Ted Johnson: Michelle Obama Interview: How FLOTUS Used Pop Culture Stardom To Make An Impact
“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. Has it worked? A case in point: The Carpool Karaoke segment highlighted one of Obama’s key initiatives, Let Girls Learn, a worldwide plan of action to promote girls’ access to education. She and Corden also sang “This Is for My Girls,” According to Nielsen, digital sales of “This Is for My Girls” climbed a whopping 1,562% in the week after the segment aired. And it generated almost 40 million views on YouTube. Her first major push to engage the entertainment community came in June 2011, when she appeared at the Writers Guild of America, West to talk about her initiative to support military families, called Joining Forces, and to encourage content creators to incorporate stories about military families in their shows and movies. “Army Wives” creator Katherine Fugate says that shows like “Glee” and “Grey’s Anatomy” followed suit by featuring episodes with military characters. She credits the first lady’s ability to connect with audiences — and with people individually.
“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….’”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.”