Remarks by the First Lady at the Beasts of the Southern Wild Workshop
State Dining Room
11:07 A.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: Hi! How is everybody? You guys good? Good morning!
AUDIENCE: Good morning.
MRS. OBAMA: I am thrilled, beyond thrilled. You guys excited to be here?
MRS. OBAMA: Was it a good movie?
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, wonderful. I am so glad you all are here to help us celebrate Black History Month at the White House. We're doing a bunch of stuff this month, but this is one of the highlights. And we are thrilled to be here with you all.
I want to start by thanking Rachel Goslins for agreeing to moderate the workshop today. Rachel is a member of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. And what that means is that her job is to connect all Americans, especially young people, to music, art, dance and film. So thank you, Rachel, as always. Thanks for all your hard work, and -- yes. (Applause.)
And, of course, I also want to thank our guests who are with us today -- Benh Zeitlin, Dwight Henry, and Quvenzhané -- my girl. Did I say that right? Did I get that right? Quvenzhané Wallis for being here today. Let's give them a round of applause. (Applause.)
But it's a special joy to have so many bright, smart and talented young people here. You guys are looking good. And I know that some of you have traveled all the way from New Orleans -- is that correct? And many of you are here right from D.C., right in our neighborhood, our neighbors. But let me tell you, no matter where you've come from or how far you traveled, we're just glad you're here today to watch what I consider to be one of the most powerful and important movies that has been put out this year -- or in a long time, quite frankly -- Beasts of the Southern Wild.
And as I was telling the cast and the directors and the producers in the other room, I had the opportunity to watch this movie this summer with a large group of our friends and family. And the ages ranged from three to 75 years old -- we had a big family. But it's rare these days to find a movie that can so completely and utterly captivate such a broad audience, and that was one of the things that struck me about this movie. It managed to be beautiful, joyful and devastatingly honest.
It's a movie that makes us all think deeply about the people we love in our lives who make us who we are. It shows us the strength of our communities, no matter what they look like. It shows us that those communities can give us the power to overcome any kind of obstacles. And it also tells a compelling story of poverty and devastation, but also of hope and love in the midst of some great challenges.
So there are so many important lessons to learn in that little 93 minutes. That’s the other cool thing -- that a director and a set of writers and producers can say so much in just 93 minutes. And it doesn’t always happen in a movie, quite frankly -- (laughter) -- but this one did it, and that’s why I love this movie so much and why our team wanted to bring it here to the White House and share it with all of you.
I am honored and grateful that the creators and actors of the movie have taken time to join us here today, particularly given their extremely busy schedules. I mean, this is the high -- this is high season for film. Benh, Dwight, and Quvenzhané -- did I get that right? (Laughter.) Do you have a nickname?
MS. WALLIS: A few. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: Okay. None you're willing to share with me?
MS. WALLIS: Q.
MRS. OBAMA: Q. Can I call you Q?
MS. WALLIS: Sure.
MRS. OBAMA: Okay. (Laughter.) They have been traveling all across the country promoting this movie and preparing for the Academy Awards in a couple of weeks. Beasts of the Southern Wild is nominated for several awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress. And, Q, my girl, Q, here, is the youngest nominee? Is that -- the youngest person ever to be nominated for an Academy Award, and that’s a very big accomplishment. (Applause.)
But despite all of the national and international attention these folks are getting, they have taken the time to be here with all of you to discuss this very important film today. They are all amazing people in their own right with amazing stories, and, hopefully, they will get a chance to share some of their stories.
But I know that Benh developed this movie without a huge budget. This is not a multi-billion-dollar movie. He didn’t have much, so he had to be really creative and resourceful in order to get this movie made. So, hopefully, he will talk a little bit about how he got that done.
And I don’t know if you all know the story -- the world knows it -- but Dwight never acted a day in his life. Never. Not one -- no plays, no pageants, no nothing. (Laughter.) Before he was cast for this movie, do you know what Dwight did? He ran a bakery across the street from where the movie was being filmed, or where the auditions were taking place. So that’s what he was doing before he did what you just saw. He's also busy raising his five kids, who I hope to one day meet, as well.
