Veterans protest local showings of ‘The Butler’

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Theater director said attendees offer encouraging remarks

By Becca Owsley

Controversy continues locally over the showing of “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” drawing protests during the weekend showing at the Historic State Theater.


The film follows the life of Cecil Gaines, a black man who served eight presidents as butler at the White House.

In August, Ike Boutwell, owner of Movie Palace in Elizabethtown and Showtime Cinemas in Radcliff, chose not to show the film at his theaters because it featured a brief performance by Jane Fonda as Nancy Regan. His stand was against Fonda’s actions against the Vietnam War.

State Theater director Emily West decided to put the film on the theater’s schedule for area moviegoers who wanted to see it.

It was popular when it was released and gave the theater an opportunity to show a current movie along with its classic film lineup, West said.

Amid the protest, the first two showings had good attendance and West received many comments from attendees supporting her decision to show the movie, she said.

West said she welcomed the protesters and applauded protesters’ choice to stand up and honor their country.

“As long as it’s peaceful, they are American citizens exercising their rights,” she said.

Protest organizer retired Sgt. Maj. Bruce Fonda of Radcliff, no relation to Jane, said he wasn’t protesting the showing of the movie, but Jane Fonda’s role in it.

He doesn’t think she gave a sincere apology for what she did in Vietnam and doesn’t accept her excuse that it was just because she was young and foolish. He considers her a traitor to her country.

But he said it’s up to the individual if they want to see the movie and everyone has the right to choose.

He said he met Fonda when she was on her “Free the Army” protest tour in Okinawa. He was wearing his uniform at the time, which he said didn’t go over very well.

Even though many local stores are selling the movie, he said there were no plans to protest those locations.

While protesters were marching back and forth in front of the theater with placards and American flags, some driving by honked in approval and yelled support from their cars One Sherriff’s deputy even voiced his support through the car’s loudspeaker system.

Names of Kentuckians killed in Vietnam were read aloud during the protest.

Five protesters attended the Saturday matinee, but others attended additional showings.

Retired Col. Mike Brawley of Elizabethtown didn’t serve in Vietnam but lost a good friend during the war and thinks Jane Fonda’s actions are partly to blame for his friend’s death.

“Casting her as Mrs. Reagan is a slap in the face to a president I have a lot of respect for,” he said.

Brawley was protesting as a symbol. He knew it wouldn’t affect ticket sales, but wanted to show his displeasure with the actress.

Vietnam Veteran Joe Tarnovsky had no real objections to the movie being shown. He was more concerned what shows up on the theater’s marquee.

He referenced a statement made by West when the showings were announced,saying many Americans died for the rights to choose. He agrees with that statement, but hopes the names of those who have been killed in action, such as Spc. Angel Lopez, will start appearing on the marquee to recognize those dying for the rights of Americans.

But he holds no ill feelings about any of it.

“I forgave Jane Fonda years ago,” Tarnovsky said. “I had to quit hating because it only eats the hater up.”

While purchasing popcorn inside the theater, Radcliff resident Inge Nunn spoke about the events of the day representing what America was about.

She is from Germany and has been an American citizen since 1976. Once she received her green card she enlisted in the U.S. Army to show how much she loved America.

The war was over at that time but part of her job in the Army was to work as a drug and alcohol counselor. She worked with many Vietnam Veterans who had PTSD.

Her son, born on Fort Knox, served oversees three times.

The peaceful protest and right to see the film is part of why she loves this country.

“I’m just grateful to be an American,” she said. “As Americans, we respect everybody’s choices and I am grateful that I have the choice to see the movie and bear no malice to the people outside protesting because that is their right.”

The theater has two more showings of the film at 2 and 7 p.m. today.

Becca Owsley can be reached at 270-505-1741 or bowsley@thenewsenterprise.com.