It is with great pleasure that I present my interview with Tracy Patterson, one of the main characters from my forthcoming book, tentatively titled Everything From You.  Tracy recently went to see the movie, The Butler, and had a very emotional reaction to the film.  She agreed to be interviewed for this blog to share how the film affected her as someone who grew up in North Carolina subsequent to the most tumultuous years of the Civil Rights struggle.


CR:  Tracy, thank you for agreeing to have this discussion with me.  I know we’ll be talking with you about your reaction to The Butler and your experience growing up in the South, but just one request – no spoilers from the book.

TP:  No worries.  I don’t want to spoil it for anyone either.  But I have to confess, I don’t have much practice doing interviews.  That’s more Angie and Robin’s thing.

CR:  I understand, but I have a feeling you’re going to rise to the occasion.  So what made you want to see the film in the first place?

TP:  Well initially, it was two things.  First, the cast is amazing.  I mean, it’s easier to say who’s NOT in this movie than who is in it.  And I’m a big Oprah fan.  I know her touchy feely stuff can be a bit much and I don’t always agree with her perspectives, but I admire her as a woman who created this amazing business empire and who so many people love.  So I wanted to see her in this kind of role.

Lee Daniels

Lee Daniels

And, you know, I was interested to see how Lee Daniels, the filmmaker, who’s an African American gay man, would handle this subject of a Black White House butler.

Oprah and Forest Whitaker

Oprah and Forest Whitaker

CR:  So what did you think?

TP:  Overall, it was a great film.  Very moving.  What surprised me was that the film was really about the Civil Rights era in the South.  I wasn’t prepared for that.  I thought it was going to just be about the White House.  So when I started to realize this during the movie, I just broke down and had a very strong reaction.  My partner (I guess you don’t want me to say her name, right?) went with me and I was so glad to have her there.

CR:  So what was the emotional reaction about?  Was it just because you grew up in the South?

TP:  Partially.  But it was mostly about my parents.   They were teenagers during those years and although they didn’t participate in sit-ins, they were on the right side of things and they both suffered a lot for their views during that time.

CR:  So your parents met as teenagers?

TP:  Yes, in high school and my father hid some civil rights workers, both Black and white, in his parents’ old barn building.  These were people who were being hunted down by vigilantes and by the authorities.  I don’t think it’s a spoiler to tell you that Robin said it was like Christians who hid Jews during the Holocaust.

CR:  Your father really put himself on the line doing that.

TP:  Yes and he and my mom were vocal about their views during that time.  They went to local demonstrations and had to run away from police with batons and water hoses.  Just like they showed in the film.

White and Black pro-Civil Rights teenage demonstrators in the 1960s

White and Black pro-Civil Rights teenage demonstrators in the 1960s

So when I saw all these scenes from the South, the way the college students were assaulted during the sit-ins and how the Freedom Riders were attacked, I just broke down and sobbed.

CR:  Why do you think you reacted so strongly?

TP:  Because this didn’t happen in some mystical place that was far away.  This happened where I grew up and only a few years before I was born, during my parents’ lifetimes–and they were part of it.

CR:  Do you have any shame associated with it?

TP:  No, I don’t.  I’m sad that it happened and I’m angry that so many people had to suffer for their freedom and some had to die.  But I know that there were people like my parents who did the right thing and stood up when it was dangerous to do so.  I take great pride in that.  And besides, even though we had horrible things like segregation in the South, the North wasn’t some kind of paradise either.  There were also separate schools and neighborhoods.  Did you ever see that photo from Boston where the white man attacked a Black man with an American flag of all things?  That picture wasn’t taken in Raleigh, it was taken in the same city where I went away to college.

CR:  Anything else you wanted to say about the film?

TP:  It was amazing to see the span of history that this man, the butler, Cyrus Gaines, witnessed in his lifetime.  From the cotton fields of the South to the election of Barack Obama.  It’s hard not to be amazed by that.  By the end of the movie, my girlfriend and I were both sobbing, but not so much from sadness but from the intensity of this man’s experience and how he finally witnessed something he never thought he’d see.

CR:  Tracy, this has been a great conversation and I really appreciate that you took the time to talk to me.  One last question.  Since your parents from a young age were able to understand the need for equal rights, were they just as understanding about you coming out as a lesbian?

TP:  Wow, you really save the zinger for last, don’t you?  Well, there’s way too many spoilers in that question for me to fully answer it.  So I’m gonna have to leave it by saying that I love my parents and I have great faith in them.  I’m not sure I can say much more.