Oscar Inspired Thoughts On Pirates & ‘The Butler’ — Plus, Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. & Cruising Cuba

Forrest Whitaker deserves an Oscar nomination for his role as White House butler Cecil Gaines.

I’m miffed. And so are a lot of others, including the Hollywood Reporter, which on Thursday asserted that Forest Whitaker was snubbed as an Oscar nominee for his portrayal of Cecil Gaines in the moving motion picture “The Butler.”

Nor am I happy that when the 86th Academy Awards were announced this past week, Tom Hanks also was left off the list for his role in — and as — “Captain Phillips.”

I enjoyed both movies immensely. I’m particularly annoyed because both actors not only deserve Oscar nominations but also both of the characters they portrayed have connections to cruising.

Tom Hanks plays Captain Phillips in the tale of Somali pirates who capture a container ship.

Tom Hanks plays “Captain Phillips” in a drama that unfolds 145 miles off the Somali coast when pirates capture a large container ship and take the captain as hostage. I won’t spoil the outcome for you — you will need to see the movie for yourself — but I will tell you that the threat of pirates is one that cruise lines prepare for when cruising the Indian Ocean and along the Somali coastline.

I witnessed the preparations and precautions during a voyage from Dubai to Athens on Silver Spirit in 2011. Spoiler alert: I am not writing this post from Somalia — we made it through safely.

Some observers have sympathy for the pirates. No one is condoning their actions, but some say the international community failed the Somalis, forcing them to become pirates. In How Somalia’s Fishermen Became Pirates, TIME magazine writes: Ever since a civil war brought down Somalia’s last functional government in 1991, the country’s 3,330 kilometers (2,000 miles) of coastline — the longest in continental Africa — has been pillaged by foreign vessels. A United Nations report in 2006 said that, in the absence of the country’s at one time serviceable coastguard, Somali waters have become the site of an international “free for all,” with fishing fleets from around the world illegally plundering Somali stocks and freezing out the country’s own rudimentarily-equipped fishermen.

No longer protected from international predators, those fishermen became pirates.

If you’re interested in reading more about Somali piracy targeting ships and about my voyage through pirate-riddled waters, see these two stories: Silver Spirit’s Transit Of The Gulf Of Aden: Uneventful? Not Entirely and From Pirates To Piraeus, Transiting The Gulf Of Aden: How Risky Was It?

And be sure to see “Captain Phillips.” Hanks hasn’t played such a convincing role since “Forrest Gump,” a movie that did earn him an Oscar.

On the lookout for pirates while cruising off the coast of Somalia. © 2011 Ralph Grizzle

Forrest Whitaker convinced me that he was Cecil Gaines in “The Butler.” I found the droopy-eyed actor’s role — and the movie — to be so powerful that I returned to see it for the second time last week with my 17-year-old son. At the showing in Asheville, North Carolina, the audience broke into spontaneous applause during a few scenes. “The Butler” was that good.

One scene that merited applause was when Nelsan Ellis, portraying Martin Luther King Jr., said that maids, butlers and other domestic workers had broken down the hardened and hateful attitudes that existed in parts of the United States during the last century. “Their [the workers] apparent subservience is also quietly subversive,” said King, the activist and humanitarian who was slain at age 39 and is now honored by a federal holiday (this Monday, in fact) in the United States.

King (or more accurately, Ellis who portrayed him) added that domestic workers defied racist stereotypes by being trustworthy, hardworking and loyal, a powerful statement that exemplified King’s extraordinary philosophical depth.

While the film depicted America’s tumultous civil rights journey through the story of a White House butler, “The Butler” also brought to mind the only butlers I know, and they are the butlers of Silversea. I won’t pretend that their jobs are as honorable as the black domestic workers who King credited for breaking down racial barriers, but Silversea’s butlers are dignified men (and women — yes, there are female butlers) whose jobs should be celebrated.

Waving good-bye after a transatlantic voyage, the butlers of Silver Cloud. To learn more about what they do, see So Long From The Butlers Of Silver Cloud. © 2012 Ralph Grizzle

And that brings us to Cuba. Our resident Canadian, Aaron Saunders, has just finished cruising Cuba, something he and in fact nearly all non U.S. citizens are allowed to do.

Aaron’s voyage makes for fascinating reading, and you can follow him on a day-by-day account on our sister site, Live Voyage Reports. I particularly enjoyed seeing Aaron’s photos of vintage automobiles — American ones, no less.

Our Canadian cruising Cuba snapped photos of antique automobiles, pre-embargo vestiges of better days. © 2014 Aaron Saunders

I look forward to the day when U.S. citizens will be able to cruise Cuba as Canadians do.  Recently, U.S. President Barack Obama openly questioned whether policy prohibiting trade with Cuba remains an effective way of dealing with differences with the communist-ruled island nation. Obama suggested that it may be time for the United States to relax a trade embargo against Cuba that has been in place for more than half a century. Perhaps taking a step in that direction, last month, at a memorial for Nelson Mandela, Obama shook hands with Cuban President Raul Castro, a symbolic gesture that could be perceived as representing a thawing of relations between the two countries.

On Monday, as we in the United States honor the achievements and the ultimate sacrifice of Martin Luther King Jr., I’d like to suggest that King himself, the movies “The Butler” and “Captain Phillips,” and Obama’s remarks about Cuba all have something to teach us. One lesson may be that oppression, exploitation and isolation, like all offenses toward fellow human beings, ultimately fail.

“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

For 15 of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Most Inspiring Quotes, click here.

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