First Lady Michelle Obama enlisted Harvey Weinstein, Whoopi Goldberg, Ryan Coogler, Bruce Cohen, Blake Lively and other Hollywood stars as part of an all-star forum Friday touting the film and TV industries as a possible career path for high school students.
Weinstein during the forum said that the event developed from a request the First Lady’s made in connection with her appearance on last year’s Oscar telecast.
At a panel that capped a day of activities for students from high schools in Boston, Washington, D.C., and New York, Obama pointed to the Hollywood contingent’s ability to move past personal challenges to successfully move forward as an important lesson.
“It just doesn’t take technical knowledge to succeed in the movie business. It is not just about being the best actor, or creating the best special effects,” said the First Lady. “It is about having grit.”
She said that “Fruitvale Station” director Coogler had succeeded despite challenges growing up.
“If it weren’t for the discipline and drive his parents instilled in him, he might have ended as a statistic,” she said.
Calling Weinstein “a wonderful human being and a good friend,” she suggested his success was started by a childhood accident.
“For Harvey, it was a poke in the eye, and I mean literally a poke in the eye that may have led him becoming one of the biggest producers in Hollywood that we have ever seen.
“When Harvey was 10, he lost an eye when he was playing with other kids. So he couldn’t go to school for 6 months. But Harvey didn’t 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 …
“From that moment on, Harvey developed a knack for reading and a skill for finding good stories he has used for years for decades,” she said.
Obama also cited Goldberg as overcoming “all kinds of adversity” to make a successful career.
The First Lady said that Weinstein had organized the forum and that Cohen had produced it. As part of the forum, the students got the chance to learn skills including creating makeup and to ask the Hollywood contingent questions.
Weinstein said that among the books he read after his accident were those about Hollywood and he said the reading started his long interest in the entertainment industry and also his first job in it, a job as a volunteer for a record company.
He said he asked his parents to introduce him to anyone they knew in the entertainment industry, and they suggested someone they met from “Orange” records. Weinstein said he eventually volunteered at the company, whose real name was Apple Records.
The event followed on the heels of Thursday evening’s screening of “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” at the White House. Weinstein and co-star Naomie Harris attended that event along with Friday’s forum. Others from the showbiz contingent at the White House were Alan Menken, Gayle King, David Frankel, Colleen Atwood, Ruth Carter, Rob Letterman, Eric Robertson, Legacy Effects, Alina Collins and Gary Hecker.
(Above, Weinstein with Goldberg, Lively and Harris at the event)