"The Butler" director Lee Daniels, Harvey Weinstein defend portrayal of President Reagan in film

(CBS News) The No. 1 movie in America is "Lee Daniels' The Butler," the latest feature from the Weinstein Company took in $25 million at the box office in its opening weekend.

But the movie, starring Forest Whitaker is receiving some criticism for the way it shows President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy Reagan, played by Jane Fonda. Some are citing that Reagan, as portrayed in the film is indifferent to suffering under apartheid and that he was racially insensitive.

Responding to that criticism on "CBS This Morning," director Lee Daniels said of Reagan: "He gave plenty of black people money that wrote him. And we say -- that's in the opening scene for him, where Cecil, he says, 'Listen, people write me for money. Don't tell anybody I'm doing this, but I've got to do it.' We're fair to every president."

Weinstein added: "There's a scene at the end of it, when Ronald Reagan did oppose sanctions be put against South Africa. However, and even his own party -- the head of the Republican Party says, 'Please, Ronny, this is not going to do well. You're going to get overruled,' which he did get overruled by the Senate and the Republican Party voted against it. We show his misgivings about that. That was a decision that he regretted, it's shown in the movie. He probably has the best relationship with butler of any president."

Daniels confirmed that was a true fact of the butler who inspired the film, Eugene Allen. He added, "(Reagan invited) him to the White House, too. ... I think that we're extremely fair to -- really fair to Reagan."

Reagan was very close to Allen, Weinstein said, referring to his invite to a White House dinner.

"I think he was very close to Ronald Reagan, in particular," Weinstein said. "I also think that Reagan's thing on apartheid wasn't that he wasn't against apartheid. He was the businessman president Reagan. He was always about business principles. The idea of free trade, this is what bugged him more than anything else. Those conservative business principles."

"Lee Daniels' The Butler" has already been viewed by many people who have lived in the White House, including Michelle Obama who "loved it," Weinstein said. Presidents George H.W. Bush Sr. and George W. Bush, and former first lady Barbara Bush, have also watched the movie.

President Obama has said he planned to watch the film this weekend, but, Weinstein said he's not sure if the screening has been sidelined by the political crisis in Egypt. He said, "We're going to every president (to) see the movie."

For more with Lee Daniels and Harvey Weinstein, watch the full interview above.

"Lee Daniels' The Butler" is now playing in theaters.

  • Amanda Cochran

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