Hanoi Jane playing Nancy Reagan in a movie? The news is enough to make you shake your head for just a second.
For many generations, Fonda, 74, is remembered as the daughter of Henry, sex symbol in the racy cult sci-fi favorite “Barbarella” and protestor of the Vietnam War.
In 1972, she outraged many Americans when she was photographed in Hanoi with her popular "Klute" hairstyle seated on an anti-aircraft battery in North Vietnam. On her tour of the country, she recorded 10 radio broadcasts denouncing American political and military leaders as war criminals. She continued to protest the war through the 1970s and also protested the recent Iraq War.
Fonda still takes heat for her Vietnam visit.
In 2004, Republicans called Massachusetts Senator John Kerry a “Jane Fonda Democrat” when he ran for president. In 2005, a U.S. Navy veteran in Kansas City spit chewing tobacco in Fonda's face during a book signing event for Fonda’s autobiography “My Life So Far.” He was arrested for disorderly conduct.
It should come as no surprise that conservative blogs sprung into action Tuesday against Fonda, a die-hard feminist, portraying Nancy, who perfected the political wifely gaze.
Columnist John Nolte on Brietbart wrote, “Fonda isn’t merely a left-wing actress or a liberal or even a Leftist; Fonda is a traitor to her country and one of the most morally illiterate, divisive and polarizing figures to ever come out of a womb, much less Hollywood.”
Fonda tried to defuse the Hanoi Jane controversy on her Web site last year.
She wrote that she was unsure that a photograph was being taken of her on the anti-aircraft battery. She wondered if the North Vietnamese set her up. She said, “But the photo exists, delivering its message regardless of what I was doing or feeling. I carry this heavy in my heart. I have apologized numerous times for any pain I may have caused servicemen and their families because of this photograph. It was never my intention to cause harm.”
That won’t matter to conservatives who do not want to see the poster-child of liberal politics portraying a Republican icon like Reagan. They certainly didn’t like it when Julianne Moore recently portrayed Sarah Palin in HBO’s “Game Change.”
Reagan, who has not commented, may not be very happy about the decision either.
In a 1987 “Washington Monthly” book review about the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, Reagan reportedly “flipped” that Fonda attended the 1983 launch where Sally Ride became the first woman in orbit. Allegedly, White House staffer Mike Deaver demanded that the NASA flak who invited Fonda to sit in the VIP section be fired.
But Ronald Reagan in 1983 dared to mention Fonda in a speech he gave at the Annual Awards Dinner of the White House News Photographers Association. He said he had lost weight thanks to Fonda’s workout book.
The outrage on the Reagans’ behalf will only continue as other well-known Democratic supporters become attached to the film.
Obama supporter Oprah Winfrey is in talks to play the butler’s wife. Actor Forest Whitaker, who will play the butler, campaigned for Obama in 2008. Obama, in turn, appointed Whitaker to his Committee on Arts and the Humanities in 2009.
John Cusack and Liam Neeson are also mentioned as possible actors who could portray Richard M. Nixon and Lyndon Johnson. No word yet on who will star as Ronald Reagan.
Cusack as Nixon will irritate conservatives, too. After all, Cusack openly opposed the Iraq War and had no love for the Bush administration. (Personally, I can’t see the 1980s “Say Anything” heartthrob playing Nixon regardless of ideology.)
Neeson, who hails from Ireland, is already set to play Johnson in the upcoming “Selma,” a movie directed by Lee Daniels, who is also attached to the Jane Fonda film. Neeson will certainly have his cussing, cigarette-smoking Texan attitude nailed for “The Butler.”
As Fonda has matured, she looks a tad more like the former first lady with her caramel hair and chiseled features. The wardrobe department will certainly work its magic fitting her in Nancy red. We may even forget that Nancy is Jane in the handful of scenes that feature her.
Acting is just that – acting. If anyone should know that, it’s Nancy Reagan who, after all, met her beloved Ronnie in glitzy Hollywood when they were both actors.
Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt.” Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker