Friday, August 30, 2013

"The Butler"

I just received an email that contained a condemnation of the film "The Butler."  The email was supposedly written by Michael Reagan (Ronald Reagan's son), in which he chastised the movie for being a distortion of the life of Eugene Allen (a real White House butler), in which Ronald Reagan was portrayed as a racist.

In truth, “The Butler” was never supposed to be about ONE butler, but rather a composite—a fact that director Lee Daniels has consistently reiterated.  It also did not portray Ronald Reagan as a racist, but rather as someone sympathetic to the civil rights cause.  This is demonstrated by the film’s assertion that Reagan supported the lead character’s request for equal pay for the African American help.  The movie only implied that Reagan was on the wrong side of the South Africa/apartheid issue, which is true. 

Overall, the movie was about parents, children, and the civil rights movement and how the character of the butler was often on the wrong side of that issue, choosing to run from it rather than facing it head-on.   Although I am white, I remember having similar arguments with my parents, who weren’t always ready to accept the actions of Dr. King, the Freedom Riders, or others who were willing to confront racism, choosing instead the more passive “things will change in time” approach.

If Michael Reagan actually wrote this, he is being reactionary and misguided.  The only president the movie actually skewers is Nixon, and he deserves as much skewering as possible.

Make no mistake, The Butler is a Hollywood movie, but it’s a good one and one that raises some real, solid issues, while putting the times in historical perspective.  As a film, it has its faults in terms of character development and continuity, but the area it best addresses has to do with the public and the presidents slowly coming to grips with what happened to millions of Americans over a 50-year period.  Each of us should see it for himself or herself before making any further judgments.

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