The new film “The Butler” chronicles the career of Eugene Allen, a black man who served as White House butler for 8 Presidents. According to the New York Post former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, are big fans of the film and were among the first people to screen the finished film. This is odd, because the film gives a very negative portrayal of Ronald Reagan.
Hollywood being Hollywood, makers of “The Butler” were not content to simply tell the extraordinary life story of Allen. Rather, they use his story to score subtle political points against Republican presidents, as my colleague Christian Toto noted. The film, though, is particularly harsh on former President Ronald Reagan, portraying him as completely indifferent to the concerns of black Americans.
Allen retired from his position as chief butler in 1986 after 34 years of service. The film, however, portrays Allen’s exit as a principled stand against Reagan’s policies. In the film, Allen, portrayed by Forrest Whitaker quits his job over Reagan’s indifference to civil rights and his alleged support of the South African apartheid government.
This is pure fiction. A Washington Post profile in 2008 noted that Allen and his wife kept framed photos of Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy in their living room. Pictures of the other presidents Allen served were hung in the basement. Why would the real-life Allen keep pictures of Reagan in the most prominent place in his home if he had quit his job over policy disagreements with the Administration?
The closeness between Allen and the Reagans is evidenced by another anecdote in the profile. Allen was the first butler to attend a state dinner as a guest. The Reagans invited Allen and his wife to attend a state dinner for West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
That the film takes such pains to twist history and paint Reagan in such a negative light makes the Bushes’ public embrace of it so odd. Bush served as Reagan’s Vice President for both his terms and only became President himself because of Reagan’s continued popularity. It is doubtful George W Bush would have been President, or even Governor of Texas, without the Reagan legacy.
The Bushes, according to filmmaker Lee Daniels, seemed more enamored with Oprah Winfrey, who co-stars in the film, than correcting the historical record.
President Bush would [shout], ‘Is that Oprah[Winfrey], honey? Is that Oprah?’ and Barbara would [shout], ‘Is that Oprah, Lee? Is that Oprah?’ ” Daniels recalled. “She would [shout], ‘That’s Oprah, honey!’ I saw it through their eyes and they hung their heads . . . I felt bad for them . . . I found myself falling in love with them.”
Why wouldn’t Daniels love the Bushes? They have given tacit approval to his film’s smear of Ronald Reagan.