Number one at the box office for two weekends in a row, The Butler has triumphed in spite of some irrational opposition. The Weinstein Company had to battle just to keep the title—eventually settling for the awkward and unwieldy Lee Daniels’ The Butler—when Warner Bros. complained that it was stolen from one of their silent shorts. Now Kentucky theatre owner Ike Boutwell has decided to ban the movie from his two theatres in Elizabethtown and Radcliff. While history has only validated Fonda’s opposition to the Vietnam War (and she has repeatedly apologized for the notorious photo of her sitting at a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun), Boutwell still holds a grudge. “Jane Fonda in my opinion is a treasonous person,” he says. “Jane Fonda had a wonderful opportunity to show the world how horrible our prisoners were being treated, yet she decided to call them baby killers and support our enemy.”
The perspective of Boutwell—and others like him—is based on an unquestioning assumption that the United States has always fought for good, whereas Fonda has a more unsentimental vision of the country’s involvement in Vietnam. Fortunately for residents of Elizabethtown and Radcliff, Boutwell hasn’t had the opportunity to ban too many Fonda releases, as she has only appeared in a handful of movies since stepping away from acting 24 years ago. Prior to The Butler, only one of these movies (Monster-in-Law) was prominent enough to be considered by Boutwell—and he promptly banned it.
The controversial theatre owner believes that the people of Kentucky stand behind him, but some local youth have questioned his self-professed patriotism, arguing that he’s shielding them from an important chapter in American history. “I’m kind of bummed out actually,” said Elizabethtown resident Brad Reed. “It seems like a great movie about history and what people were going through at that time period.”