Published April 11, 2013
LOS ANGELES – When Jane Fonda was cast as former First Lady Nancy Reagan in Lee Daniels’ forthcoming film “The Butler,” some Reagan fans were not pleased. Now, with the biographical due to hit theaters in October, a movement to boycott the movie is gaining some momentum.
Larry Reyes, a Navy veteran and founder of the “Boycott Hanoi Jane Playing Nancy Reagan” Facebook page has been particularly vocal about the casting decision, given Fonda’s past frolicking with the enemy during the Vietnam War.
“Growing up in a military family I heard my father and uncles talk about what Jane did, so from an early age I knew about her history with the war and how upset veterans were about it. Yet it amazed me that people just turned their backs and kept supporting her exercise videos and movies. I made a commitment early on not to support her projects,” Reyes told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. “Then when I heard she was going to play such a well-liked and highly respected president’s wife, it got to me. They (the filmmakers) knew by picking Jane for the part they were going to stir up some stuff. I’m not a conservative or a liberal, I’m an American. And that was a slap in the face.”
This week, Fonda had a simple message for Reyes and the page's fans.
“Get a life."
In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, Fonda said of her casting: “If it creates hoopla, it will cause more people to see the movie… I figured it would tweak the right. Who cares?”
He told us Fonda had “every right” to protest the Vietnam War and to lobby Capitol Hill to get her message across, but says she bordered on treason when she went to Hanoi, Vietnam, called Americans “war criminals,” and was photographed seated on an anti-aircraft battery, a move she claimed she regretted in her 2005 autobiography.
“God only knows how many in our military were affected,” Reyes said. “Jane seems to love everything communist, but when it comes to making money she’s a gold capitalist. It’s my right to protest this film, and if I can stop a few people from seeing it, I will be happy.”
Yet according to Fonda, the former first lady is “happy” she was awarded the role and that in an effort to ensure she portrayed her accurately, Fonda even sent Mrs. Reagan some questions which she answered.
"They had me doing something that wasn't very nice [in the movie]. And I said, 'if she really did this, I'll do it. But if it's made up, I don't want to do it.' I don't want to take cheap shots at her,” the actress told the Hollywood Reporter. She also said the First Lady’s gracious response to her being cast came as a surprise. “Because back when she was feisty she wasn't nice to me. We all mellow. We all mellow.
Fonda also wrote on her personal blog last year that she wished it was “more than a cameo” and was “honored” to be playing such an esteemed political personality. Yet when FOX411 Pop Tarts column attempted to question her about the film at an event she hosted in Los Angeles earlier this year, her handler made it clear that the movie was off limits.
But Fonda isn’t the only casting choice in "The Butler" causing some to roll their eyes.
Inspired by Wil Haygood’s Washington Post article about an African-American man (played by Forest Whitaker) who served as a butler to eight presidents in the White House for over 30 years, “The Butler” traces the dramatic changes that impacted American society, from the civil rights movement to Vietnam and beyond. Distributed by The Weinstein Co., the studio headed by prominent Democratic supporter Harvey Weinstein, “The Butler” has also enlisted a number of known liberal supporters to play key Republican roles including John Cusack as Richard Nixon, and Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower.
“It’s leftist Hollywood giving their finger to the rest of America,” Reyes said. “And that upsets me. But Hollywood is doing that on purpose.”
And despite Reyes’ efforts, experts told us that the debate over the film is likely to translate into ticket sales.
“The controversy will trigger more publicity and generally in Hollywood, any publicity is better than no publicity,” crisis communications expert Glenn Selig anticipated. “My guess is Harvey Weinstein is thrilled that there is so much attention being paid to the movie.”
Casting specialist Holly Wolfe concurred that the Fonda selection should work in the studio’s favor.
“Nancy Reagan was an important figure in our history. In casting you first have to decide on who physically resembles this actual person. Next you have to think who has the chops to pull this off. It would be a true disgrace to cast someone that couldn’t possibly hold up to this high standard,” she added. “If Jane didn’t feel like she could give an honest portrayal of Nancy Reagan then she would have turned it down. I hope first and foremost that the concerns would be about the work and not about political slaps in the face, but I am sure they are getting a kick out of this uproar.”