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Cecil Gaines story: Ronald Reagan’s son speaks out against The Butler for wrongly portraying President as a racist


Former President Ronald Reagan’s family has hit out at the producers of new film The Butler for allegedly portraying him as a racist.

Ronald Reagan is played by British actor Alan Rickman in The Butler, which tells the story of black man Cecil Gaines who served in the White House for 34 years.

However, Ronald Reagan’s son claims that the portrayal implies that the former president was prejudiced against black people, when in fact he helped the cause of African-Americans and showed friendship to the real White House butler.

The Butler, which was released in the U.S. two weeks ago, follows Cecil Gaines, played by Forest Whitaker, as he experiences decades of American history at the side of multiple Presidents.

The film is based on the real-life story of Eugene Allen, who died in 2010 and served every President from Ike Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan.

Alan Rickman, known for his roles in Die Hard and the Harry Potter series, plays Ronald Reagan, while anti-war activist Jane Fonda was controversially cast as his wife Nancy.

In the film – as in real life – Ronald Reagan invites the butler to attend a state dinner as a guest instead of an employee.

But Cecil Gaines is uncomfortable with the experience, and turns against the President over Ronald Reagan’s move to lift sanctions against South Africa over the apartheid regime.

Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan and Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan in Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan and Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan in Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Ronald Reagan’s son Michael has launched a blistering attack on his father’s portrayal, writing in Newsmax that the film should be called The Butler from Another Planet because it is so historically inaccurate.

“Portraying Ronald Reagan as a racist because he was in favor of lifting economic sanctions against South Africa is simplistic and dishonest,” Michael Reagan wrote.

“If you knew my father, you’d know he was the last person on Earth you would call a racist.”

He pointed out that the leader had a record of friendship towards black people, having been close to a number of African-Americans during his college days.

When Ronald Reagan was governor of California, his son wrote, he more than doubled the number of black officials who had ever been appointed in the state’s history.

Michael Reagan claimed that his parents “treated Mr. Allen with the utmost respect” – unlike in the film, where Cecil Gaines’s invitation to the state dinner is implied to have been an act of tokenism.

When Eugene Allen was interviewed about his experiences in 2008, his only reminiscence of the evening was to smile as his wife recalled: “Had champagne that night.”

The film culminated with the butler’s resignation as a protest over Ronald Reagan’s opposition to South African sanctions, though there is no evidence that this was the reason for Eugene Allen’s retirement at the age of 67.

“The real story of the White House butler doesn’t imply racism at all,” Michael Reagan wrote.

“It’s simply Hollywood liberals wanting to believe something about my father that was never there.”

He added: “My father’s position on lifting the South African sanctions in the 80s had nothing to do with the narrow issue of race. It had to do with the geopolitics of the Cold War.”

Allen told his interviewer in 2008 that he was “especially fond of the Reagans”, and resolutely refused to criticize any of the Presidents he worked for.

The Butler, directed by Lee Daniels, takes a number of liberties in adapting Eugene Allen’s life story, most notably in inventing an episode in which his mother is raped and father killed by a plantation boss.

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Sonia is the heart and the artist of the team. She loves art and all that it implies. As Sonia says, good music, a well directed movie, or attending a music or film festival melts people’s heart and make them better. She is great at painting and photography. Working on scrapbooks is her favorite activity.

  • voshae

    The interpretation of the President Reagan was not racist at all. Being an African American, I actually was enlightened to learn a little more about our late president from what the movie portrayed about him and his wife…the movie version I saw showed a good gentle and loving man…very caring, smart, charming and heart of gold….giving money to needy citizens…the first president to finally hear Eugene’s claim for equal pay….i thought the decision the president made about the south African apartheid was separate from his emotions and I think the movie did a great job showing the true character of the president prior to him needing to make a decision for the best interest of America instead of the interest one part of America….i thought his decision was surprising but probably the best…we didn’t need another civil war starting up in America….no need to be defensive because at the end of the movie, it was just a movie and someone’s opinion. And I thought Eugene quit because he was old and he learned a very valuable lesson in his life which was his son’s calling to be an activist for equal rights….he learned that before dying…to often a lot of families don’t have this revelation and die with guilt, hate and from frustration. Parents and children have their own minds — he had a fear of losing his son like he lost his father by standing up for yourself but he learned that times had began to change and standing up for yourself can be a good thing for the right reasons– he no longer feared death….he was liberated and old…he had to retire one day…67… For real!

  • keith colquitt

    I was going to write essentially the same thing that Vorshae wrote. The film doesn’t portray Reagan as Michael Reagan suggests. Michael probably didn’t bother to see the film but reacted based upon what someone told him, otherwise he’s more of an ignoramus than I previously thought. This film presents a sympathetic image of the Reagans just as the biopic of the Reagans did that Reagan worshipers trashed without ever viewing it. Both films showed acts of kindness and humanity that I would never have suspected the Reagans possessed, based upon their public records. Reagan, Strom Thurmond, Frank Rizzo, and many more local and national politicians pursued policies that were against the best interests of black people but had cordial, sometimes loving relationships with some select black people. It would be overly simplistic to categorize any of them as racist but it’s a fact that their constituencies weren’t black and they felt no compulsion to address the needs of black people here or anywhere else in the world.