POLITICS

Michelle Obama, Bradley Cooper launch new onscreen push to help veteran representation

01/30/2015 04:52 EST | Updated 04/01/2015 05:59 EDT
NEW YORK, N.Y. - The first lady and "American Sniper" star Bradley Cooper are backing a new challenge to TV and film producers to accurately represent U.S. troops who have returned from war and move away from portraying them either as victims or infallible heroes.

Michelle Obama and Cooper joined a list of media heavyweights on Friday in Washington, D.C., to launch the new "6 Certified" program with representatives from Warner Bros., National Geographic Channels and the Producers Guild of America on hand.

The initiative will allow TV shows and films to display an onscreen badge that tells viewers the show they're watching has been certified by the group Got Your 6, which derives its name from military slang for "I've got your back." To be approved, the film or show must cast a veteran, tell a veteran story, have a story written by a veteran or use veterans as resources.

Chris Marvin, managing director of Got Your 6 and a former U.S. Army officer and Blackhawk helicopter pilot, said their campaign isn't hoping to show veterans in a good light, but in an honest one.

"Most Americans tell us that they only see veterans portrayed as broken or as heroes who walk on water in film and television," he said by phone. "We're missing something in the middle. Veterans are everyday people.

"They're you're next door neighbour who helps you bring your garbage cans back when they blow away. They're your kids' fifth-grade math teacher. It's the person running for city council," he added. "You see them every day in your own life but you don't see them on film or television."

The Got Your 6 group was launched in 2012 to enlist Hollywood in the effort to discourage stereotypes and promote more accurate representation of the 2.6 million soldiers coming home over the past 10 years. Surveys have found that many Americans presume veterans suffer from PTSD, are homeless or addicted to drugs or alcohol.

The group has taken lessons learned by other successful efforts to change viewpoints, including to reduce teen pregnancies, encourage colonoscopies, improve animal rights and reduce drunken driving. It has identified Hollywood as an engine of cultural change.

"This is more of a challenge than anything else. We're challenging the entertainment industry — myself included — to live up to the responsibilities inherent in the powers we have and with the reach that we have," said Charlie Ebersol, a producer and creator of the "6 Certified" program.

Ebersol said films like 1987's "Full Metal Jacket" by Stanley Kubrick and Clint Eastwood's new "American Sniper" would likely be eligible for certification because they portray veterans accurately, even if the men in those films aren't representative of the population of veterans.

He pointed to recent portrayals of gay TV and film characters whose homosexuality wasn't necessarily defining. Ebersol cited shows such as "Modern Family" and "Will & Grace" as examples of shows that have complicated gay characters.

He said Ed O'Neil's portrayal of a veteran in "Modern Family" was a good example to follow in terms of the group's new push: "The Jay Pritchett character is an incredibly interesting character and, by the way, he's a veteran. He has characteristics that could only be there because he's a veteran but don't define him."

Other examples of TV characters Ebersol cheered are Sam Waterston's portrayal of veteran Charlie Skinner on "The Newsroom" and Seth Rogen's guest role as a veteran on "The Mindy Project."

"We have a real opportunity to go way beyond the platitudes of the entertainment industry. We love to say, 'I support the troops!' and 'I've got a yellow ribbon!' but there's an actual, tangible way to make a difference. That's what the challenge is here."

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Online: http://www.gotyour6.org

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Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits