“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” is taking some heat from the family of former president Ronald Reagan on his portrayal in the movie as racist. The Washington Post is also out with an interesting take on what the movie got wrong. The article claims Ronald Reagan could never have harbored racist views because he brought home to black football teammates in the early 1930s because all the local hotels refused them accommodations. In 1952, during his tenure as president of the Screen Actors Guild, Reagan called upon the “entertainment industry to provide greater employment for black actors.” Third, during a March 1983 speech, he railed against “the resurgence of some hate groups preaching bigotry and prejudice” in America.
The Washington Post opinion article cites two areas of concern in the film:
The butler character (played by Forest Whitaker) is invited by the Reagans to a state dinner, a gracious move wholly typical of the first family. The butler’s wife (Oprah Winfrey) clearly enjoys the evening, but the butler is portrayed as uncomfortable. He feels he’s being used as a political tool, a prop, a token African American. Shortly after this supposed humiliation, he resigns from his White House job.
Another questionable moment in the film relates to apartheid. Reagan is shown telling a Republican congresswoman that he will veto any sanctions against South Africa. The lawmaker pleads with the president, insisting that sanctions are the moral course and that Republicans are on board. Reagan refuses to budge, offering no reason for his stubborn support of the racist regime, apparently unsympathetic to black suffering.
I guess this begs the question, was “The Help” an accurate portrayal of racism in Mississippi? Or was Air Force One, starring Harrison Ford, an accurate portrayal of what could have happened if the president’s plane is hijacked? Be that as it may, Ronald Reagan wasn’t well liked by the black community for a lot of reasons. He seemed to have skirted the issue of race by embracing some of the ideals that proved detrimental to the black community in the first place. For example, during a press conference in October 1983, he couldn’t give a straight answer on whether he thought Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a communist sympathizer. He later apologized to Coretta Scott King.
On a personal level, I might be one of a handful of black Americans who actually liked Ronald Reagan for his toughness on issues of national security and foreign policy. Other than that, as far as domestic policy is concerned, he left us up to our necks in debt.