Cinema and War: Hollywood's Response to September 11. (Interview)
Valenti, Jack, Harvard International Review
After serving as a pilot in the US Army Air Corps in World War II, jack Valenti co founded the advertising/political consulting agency of Weekley &Valenti in 1952. Eleven years later he became a special assistant to US President Lyndon Johnson and served in that capacity until 1966, when he became the third chairman and chief executive officer of the Motion Picture Association of America. Since that time, Mr. Valenti has led the US film and television industry as it has confronted a sea change in the entertainment landscape, both in the United States and abroad. In addition, he has authored four books, including a recent political novel, Protect and Defend. Senior Editor Honor Hsin recently spoke with Mr. Valenti about the current challenges faced by the entertainment industry and its role in the United States' war on terrorism.
HARVARD INTERNATIONAL REVIEW:
On November 11, 2001, you helped organize a meeting between senior Hollywood entertainment executives and White House advisor Karl Rove. Do you feel that Hollywood has a responsibility to contribute to the US effort against terrorism?
I think that all citizens have a responsibility to join in this effort against terrorism. People in Hollywood are citizens of the United States, as I am, and so I felt like we certainly need to be involved as much as we can, using whatever skills we can deploy to help the war effort, which is exactly what we are doing.
What do you think are the potential gains for Hollywood and/or the United States from Hollywood's support of the US war effort?
We are trying to have communication with the armed forces, telling them that we care about them, are grateful to them. We are backing them all the way. We are trying to develop compact, concise radio and television messages to go to the Middle East. We have not deployed any of those yet and are still working on them. We are also meeting with Middle Eastern experts from various universities.
The "Hollywood 9/1l" committee was born after that meeting to oversee Hollywood's contributions to the US war effort. What does this committee do and what role do you think it will play in the future?
What we are doing is what I think our skills make us capable of doing, and that is creating messages. We have created messages to be played in theaters and they have gone over very well. We have worked with people in the United States to use the national networks for messages of support for the armed forces, and that has been an ongoing thing. We have deployed messages abroad to US troops through the Defense Department network, we have sent literally thousands and thousands of videocassettes and DVDs to our soldiers in the battle area, to the fighting ships that are there, to air bases, to bases in Turkey and Germany and in and around Afghanistan. Of all the things we have done, I think what the troops admire the most and are the most grateful for is to be able to watch these movies. We have sent them to the US embassy in Kabul and are keeping them supplied. And as I said, all the aircraft carriers and all the ships at sea have received films, as well as the US bases. We have sent messages over the armed serv ices network, to US troops all over the world, and we have been involved in trying to help the United Services Organization have shows with the best celebrities we can find.
How do you think Hollywood can reconcile conflicts between its role and its need for independence, for example in making movies?
There is no conflict. When Mr. Rove came to Los Angeles, one of the things that we agreed on is that there would be nothing said about the content of movies. That is a province that is left to directors and writers and producers and actors and studios. The government plays no role in that at all.
When the movie Saving Private Ryan was released, you defended its R rating by saying that "realism was necessary for war movies. …