President Obama has appointed the members of his Committee on Arts and the Humanities. Chaired by First Lady, Michelle Obama, the Committee is notable for its inclusion of high-profile Hollywood stars including Sarah Jessica Parker and Forest Whitaker. Cellist Yo Yo Ma also got the gig.
One of the tasks ahead for the Committee is to rehabilitate the USA's flagging cultural diplomacy program. Cultural diplomacy is the attempt to favourably influence public opinion in foreign countries through cultural exchange. It was a key element in US efforts to "win hearts and minds" during the superpower struggle of the Cold War. But since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 US cultural diplomacy has lost direction. Its primary agency, the US Information Agency, was wound up in 1993 and some commentators see this withdrawal from the field as partly to blame for the animosity toward the US way of life seen amongst disaffected youth in many parts of the world today.
Obama's cultural diplomacy program will focus on Mexico and China and one of the major sub-programs uses film as a tool for international cultural understanding. Under the title American Film Institute 20/20 the film program has since 2007 brought international guests to the US for workshops, conferences and screenings while showing the world another side to the US film industry. Let's hope that Sarah Jessica Parker and Forest Whitaker also see the benefits of film beyond the world of Hollywood!