The celebrated movie is the fictionalized account of a real-life African-American staffer who worked at the White House from 1952 to 1986, serving as a witness to an extraordinary period of change in the United States, while trying to protect and provide for his family -- some members of which disagree about how to define progress and achieve success.
Asked what he wants young viewers to take away from the picture, the Oscar-winning actor told United Press International in New York this month: "Two things. I think -- 1. The core of the healing for this family turns out to be their love. Their love for each other is crucial.
"The other thing this movie is talking about is making sure you stand up to social injustice wherever you see it and there are many different ways to address injustice," said Whitaker.
"You can do it in a quiet fashion -- you can write notes and send letters, you can take someone aside quietly -- or you can march in the street. Occupy Wall Street, you can [take part] in the Arab Spring. But, the thing is, you must decide what it is you believe in and you must take steps towards achieving that and creating the universe and world you want to see," said the actor, who was a speaker at Wednesday's "Let Freedom Ring" ceremony in Washington, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs and the Rev. Martin Luther King's landmark "I Have a Dream" speech.
So, how did Whitaker transform himself to appear in "The Butler" as though he had aged decades?
"It was trying to place all these historical moments in my life and in the time inside of myself because that's where the age comes," the 52-year-old Texas native told UPI in New York. "It doesn't come from showing yourself shaking or walking bent over, it comes from the weight of the universe and all of the feelings and pains and thoughts that you have and that's what I was doing. Placing all of those thoughts inside of myself, so by the time I got older, I was carrying the weight of all those experiences and that's what I was trying to give the audience was the feel, the weight of his experience."
Co-starring Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz and Liev Schreiber, "Lee Daniels' The Butler" has been the No. 1 film at the U.S. box office for the past two weeks.