The White House

Office of the First Lady

Remarks by the First Lady at Careers in Film Symposium

East Room

1:49 P.M. EST

MRS. OBAMA:  Well, hey!


MRS. OBAMA:  How are you doing?  You guys, rest.  Sit down.  You've been here all day, you should feel at home by now.  Oh, wasn't that great.  Alan, oh, Beauty -- I thought he was going to call the President the Beast.  I was going to laugh at that.  But that was pretty cool, Beauty and the Chief.  That was -- I don’t know about you guys, but I was listening backstage, and I just wanted to put my ball gown on and twirl and twirl.  (Laughter.)  I mean, -- yes, I hear some people in the back -- beautiful scores, beautiful music, great way to start off this workshop, or this panel discussion. 

I want to welcome you to the White House.  Have you been having fun?


MRS. OBAMA:  Oh, I can tell.  I want to start by thanking Harvey Weinstein for organizing this amazing day.  (Applause.)  Harvey.  This is possible because of Harvey.  He is a wonderful human being, a good friend and just a powerhouse.  And the fact that he and his team took the time to make this happen for all of you should say something not about me or about this place, but about you.  Everybody -- we are here because of you. 

Whoopi Goldberg, Naomie Harris, Ryan Coogler, David Frankel, Blake Lively -- all of us are here because of you.  And of course, my dear friend Gayle King is here.  We are here because of you.  So let's welcome everybody here.  (Applause.)  

I also want to thank all of the directors and the actors, all the specialists who generously shared their time and talent this morning.  You guys did an amazing job.  I got to sit in on a few things and see what was going on today, it was pretty amazing.  But as I -- yes, big hand to all the teams for making this possible.  (Applause.) 

But most importantly, I want to thank our young people.  I want to thank you guys for -- yes, give yourselves a hand.  (Applause.)  We have students here from film and visual arts programs in Boston, in Brooklyn, and right here in Washington, D.C.  (Applause.)  And I’m thrilled to have all of you here for our first-ever Careers in Film Symposium.  We never did this before. 

This is the first time that we have brought young people into the White House for an event like this.  And we have had students here for workshops on all sorts of things.  We've done everything from classical music to spoken word to poetry.  And just a few days ago, we were doing some Bollywood dancing in the State Dining Room.  (Laughter.)  And today, we wanted to continue this tradition by giving you all the chance to dive into the world of film-making.

And from what I heard, and what I saw for myself, I see you guys dove in pretty deeply on this subject.  You learned about directing and improvising.  You saw how a blank screen can create a whole new world.  You discovered how music and sound effects can add emotion to any scene.  And you even had a chance to design a wardrobe and apply makeup just like they do in Hollywood. 

And just so that the press understand, you maybe see some of our staff people with big gashes and cuts on their heads -- (laughter) -- it's just Hollywood happening here.  Many of the students did that work.  And I was prepared; people told me, there are people walking around with scabs on their faces.  And then I saw Jeremy, my head of the Social Office, and I was shocked that his nose was cut up.  This stuff is pretty good.  Very realistic. 

So you all have had a chance to learn the nuts and bolts of the movie business from some of Hollywood’s most respected leaders. But here’s the thing:  These folks know that it doesn’t just take technical knowledge to succeed in the movie business.  That’s one of the important points we want you all to take away.  It’s not just about being a good actor or knowing how to create the best special effects.  It’s also about things like grit.  It's about determination, resilience.  Because all of those character traits -- the ability to overcome adversity -- all of that are some of the traits and skills that have made the folks on this stage successful in life.  And that’s what I want you guys to understand. 

Talent comes and goes.  But it's your ability to dig deep when things are hard and make things happen for yourself -- that’s the difference between just an average life and success.  And there are many examples up on this stage.

You all know that Ryan is one of the fastest-rising directors in Hollywood -- and if you don’t know that, you'll find out more.  But what you might not know is that just a few years ago, he was growing up amid violence and drugs in a city torn apart by poverty and crime.  And he says that if it weren’t for the discipline and drive that his parents instilled in him
-- and I can say the same -- if he hadn’t made the right choices and worked hard every single day -- and I can say the same thing -- he might have ended up as a statistic, just like many of the kids he grew up with.

Meanwhile, for Harvey, it was a poke in the eye –- and I mean literally a poke in the eye -- that may have led to him becoming one of the biggest producers in Hollywood that we have ever seen.  When Harvey was 10 years old, he lost an eye when he was playing around with some other kids.  So he couldn’t go to school for six months.  But Harvey didn’t just sit around feeling sorry for himself.  He knocked on the door of a retired librarian who lived next door to him and asked for books.  Now, for those of you who know Harvey, can you imagine a 10-year-old Harvey in a conversation with a librarian?  (Laughter.)  But from that moment on, Harvey developed a love of reading and a knack for finding good stories -- a skill he has used every day for decades. 

