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Hollywood reconsiders its portrayal of veterans

May. 29, 2014 - 08:51AM   |  
ED O'NEILL, JESSE TYLER FERGUSON, SOFIA VERGARA
This photo released by ABC shows, from left, Ed O'Neill, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Sofia Vergara, in the season finale, 'The Wedding, Part 2,' of the series, 'Modern Family' on the ABC Television Network. Got Your 6, an initiative to enlist Hollywood's resources in bridging the civilian-military gap, scheduled a conference with industry executives and others on Thursday in Beverly Hills to discuss how film and TV can more accurately portray veterans. 'Modern Family' and 'The Newsroom' are among the shows the initiative is lauding for their depiction of veterans. (Peter 'Hopper' Stone / AP)
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LOS ANGELES — When the Got Your 6 initiative was launched two years ago to enlist Hollywood in the effort to help military veterans, it focused on benchmarks in crucial areas including jobs, housing and education.

Some of the goals have been met and even surpassed, initiative members said. But work is just getting started on another task, that of using the industry's creative power to shape the public perception of veterans.

Got Your 6 a name drawn from military slang for "I've got your back" was holding its first conference Thursday with TV and film industry executives, producers, writers and others to discuss how to make that a reality.

The gathering was to hear from veterans and recognize those in the industry who have found effective ways to include veterans in storytelling without the hyperbole that makes them either heroes or charity cases, said Chris Marvin, the initiative's managing director.

Every year, some 250,000 service members return to civilian life, said Marvin, himself a veteran.

"Historically, we're not at a place where the entertainment industry is vilifying veterans in any way," Marvin said, but there is a need for "neutral" depictions of vets in everyday life. Ed O'Neil's veteran in ABC's "Modern Family" is such a character, he said.

"Studies prove that by putting that portrayal in front of people, they start to think about veterans more positively and as assets in their community, which is what a veteran should be," he said.

The conference will highlight work that illustrates how to handle the challenge, such as Aaron Sorkin's "The Newsroom" on HBO, which has included passing references to the military background of featured character Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston).

"We mention it a couple times but it really doesn't play into the story. In a nutshell, that's what we're talking about, normal veterans. ... People who have gone on in the next chapter in their lives," said Amy Gravitt, HBO Programming vice president and a Navy veteran.

The Got Your 6 initiative, which includes every TV network, studio and agency along with more than 30 nonprofit groups, was conceived with the support of the Clinton Global Initiative. It counts progress in areas including employment.

Disney, which committed in 2012 to hire 1,000 veterans in three years, has hired more than 3,600, according to company. It has increased its goal to hire 1,000 additional veterans by 2015, Got Your 6 said.

Another media giant, Comcast Corp., announced last November that it and NBCUniversal had hit the goal of hiring 2,000 veterans since January 2012 and had done so almost two years ahead of schedule.

The conference in Beverly Hills Thursday was done in conjunction with the Hollywood Radio & Television Society.

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