‘The Butler’ did it wrong, Reagan historians say


It made President Obama get teary-eyed, Michael Reagan fume, and four historians write a lengthy op-ed in the Washington Post.

It’s Lee Daniels’ The Butler.

The historians — Steven F. Hayward, Paul Kengor, Craig Shirley and Kiron K. Skinner — hone in on two episodes in the movie:

(Spoiler alert!)

  1. The butler (played by Forest Whitaker) is invited by the Reagans to a state dinner. The fictional butler feels he’s being used as a political tool. Shortly after this supposed humiliation, he resigns from his White House job. But Eugene Allen, the man who inspired the movie, felt no such thing. As noted by Religion News Service, “He was especially fond of the Reagans.” A member of Allen’s church recalled that “he often talked about how nice they were to him.” Allen did leave the White House during the Reagan administration, but got a “sweet note” from the president and a hug from Nancy.
  2. Reagan is shown telling a Republican congresswoman that he will veto any sanctions against South Africa, then under apartheid. The fictional Reagan offers no reason for his stubborn support of the racist regime. But in June 1981, still recovering from an assassination attempt, Reagan sent his closest foreign policy aide, William Clark, on his first official trip — to South Africa to express America’s disapproval. An unsmiling Clark told Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha to his face that the new president and administration “abhorred apartheid.” 

You can read what else the historians have to say here.

The filmmakers responded to criticism on CBS.