And then there’s my dear, dear friend Whoopi, who has overcome all kinds of adversity.  She was raised, like the President, by a single mother.  She grew up in housing projects in Manhattan.  She was growing up -- when she was growing up, she was dyslexic.  She had trouble reading.  As a result, there were people again and again who would call her dumb.  They would call her slow. 

By the time she was in her early 20s, she had a baby daughter, she had battled drug addiction, she had gone through a divorce.  But let me tell you, Whoopi never let any of that stop her from pursuing her passions for comedy and acting.  She took all kinds of jobs -- good grief -- bricklayer -- (laughter) -- dish washer, beautician in a mortuary.  (Laughter.)  All of that just to support herself and her family as she performed with comedy groups and developed her stand-up routine. 

And after years and years of scraping by, she got her break and landed a role in a wonderful movie called, "The Color Purple."  You've heard of that.  (Applause.)  And from there, she has gone on to build a legendary career.  And in 1990, she became the second African American woman to win an acting award at the Academy Awards.  (Applause.) 

And those are just three stories.  Gayle, Naomie, Blake, David and Bruce -- I didn't see you up here, Bruce is here too
-- they're going to share their own stories.  And I hope that you all will listen and ask them questions.  Find out what their paths to success were.  That's why we're here.  See, because when you do that, when you ask successful people what they've done, when you learn more about these men and women here today, you discover that they've all overcome some kind of challenges in their lives.  They've all struggled.  They've all sacrificed.  And they've worked as hard as possible to get where they are today. 

And why we have you here is because I want you to know -- we want you to know -- that the same thing is true for you.  The same thing is true for you.  We are you.  We are not that far from where you are.  We grew up just like you all did.  Because no matter what kind of neighborhood you come from, no matter what obstacle you are facing in your path right now -- I don't care what's happening to you today, you can always find something that you're passionate about.  You can always find something worth working for in your life. 

And once you find that passion, whether it’s film -- maybe it's science or business, maybe it's teaching -- anything, you have got to get your education.  That's the bottom line.  As I tell my kids, you have one job:  Get an education.  It is the most important thing that you can do for yourselves right now, because that's how you'll prepare yourself for success.  You have to be ready.  And this is the foundation that you have to have with you when those opportunities come.  And that's how you're going to learn the skills that you need to achieve and to keep dreaming big. 

And getting your education means doing everything you can.  It is on you.  That is what I just want you to understand.  Your education is up to you.  So it's up to you to go to school every day.  I didn't miss a day of school.  It's up to you to do your homework every night.  I never showed up at school without my homework being done.  It is up to you to prepare for every class, every exam, every test -- even if it's not a subject that you care about.  That's on you.  That's the secret. 

And you can own that no matter where you come from.  That's why we want you here, because we want you to see this for yourselves.  And if you do that, if you own your education and you don't let any excuses get in your way, no obstacle block you, then I guarantee you can achieve anything that you put your mind to.  As Gayle once said -- she said, “Confidence comes by doing and doing and doing.  That's the secret."  And she said, "You can’t get confident without working hard.  That's the key to everything.”  

The President works hard.  Everybody in this room -- every intern, every person with a light or a camera, they get up and they work hard.  That's the difference.  So I want you all to have that confidence for yourself. 

And I hope that this day here in the White House showed you that if you can walk into the White House and sit in the East Room with all these stars and greats, that you can do anything.  Do you realize that?  You have been in this room in this house with all of us.  So you can do anything.  Can you just own that for a minute?  Stand up a little straighter.  (Laughter.)  Own it.  I spent the day at the White House with the First Lady and with all these stars and actors, and I held it together.  (Laughter.) 

And you made us all very proud today.  I heard that over and over and over again.  And I hope this experience helps to transform you and solidify in your minds that you have everything you need to be successful.

So I want you guys to relax.  Shake it off.  Because I want you to use this time.  Don't be shy.  Ask questions.  These cameras, they'll be gone in a second so you don't even have to worry about them.  And I want you to take advantage of every second that you're here.  Ask a lot of questions.  Find out who these folks are, what they did.  What made them afraid.  What was hard.  Get as much information as you can.  And then go back and work hard. 

And promise me that you will do everything you can in your powers to get the education that is right before you.  Because there are kids all over the world that would love to trade places with any single one of you, because they don't have a fraction of the opportunities that kids in America do, kids like all of you.  So promise me that you will take this seriously.   Take your lives seriously.  Own your futures, because we all did. 

And with that, I'm going to turn it over to Gayle.  And I'm going to go do a little hard work.  I'll be listening in.  But thank you for being here.  I'm very proud of you all.  (Applause.) 

2:03 P.M. EST

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