Vietnam Full Disclosure


Jane Fonda on HBO film, and Ken Burns’ Vietnam War documentary: ‘I can’t stand it’

Published on: September 21, 2018

Filed Under: Connections to Today, Featured, Film

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Jane Fonda at the Sept. 13 Los Angeles premiere of the HBO documentary, “Jane Fonda in Five Acts.”  (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images )

The documentary, “Jane Fonda in Five Acts,” provides considerable insight into Jane Fonda’s amazing life. But you can’t watch it without coming away with questions, as Fonda and director Susan Lacy found during a discussion of the HBO film at the Television Critics Association 2018 summer press tour.

“Why did I marry guys that were controlling?” Fonda said, summing up a reporter’s inquiry.

“Well, they were all so brilliant, and they could teach me things, and take me farther than I had ever gone,” Fonda said of her former husbands, Roger Vadim, Tom Hayden and Ted Turner.

“They weren’t boring,” Fonda said, as journalists attending the press tour at the Beverly Hilton hotel ballroom laughed.

“I don’t know,” she went on. “I didn’t have very much confidence, and I thought that if I was with those kind of men, that I could be somebody.”

Despite Fonda’s larger-than-life persona and Oscar wins for “Klute” and “Coming Home,” it’s apparent that she’s not complacent, about the world, or about herself.

Asked what she’s learned about being a political “revolutionary,” Fonda said, “I try to listen more than I talk, that’s one important thing that I’ve learned.”

She wouldn’t use the word “revolution” now, Fonda continued, instead preferring “constant change. Yes, I’m still changing. I’m only 80, and you know, there’s still a few decades to go, if I’m lucky, and why be alive if you’re not learning, and changing, and growing? I think that the purpose is to try to figure out how do you keep doing it. You know, you may not be able to make your life longer, but you can make it deeper and wider.”

Fonda and Lacy, who previously made documentaries for the PBS series “American Masters,” had been talking about making “Jane Fonda in Five Acts” for a few years.

As Fonda said, she got a lot of response to her 2005 memoir, “Jane Fonda: My Life So Far.”

“What surprised me is it had an impact on men as well as women,” Fonda said. “And, oddly enough, a lot of people identify with the various struggles that I’ve had. Issues with parents, issues with eating disorders, issues with men, issues with self-confidence, and so I felt that, you know, that if these things could be brought to a broader audience, that it would be informative and helpful to other people.”


As in the documentary, the infamous photo of Fonda sitting on an anti-aircraft gun in North Vietnam, which was taken during the Vietnam War, came up in the press conference.

“I’m proud that I went to Vietnam when I did, and I’m proud that the bombing of the dikes stopped,” Fonda said. “But, you know, what I say in the film is true,” adding, “I’m so sorry that I was thoughtless enough to sit down on that gun at that time, and the image that — the message that that sends to the guys who were there, and their families. It just — it’s horrible for me to think about that.”

After the press conference ended, Fonda and Lacy met with a few reporters for a follow-up interview. I asked Fonda what her opinion was of “The Vietnam War,” the documentary made for PBS by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.

“I can’t stand it,” Fonda said. “I can’t stand it. I am so disappointed. He did not understand the role that the American antiwar movement played in the ending of the war.”

Fonda continued, “It was not good, and I totally respect him. I think ‘The Civil War’ is one of the great documentaries ever made of American history, but I thought he missed it on the Vietnam War. He did not get it.  And for some reason, I don’t know why — was he trying to bend over backwards to be objective? I don’t know. But he didn’t talk to people.”

Fonda, whose antiwar activities are mentioned in the Burns/Novick documentary, said, “I didn’t expect to be in the movie.  I didn’t want to be in the movie,” but she emphasized that the Burns and Novick film didn’t reflect the full story.

“Ending the war was a three-legged stool,” Fonda said. “The Vietnamese themselves, international opinion, and the American antiwar movement.”

Though Fonda is still passionate about the causes she believes in, she expressed some doubts about the appropriateness of the HBO film.

“I feel self-conscious about it now,” she said. “Because we’re facing this existential crisis, I mean our country and our world is being taken apart, and here is this woman talking about herself for two hours.”

— Kristi Turnquist

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