Michelle Obama covers the August 23, 2016, issue of Variety. The story, “Leading Lady,” explores how she has influenced pop culture during her seven-and-a-half years in the White House. Here, some key quotes from the interview.
On empowering citizens:
“It’s not who’s in the White House. It’s not who is the first lady. You can give a lift, but once you give people that information, and help them understand that they have the power to make the change, then change actually happens.”
On being unafraid:
“What I have never been afraid of is to be a little silly, and you can engage people that way. 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.”
On using her platform:
“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.’”
On how pop culture influences her work:
“I view myself as being the average woman. 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.”
On the importance of representation:
“For so many people, television and movies may be the only way they understand people who aren’t like them. And when I come across many little Black girls who come up to me over the course of this seven-and-a-half 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.…’”
On beating back stereotypes:
“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.”
On the importance of inclusion:
“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.”
Read the full interview here.
(Photo: Variety Magazine, August 2016)
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