Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Hanoi Jane..Really?...Much Ado

The movie, The Butler, is scheduled for release in October.  This is usually a good sign for a movie because that means it might be an Oscar contender.  And then there was this...boycott the movie because Jane Fonda is playing Nancy Reagan.  Why? Because of Jane Fonda's infamous Vietnam comments and a notorious pictures which gave her the nickname Hanoi Jane.

This is one of the pics, and I remember the controversy well.  I was in my teens.  Like many, I have mixed emotions about Jane Fonda.  We were appalled by the young actress's actions of singing antiwar songs with the North Vietnamese soldiers and making propaganda.  Well that's the story any way.  Yes, she did go to Vietnam.  Yes she spoke with the North Vietnamese.  Yes she sang an antiwar song. With the exception of traveling North she pretty much summed up the feelings of much of a generation.  It was a sad and horrible time in the United States, and we were torn in half.  For the first time, the horror that is war was beamed into homes as it happened.  There is a very real reason why the flag draped coffins of our soldiers who sacrificed in Afghanistan and Iraq are not photographed.  Vietnam is the reason.

Why did Jane go North?  Because she could meet with American POWs and bring back messages. Later though, the young Fonda would announce that the stories the soldiers brought back of torture were lies.  It did not occur to her that the POWs she had met were propaganda tools.  She did condemn the war itself and sadly, returning soldiers.  Much to our shame many people did.  We have, I hope, learned from that ordeal and for now seem to honor those who serve.  What made it worse, is many that went did not choose to go, they were drafted and many who were slated to go fled to Canada. And so for some reason we might understand why a few, particularly veterans would be upset about having Jane Fonda portray anything.

Why though react to her playing Nancy Regan?  The only reason I can see is that for a few Nancy was married to Ronald Reagan and for more than a few, an entire Mythos has sprung up around him.  Reagan was governor in California at the time of Vietnam and in 1967 had tested the waters for a presidential run.  His pro-war stance is very clear in his reactions to the protest movement.  One of his orders to stop a protest became known as Bloody Thursday in which a student died. He used the National Guard to stop protests in Berkley.  In other words, Jane Fonda and Ronald Reagan were on the opposite sides of the spectrum.

Time though must pass.

Hopefully we all grow older and a little wiser.

"I would like to say something, not just to Vietnam veterans in New England, but to men who were in Vietnam, who I hurt, or whose pain I caused to deepen because of things that I said or did. I was trying to help end the killing and the war, but there were times when I was thoughtless and careless about it and I'm very sorry that I hurt them. And I want to apologize to them and their families. [...] I will go to my grave regretting the photograph of me in an anti-aircraft gun, which looks like I was trying to shoot at American planes. It hurt so many soldiers. It galvanized such hostility. It was the most horrible thing I could possibly have done. It was just thoughtless." These are the words of apology that Fonda spoke in a 1988 interview with Barbara Walters.  It was an apology and regret that she would repeat in a 2005 interview with 60 Minutes stating that the incident was a "betrayal." A betrayal of the "country that gave me privilege. The image of Jane Fonda, Barbarella, Henry Fonda's daughter ... sitting on an enemy aircraft gun was a betrayal ... the largest lapse of judgment that I can even imagine."  She has also said that her broadcasts on North Vietnam's radio were because  "Our government was lying to us and men were dying because of it, and I felt I had to do anything that I could to expose the lies and help end the war." It is true that we were misled about many things happening during the war.

Fonda has been very clear about the boycott.  She has told critics that they "need to get a life." She has also pointed out that Nancy Reagan has been very helpful and is pleased with the casting.  Nancy, who is 91, has been giving Fonda tips about the role, and Fonda has told the producers that unless Nancy was documented to have done something which might appear negative that she won't do it.  It seems Nancy Reagan is not as enamoured with the myth of her life as some others may be. She also understands that Fonda is an actress just as both Ronald and Nancy (Davis) Reagan were.

The movie is not even about Nancy but based on the life Eugene Allen, a real White House butler who served eight presidents and had basically witnessed history.  Allen served from 1952 to 1986.

In all honesty, I can understand why veterans from the era are upset with anything Fonda does.  I can also understand the naivete and mistake of a very young, priveledged actress, too. Besides, we have far too much else to fix than whether Jane Fonda plays Nancy Reagan.  Both Jane and Nancy are actors and understand that it is pretend.  The real problem is Alan Rickman is playing Ronald Reagan. How dare they cast a Brit as an American legend!