Ten days before delivering the best-received speech at the Democratic National Convention, first lady Michelle Obama was in her East Wing office describing an entirely different appearance she was about to make that was poised to have an equally notable impact.
“First of all, I was riding in a car with somebody else, without the Secret Service,” she says, with more than a hint of glee. “So right there, [I said], ‘Let’s keep driving!’ I think we drove around the South Lawn about 100 times.”
1. Despite being First Lady, she views herself as an average woman who’s in tune with pop culture.
“I view myself as being the average woman,” she says. “While I am first lady, I wasn’t first lady my whole life. I’m a product of pop culture. I’m a consumer of pop culture, and I know what resonates with people. I know what they’ll get a chuckle out of and what they think is kind of silly. And whenever my team approaches me with ideas and concepts, we’re usually like, ‘Is this really funny? Are people going to understand it?’”2. When she’s being silly and making people laugh, she also has a message behind it.
“What I have never been afraid of is to be a little silly, and you can engage people that way,” Obama says in an interview with Variety in her upstairs White House office, decorated in an eclectic mix of abstract art and framed mementos from her tenure. “My view is, first you get them to laugh, then you get them to listen. So I’m always game for a good joke, and I’m not so formal in this role. There’s very little that we can’t do that people wouldn’t appreciate.”3. In order to gain awareness to her initiatives, she came to where the people are.
Obama explains that as she launched the initiatives, she knew it would take “reaching people where they lived on a day-to-day basis, and the next step was, ‘How do you do that? Where are the people?’ Well, they’re not reading the op-ed pieces in the major newspapers. They’re not watching Sunday morning news talk shows. They’re doing what most people are doing: They are watching TV.”4. While she doesn’t have a budget, she still gets the job done.
She adds: “A lot of our audiences are kids and teens, and they want to be in on the joke. And they’ll listen again. We’re just a little looser with this stuff than most traditional first ladies.”
“It has been wonderful having the platform of the first lady’s office. But if you sort of look at who we are, we don’t have a budget. We don’t have congressional authority. But I still believe we managed to have impact on these issues, which sort of sets the foundation to think, ‘Gosh, we can do a lot, even when we’re not here, just with the power of public awareness.’ ”5. FLOTUS loves entertainment, but feels it’s crucial to add diversity in Hollywood.
“For so many people, television and movies may be the only way they understand people who aren’t like them,” she says. “And when I come across many little black girls who come up to me over the course of this 7½ years with tears in their eyes, and they say: ‘Thank you for being a role model for me. I don’t see educated black women on TV, and the fact that you’re first lady validates who I am….’”Read the full article on Variety.com
She adds, “My mom says it all the time: ‘People are so enamored of Michelle and Barack Obama.’ And she says, ‘There are millions of Michelle and Barack Obamas.’ We’re not new. We’re not special. People who come from intact families who are educated, who have values, who care for their kids, who raise their kids — if you don’t see that on TV, and you don’t live in communities with people like me, you never know who we are, and you can make and be susceptible to all sorts of assumptions and stereotypes and biases, based on nothing but what you see and hear on TV. So it becomes very important for the world to see different images of each other, so that, again, we can develop empathy and understanding.”
She calls diversity in entertainment “critical,” because she sees the industry as being able to influence perceptions, in the way that viewers in the ’70s “developed a love for Archie Bunker and empathy for George Jefferson.”
“There are folks who now know black families — like the Johnsons on ‘Black-ish’ or the folks on ‘Modern Family.’ They become part of who you are. You share their pains. You understand their fears. They make you laugh, and they change how you see the world. And that is particularly true in a country where there are still millions of people who live in communities where they can live their whole lives not having contact or exposure with people who aren’t like them, whether that is race or religion or simply lifestyle. The only way that millions of people get to know other folks and the way they live … is through the power of television and movies.”