Reagans miniseries controversy heats up

BY Advocate.com Editors

October 25 2003 12:00 AM ET

The furor over the upcoming CBS miniseries The Reagans, about Ronald and Nancy Reagan, continued to grow on Friday, as Mrs. Reagan herself reportedly weighed in with her disapproval of the show and its portrayal of the former president's condemnation of gay men with AIDS. A family friend quotes Mrs. Reagan, played in the miniseries by Judy Davis, as dubbing the miniseries "cruel" because it reportedly shows President Reagan, who now has late-stage Alzheimer's disease, in an unflattering light, reports The Vancouver Sun.

Former White House aide Martin Anderson reported the former first lady's comments in the Sun, saying, "She said, 'The timing on this is just staggering when Ronnie is sick. How could they do this. It is so cruel.' "

Controversy over the miniseries, executive-produced by out producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (Life With Judy Garland, Chicago), began earlier in the week when The New York Times published a story reporting the contents of a copy of the script the newspaper had acquired. The screenplay, by Elizabeth Egloff, reportedly quotes President Reagan, talking about AIDS in a private conversation, as saying, "They that live in sin shall die in sin"--a quotation that Anderson said was "an outrageous lie."

That scene is not included in a six-minute preview of The Reagans that was provided to Advocate.com. In the preview tape, Nancy Reagan is seen meeting with AIDS patients and urging her husband to support legislation to battle the disease. (The preview suggests that the miniseries takes the point of view that Mrs. Reagan was intimately involved with, if not the driving force behind, every significant decision in Mr. Reagan's political life.) The only overt reference to homosexuality in the preview is Mr. Reagan's comment, upon the marriage of his son Ron Jr., "Well, at least we know he's not gay."

Far-right evangelical activist Jerry Falwell joined the fray over The Reagans on Thursday in a letter to his supporters. Referring to the "die in sin" quote, Falwell wrote, "Anyone who ever knew President Reagan knows that such language would never emanate from this heroic man. While Reagan detractors enjoy portraying him as a bumbling and unfeeling man, the truth is he was a compassionate and respectful leader who would be taken aback by such language. (In fact, not even a wild-eyed religious radical like me has ever made such a blatantly horrific statement.)"

CBS has responded to criticism with a statement saying, "A great deal of discussion is taking place about a film no one has seen. As broadcasters we are trying to put forth a program that informs, entertains, and hopefully stirs meaningful discourse about the events of our time in a truthful manner. We encourage our viewers to judge the Reagans miniseries on these merits."

On Friday, conservative gossipmonger Matt Drudge weighed in as well, accusing Barbra Streisand's liberal political views and family concerns of having unduly influenced the filmmakers. In the miniseries, Ronald Reagan is portrayed by Streisand's husband, James Brolin.

"From what has dribbled out, there is great reason for concern that what you are going to get is a very inaccurate impression of Reagan," Steve Hayward, a resident scholar at the Washington, D.C.-based American Enterprise Institute and the author of The Age of Reagan, told the Sun. "People who worked closely with him are going to be very angry. There is going to be fury about this before the thing is broadcast and after."

CBS chairman Leslie Moonves has said that the network stands behind the filmmakers and will not delay the miniseries's broadcast, scheduled for November 16 and 18. "This was very important to me, to document everything and give a very fair point of view," Moonves said.

Sources tell Advocate.com, however, that negotiations may be under way to allow reediting some scenes in the film, possibly to remove the "die in sin" quote.

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