Military ‘Joining Forces’ With Hollywood

Michelle Obama with military panelists on Monday. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

Hollywood’s relationship with the military has needed counseling for quite some time. But it took Michelle Obama’s call for support with the White House’s Joining Forces initiative to get either side to make the first move.

On Monday morning, they showed up in droves.

On a panel moderated by J.J. Abrams — whose own depiction of the military in Super 8 was criticized in the New York Times Media Decoder blog this week – the First Lady urged nearly 500 writers, directors, and producers to help “promote a better understanding and appreciation of the sacrifices made by military personnel and their families” by integrating their experiences into TV, movie, and digital-media story lines.

From questions of accuracy to not-so-hidden political agendas, much has been written about the entertainment industry’s portrayal of the military; many military families and veterans have been hesitant to share even their most compelling stories.

It’s an issue the Joining Forces panelists didn’t tiptoe around. After sharing their own experiences, several real-life military family members emphasized the importance of authenticity — careful listening and research — even in entertainment. The discussion continued online, notably on military spouse-and-family site LIFT, encouraging ongoing communication about and with Joining Forces’ entertainment-industry liaisons.

In addition, a task force representing Hollywood’s five talent unions — the event’s host — plans to conduct workshops connecting television and screenwriters with military families and vets looking to share stories. The Inter-Guild Task Force has already created three Joining Forces PSAs, set to begin airing in July. Featuring Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and Oprah, each detailing how a specific family dealt with the deployment of a loved one.

Reaching Joining Forces’ goals, by the way, isn’t up to Hollywood alone. But the fact that Obama understands the effectiveness of using entertainment media to spread messages isn’t a bad reason to help the campaign succeed.

The question, though, ultimately, is whether or not civilian viewers will be interested in military families’ stories.

Just “do what you do best,” Obama urged, and viewers will be compelled to watch. “Be creative, be funny, be powerful. Move us.”

We’ll find out soon how much of this talk turns into action. But one show that’s certain to have a Joining Forces storyline is Nickelodeon’s iCarly. An upcoming episode — actually pitched by and featuring the First Lady herself — revolves around attempts to arrange a birthday Web chat with Carly’s (Miranda Cosgrove) dad, stationed overseas in the military.

That’s set to air in January, but you can check out behind-the-scenes footage of Mrs. Obama right now.

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