a jumping-off point to explore questions of race in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. The result is a largely fictional film, rather than a biopic.

With the help of several sources, including a 2008 article in the Washington Post that chronicled Allen’s life and…

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