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The Ultimate Screening: ’42’ Gets a White House Endorsement

Many films screen at the White House. Few get such an overt endorsement as First Lady Michelle Obama gave to the Jackie Robinson biopic “42” today.

“We think that everybody in this country needs to watch this movie,” she told a crowd at a gathering in the State Dining Room, where Harrison Ford, Chadwick Boseman, director Brian Helgeland and producer Thomas Tull took part in a “film workshop” with about 80 high school and college students. Also present was Robinson’s widow, Rachel. They also will be attending a screening tonight in the Family Theater in the East Wing of the Executive Mansion.

It’s undoubtedly great publicity for the movie, which opens April 12 through Warners, but begs the question of just how these events are arranged.

There is a long tradition of White House movie nights, dating back to the first film to be shown at the White House, “Birth of a Nation,” screened for President Woodrow Wilson in 1915. With a combination of luck and connections, studios and networks have landed screenings that turn into well-publicized events. HBO in particular has been adept at skedding screenings, as the Obamas have shown parts of “The Pacific” at the White House and even allowed the release of an official White House video featuring interviews with Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks at the event. But bestowing a level of attention on movies not seen since Bill Clinton was in the White House, they’ve also been willing to hold not just screenings but cast Q&As, as happened with “42” and a pre-Oscar showing of “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Nevertheless, the Obamas are said to be choosy about which films to highlight, which is why movies with historical and social consciousness themes are given such visible treatment and others, like the latest tentpole, are shown with little fanfare.

In 2011, Variety looked into the politics and marketing savvy behind a White House screening.

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