"Lee Daniels' The Butler" — the very name of which is owed to one expensive and drawn out pissing contest between Warner Bros. and The Weinstein Company — has been the source of a ton of controversy, not one iota having to do with the film's actual content. First there was that ridiculous "The Butler" name spat, and then there was that thing with Oprah Winfrey maybe-maybe not having been put down by some Swiss shop girl, and now this: At least one theater owner is refusing to show the film at all because of Jane Fonda and her anti-Vietnam War behavior 41 years ago.
For the uninitiated, Fonda was an outspoken anti-war advocate during the Vietnam conflict and even paid a visit to North Vietnam, where she was famously photographed sitting atop an anti-aircraft gun and laughing with members of the enemy army (which she now regrets). Countless rumors surfaced from the controversial visit, with the nastiest involving Jane Fonda turning over the letters American POWs had given her to take home and thereby causing their executions. Needless to say, it was a pretty heavy and infuriating situation for many on the home front, and four decades later people are still pretty sore about it.
Since "Lee Daniels' The Butler" features Fonda as the former First Lady Nancy Reagan, it's made one Kentucky theater owner especially peeved. Ike Boutwell of Elizabethtown, owner of Movie Palace and Showtime Cinemas, has declared that locals won't be able to check out any "Butler" action at his theaters, whether it means him losing money or not.
"I trained hundreds of pilots to fly, many of whom Ms. Fonda clapped and cheered as they were shot down," he told The News-Enterprise. "Our Constitution only mentions three crimes. Treason is one. That’s aid and comfort to the enemy."
"I just really think it’s a slap in the face to have a person of treason portray a patriotic lady, Mrs. Reagan. I just think that is throwing gas on the fire," he continued.
Speaking of which, Fonda herself has done a little flame-fueling during promos for "The Butler." Perhaps in response to the burgeoning Facebook group called "Boycott Hanoi Jane Playing Nancy Reagan" — which she responded to with "Get a life" and argued it'll draw more attention to the movie — she decided to wear a t-shirt commemorating her infamous fist-bearing mugshot from when she was arrested on the way back from an anti-war rally for drug-smuggling, even though she was just carrying vitamins.
It's not the first time she's been seen publicly sporting the design, but given the circumstances it sure seems like a pointed move.
Fonda had apologized for the so-called "Hanoi Jane" photos that surfaced after her trip to North Vietnam, calling portions of her behavior "thoughtless and careless," but that's done nothing to assuage the feelings of Mr. Boutwell, who claims to have never housed a Fonda movie.
"In life, you've got to stand for something, and that's where I stand," he declared. "It makes me feel that I'm honoring those who died for this country."
Despite this sticky situation and the others which have preceded it, "Lee Daniel's The Butler" has enjoyed a second straight weekend atop the box office, beating out not one, not two, but three promising newcomers.