The Atlantic

What Hollywood Forgets About LBJ

Even as they stress his civil-rights legacy, popular portrayals ignore the issue that loomed largest over Lyndon B. Johnson's presidency: the Vietnam War.
Source: Yoichi Okamoto / LBJ Library

President Lyndon Johnson has enjoyed a remarkable run in Hollywood. Next month, the most recent addition to the fictional canon will be Rob Reiner’s LBJ, a movie starring Woody Harrelson as the oversized Texan who dominated American political life like almost no one else in the 1960s. Reiner’s film revolves around Johnson’s transition from serving as a frustrated vice president to becoming the president in November 1963 following President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The film culminates with the passage of the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 that desegregated public accommodations in the South. Like many recent films on LBJ, Harrelson plays Johnson as crass and ugly, but also as a politician whose heart was in the right place on the key domestic issue of the time.

In certain respects, producers, directors, writers, and actors who tend to lean toward the left have treated their work of this president as part of a broader effort to rescue American liberalism from its worst mistakes, to capture the

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