Historians vs Hollywood

A number of historians describe What ‘The Butler’ gets wrong about Ronald Reagan and race.

These are just a few examples of Reagan’s sensitivity to racial discrimination. This attitude was instilled by his mother, who was deeply involved in the Disciples of Christ, and his father, who refused to allow him to see the movie “Birth of a Nation” because it glorified the Ku Klux Klan.

But you don’t get any sense of that in the film “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.”

As historians of the 40th president, having written more than a dozen biographies between us, we are troubled by the movie’s portrayal of Reagan’s attitudes toward race. We are especially concerned because many Americans readily accept Hollywood depictions of history as factual.

There is an agenda to be supported. The propaganda is necessary, even if intellectually dishonest, to support that agenda. The past will be painted in a manner that suits the agenda. The question is whether it is Hollywood’s propaganda or the Historian’s story of reality that will surface over time and what will happen (and at what cost) in the meantime.

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