One simply has to look at Michelle Obama participating in James Corden's Carpool Karaoke series to know that the first lady understands the power of pop culture. FLOTUS has made plenty of appearances on television (see: NCIS and Parks and Recreation), but her decision to permeate throughout the pop culture space goes beyond and entertainment value or the publicity of her initiatives. It's also about harnessing the mediums for representation.
In a new profile in Variety, Obama says that she finds the lack of diversity in TV and film particularly troubling, because for many Americans, these are the only ways in which people from all walks of life can be represented and seen by others.
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."
The first lady emphasizes in the profile that seeing images of people not like yourself on TV is an important way to "develop empathy and understanding" for them.
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.
Obama cites The Mary Tyler Moore Show as one of her biggest pop culture influences growing up, with the show portraying a single working mother, which was — at the time — uncommon on television.
"I was probably 10 or 11 when I saw that, and sort of started thinking, 'You know what? Marriage is an option,'" Obama says. "Having a family is an option. And going to school and getting your education and building your career is another really viable option that can lead to happiness and fulfillment."
Read the rest of Variety's interview with the first lady here.