So when they asked him to play the role of Wink, he had to think long and hard about it because he didn’t have the experience. But in the end, he decided to take the risk. And now, he is headed to the Oscars. I mean, imagine. That’s what happens in America when you're ready for stuff, right?
And then Quvenzhané, as you know, was just five years old when she auditioned for the film -- just five, okay. Imagine. Now, she seems like a grown woman sitting up here. (Laughter.) And I understand she often acts like one. (Laughter.) But she was only five, so hopefully she will tell you a little bit about how a five year old learns those lines and learns how to take on the role of that character and to bring that character to life, which is why she has been nominated for an Academy Award. It was very profound. Amazing -- and it doesn’t happen often.
So I think that we can all agree that she did an extraordinary job, as did everyone involved in this film. So these folks worked hard to make this incredible film, and I hope that you all take full advantage of this time today -- do you hear me, young people? Take full advantage of this time. Ask lots of questions. Don’t be shy. I can't imagine that you all are shy, so don’t act like it in here just because you're in the White House.
Because we are all here today for you, and that’s what I -- we are here for you. We did this for you. This event is important to me not only because I love and believe in this film, but also because I deeply love and believe in all of you. Do you understand that? I deeply love and believe all of you and I haven't even met you. But I know you're out there and I know your potential, I know your promise. And I want to find every opportunity that I can to continue to find ways -- whatever ways we can to inspire kids like you all over this country to do amazing things. That’s why we're doing this. This is for you.
Because the truth is that I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today, and I know that my husband, President Obama, wouldn’t be where he is today if he hadn't gotten that kind of inspiration from somebody in our lives. We wouldn’t be who we are today without all those people who pushed us and believed in us and gave us opportunities to learn and grow and fulfill our potential. We wouldn’t be here.
Like the characters in this movie, we know that our families and our communities gave us the love and support to go out and pursue our dreams. But like Benh and Dwight and Quvenzhané, what I want you all to understand is that you have to do the work. That’s my message: You have to do the work. We're not here because we didn’t do the work. We all did the work.
You all have to really be focused on preparing yourselves for the challenges and the opportunities that will lie ahead for all of you. You've got to be prepared. So that means you have to go to school. Plain and simple. Right now, your job -- as I tell Malia and Sasha -- is go to school. No matter what is going on in your lives, you have to go to school and you have to do your homework every day -- every day. That’s all you have to do. That’s your job.
You have to prepare your minds and your bodies for greatness. That’s how you have to think about it. You're preparing yourself for greatness. Because if Dwight wasn't ready, it wouldn’t have mattered what opportunity was waiting for him. If he wasn't ready to take it, it would have passed him by.
So I want you all to understand that reading is important. You have to read everything you get your hands on. That’s one of the things that President Obama does -- he reads everything. He reads all the time. You have to read, read, and read again.
And then I want you to think about everything you put in your body, the kind of foods you're eating. Because if you're not eating healthy foods, you're not getting your mind or your heart ready for the greatness that lies ahead.
And every day, I want you all to imagine who you are going to be. That’s where it starts. You have to think of who you want to be in your head every single day, and think of all the images and the people that you see -- whether it's me or Quvenzhané or Benh or the President.
Think about who you want to be, and dream big. Don’t aim low; aim high. But then you have to get up every day and turn that dream into reality, and work towards being who you envision yourself to be in your head. I still do that every day. Every day I'm thinking about who I want to be and what I have to do every day; what kind of person I have to be, how honest and truthful and hardworking I have to be to achieve that image, that big, bold image I have of myself in my head.
That’s how me, the President, Benh, Dwight, Quvenzhané are doing what we're doing today. That’s why we're up here. And we know, absolutely know and expect nothing less from all of you, because we know you can be here, too. That’s our expectation. That’s the tradeoff of being here today, is that one day you'll be up here in some capacity doing some great thing.
So work hard. Enjoy your time here today, and know that we love you all, okay? Know that.
I have to go, because they're going to have me do a bunch of more work. (Laughter.) But enjoy the discussion. Rachel, I will turn things over to you so that you can continue to inspire these young people.
Thank you all for being here. And thank you for all the teachers and staff and the folks who are working with these kids, the parents who are here today. Thank you for your work, and enjoy.
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