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President Barack Obama praised the entertainment industry as an “engine” for the economy and part of America’s “diplomacy” on Tuesday at the DreamWorks Animation campus in Glendale, Calif., while joking that his ears were the inspiration for the studio’s Shrek.
“Believe it or not, entertainment is part of our American diplomacy. It’s part of what makes us exceptional,” Obama said.
“You helped shape the world culture,” he said, ticking off tolerance, diversity and creativity as values that Hollywood has exported.
He said Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Will & Grace, Modern Family and other content add up to a “remarkable legacy” for Hollywood. But with that comes “responsibility,” he said, insinuating that there may be too much gun violence in TV shows and movies.
“Young people all around the world suddenly make a connection and have an affinity to people who don’t look like them, and maybe originally they might have been fearful of,” he said. “That is a remarkable legacy, and it’s also a big responsibility. When it comes to issues like gun violence, we gotta make sure we’re not glorifying it, because the stories you tell shape our children’s outlook and their lives.”
He said that Vice President Joe Biden met with Hollywood leaders to talk about the entertainment industry’s role in keeping kids safe. “Those conversations need to continue. The stories we tell matter,” he said.
He added, though, that we should never waver from our commitment to free speech.
“You can go anywhere on the planet, and you’ll see a kid wearing a Madagascar T-shirt. You can say, ‘May the force be with you.’ They know what you’re talking about,” he said. “Hundreds of millions of people who may never set foot in the United States, but thanks to you, they’ve experienced a small part of what makes our country special.”
He also joked: “I would like to work here,” adding that, “The lights were pretty dim in the offices and I’m pretty sure I’d fall asleep.”
Beyond DWA employees, CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and several members of the press, executives from rival movie studios also attended the event.
Katzenberg is a “legend” who “has a healthy sense of self,” the president joked.
“I’ve come here today because this is one of America’s economic engines,” Obama said. “Not just DreamWorks, but this whole cluster of companies that generations have grown up knowing — Disney and Warner and Universal and others. When you think about it, what finance is to New York, what the auto industry is to the Midwest, what technology is to Northern California, entertainment is to this part of the country.”
He also made a subtle plea for the industry to keep jobs in the U.S.
“In the global race for jobs and industries, the thing we do better than anybody else is creativity. That’s something that can’t be copied,” he said. “Even with new markets and new technologies, there’s still no better place to make movies and television and music than right here in the United States.”
Obama cited a quote from late Chicago-based film reviewer Roger Ebert. “Kindness covers all of my political beliefs,” Obama said, adding that Ebert’s sentiments reflect his own.
The president earned perhaps his loudest applause while touting the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.
“And yes, we decided to fix a broken health care system,” Obama said to clapping and cheers from the entertainment-industry audience of about 2,000 people.
He also accused opponents of being “obsessed” with repealing Obamacare, which he acknowledged hasn’t been rolled out efficiently enough.
“The product is good. People want it,” he said.
Reserved seating close to the stage indicated that invited guests included CBS chief executive Les Moonves, NBCUniversal vice chair Ron Meyer, Sony executives Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal, Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer, Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara, Universal Filmed Entertainment chair Jeff Shell and Paramount Pictures vice chairman Rob Moore.
While it’s unusual for the president to make a public appearance at a movie studio, he has several times over the course of his nearly five years in office spoken about the economy from various places of business throughout the country.
Nevertheless, the visit to DWA, which recently laid off about 350 of its then-2,000 employees after the movie Rise of the Guardians faced weak box office, generated a modicum of controversy, given that Katzenberg is not only a major donor but also one of Hollywood’s most strident supporters of the president.
Principal deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told a reporter who broached the topic Monday: “Listen, as you’ve heard us say on other occasions, contributing to the president’s campaign or being a political supporter of the president doesn’t guarantee a presidential visit, but it shouldn’t exclude you from one, either.”
During a tour of DWA prior to his speech, Obama met Steve Martin and Jim Parsons, who were on the campus for some voiceover work. During a demonstration, the president said, “Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. Welcome to the White House,” then watched as his voice came out of the mouth of a purple alien creature.
Also prior to speaking, Obama met for 30 minutes with Katzenberg, MPAA chairman and CEO Christopher Dodd, 20th Century Fox Film chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos, NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt, DWA chairman Mellody Hobson, Disney CEO Bob Iger and others. The executives discussed piracy, intellectual property rights and other concerns of the entertainment industry.
When he was done visiting DWA, the president flew by helicopter to LAX where Air Force One awaited.
Near to where the president was speaking Tuesday were several people from the visual effects industry — sporting green T-shirts to represent greenscreen technologies used in filmmaking — who were trying to raise awareness of the outsourcing that has destroyed U.S. jobs in their industry. The VFX demonstrators, though, were blocks away from the DWA campus because of security constraints.
The president arrived in Glendale after appearing at the Hancock Park home of Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman, who hosted a roundtable discussion with Obama and large Democratic party donors, and the trek between the two venues snarled traffic in the San Fernando Valley and elsewhere.
Obama’s speech — which was webcast at WhiteHouse.gov — wrapped up a two-day trip to Southern California that included two fundraising events Monday, one at the home of Magic Johnson and his wife, Cookie, and the other at the home of Haim Saban and his wife, Cheryl.
Saban introduced the president by praising his record on foreign policy and taking a jab at the nation’s top radio host. “Some so-called fair and balanced media and charmers like Mr. Rush Limbaugh have been having a field day with the technical glitches on the Obamacare website, and this has clouded some of the most remarkable achievements of this administration,” said Saban, the multibillionaire co-creator of Power Rangers. Guests at Saban’s mansion, where each couple paid $32,400, included Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, Paul Reiser and Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos.
At the residence of Johnson, the former NBA player and co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, guests included LaTanya and Samuel L. Jackson, Diane Keaton, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
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