Whitaker plays Cecil Gaines, a former cotton picker who becomes a butler to U.S. presidents. Winfrey plays Gaines’s strong-willed wife in the film, based on the life of Eugene Allen.
“He opens up the soul of that butler so that you can feel the soul and spirit of America,” Winfrey said, standing near director Lee Daniels and Whitaker.
Daniels said he made the film to help his son, who knows more about the story of Anne Frank than the struggle of blacks.
“By making this film, I now have an understanding of the times my family went through,” Daniels said before the screening.
The film, which opens Aug. 16, features Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower and James Marsden as John F. Kennedy.
President Obama called the women “class acts” for their athleticism and charity work. Earlier this year, the team joined forces with its rival, the Baylor University Lady Bears, to raise $30,000 for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, named after the head women’s basketball coach at North Carolina State University who died in 2009.
The team gave President Obama an autographed basketball and a college jacket.
“My bracketology needs some work,” the president joked.
Connecticut Democrats Joe Courtney, John Larson, Elizabeth Esty and Jim Himes, members of the House of Representatives, were in attendance, as well as Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen and Susan Herbst, president of the University of Connecticut.
The University of Connecticut Huskies boast the longest winning streak in men’s or women’s basketball history. The women’s team includes Breanna Stewart, 18, named the Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four, and the first freshman to win this honor since 1987.
Head Coach Gene Auriemma has been with the team for 28 years. He also coached the U.S. women’s basketball team to a gold medal in the 2012 Olympics.
“You’ve been here more than most presidents,” President Obama told Auriemma, who counted this his eighth visit to the White House.
(Patrick Cole is a reporter and Stephanie Green is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are their own.)
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at email@example.com.