Ronald Reagan’s son Michael Reagan, 68, says Lee Daniels’ new film about a black White House butler is “a bunch of lies” portraying his father as a racist.
Filmed in New Orleans, the historical drama staring Forest Whitaker takes viewers through the life of a butler who experienced landmark events during his 34 years serving in the White House.
Michael Reagan said the movie portrays the 40th president as a racist who had no time for the African-American members of his staff. He said his father signed the law making Martin Luther King Day a national holiday. He also said his father promoted the actual White House staff member at the centre of the film to maître d’hôtel.
“It’s appalling to me that someone is trying to imply my father was a racist,” Michael wrote. “He and Nancy and the rest of the Reagan family treated Mr. Allen with the utmost respect. It was Nancy Reagan who invited the butler to dinner – not to work but as guest. And it was my father who promoted Mr. Allen to maître d’hôtel.”
In the film, President Reagan invites the butler to dinner, where he learns Reagan plans to veto any sanctions against South Africa despite ongoing apartheid. Reagan’s foreign policy did in fact keep close ties with the South African government although nonwhites there were being systematically oppressed and stripped of their rights. Reagan criticized apartheid opponents, calling them pro-communist.
“The real story of the White House butler doesn’t imply racism at all," Michael said. "It’s simply Hollywood liberals wanting to believe something about my father that was never there.”
But Reagan did veto a bill to impose sanctions on South Africa, but was overruled by Congress.
Shortly after winning the Nobel Prize in 1984, Bishop Desmond Tutu traveled to the United States where he declared Reagan’s foreign policy as “immoral, evil and totally un-Christian.”
“Carter had imposed sanctions and restrictions on South Africa and also had publicly criticized the South African government many times," David Schmitz, a historian at Whitman College and foreign policy expert, told Salon during a 2011 interview. "Reagan went back to supporting the government, and he did it under the guise of the policy of ‘constructive engagement.’”
In 2008, Australia’s WAToday did a profile on the real butler – Eugene Allen – who served the White House for eight presidencies.
"We had never had anything," Allen, then 89, recalled black America when he started at the White House in 1952. "I was always hoping things would get better."
When Nancy Reagan invited him and his wife Helene, he said he believe he was the only butler to ever be invited to a state dinner.
When Allen retired in 1986, he said Reagan wrote him a sweet note and Nancy Reagan hugged him.
His wife Helene died in 2008. He went out and voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 election and said he so missed telling her that a black man was bound for the White House.
Allen died March 31, 2010.