The continuous assessment, analysis and reevaluation of occupants of the US presidency is a crucial aspect of the historiography around the office. Reputations wax and wane according to the preoccupations of the age, as new evidence is found and fresh perspectives are offered. The popular media has arguably played as important a role in this process, albeit one that often adopts a simpler approach to the establishment of a presidential reputation, with broad archetypes and simple narrative structures employed in stories of presidential heroism (Kennedy, Lincoln) and villainy (Nixon).
This chapter will consider what kind of role cinema and television can play in reevaluating a presidential reputation. More often portrayed as the interloper who confiscated the Kennedy legacy and led the nation into the disaster of Vietnam, Lyndon B. Johnson’s image has recently been revised in film and television: following small roles in The Butler (2013) and Selma (2014), fuller explorations of his presidency and character emerged in All the Way (2016) and LBJ (2016) which attempt to offer a more balanced view of his leadership and reinforce his role in the passage of Civil Rights legislation in the mid-1960s. Through attention to the development of his historical reputation in conjunction with close analysis of these films in terms of visual style, narrative structure, character and performance, this chapter will consider the role of these popular media in offering a different perspective of Johnson’s character and presidency for contemporary audiences.