Disney Video Launch “Welcome - Portraits of America”

Posted by Karen Hughes
October 26, 2007
Biscuits Fortified with U.S. Wheat Flour in Bangladesh

Karen Hughes is the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

This week I attended a movie premiere, but without Hollywood stars – this is Washington after all. The stars of this film are the men, women and children of America, shown at work, at play and going about their daily lives. This new film was produced by Disney, at no expense to the taxpayers of America, and generously given to the U.S. government to help us welcome international visitors to our country.

As a communicator, I believe the first principle of effective communications is clarity – and this video clearly says: We want you to come to America, you will be most welcome. At the same time, it quietly communicates the greatest strength of our country – our people.

When I first started working on America’s public diplomacy a couple of years ago, a few things became very clear, very quickly. First, all our research shows that people who have visited America and seen us for themselves have much more positive views – in fact, travel industry research found that 74 percent of those who visit here are more likely to feel extremely favorably about America. So, one of my first goals became to attract more people here.

But that collided with another reality – that in the aftermath of September 11th, new security regulations designed to protect both our citizens and our guests had slowed the visa process, made our airports seem less friendly, and generally created a perception that was more off-putting than welcoming. I remember coming through an airport after an international trip – it seemed confusing and intimidating – even though I spoke the language. The only TV monitors were blank, and I didn’t see even a single sign that said welcome or we’re glad you’re here.

I started looking for partners to help us put out a better welcome mat, and realized that the travel tourism industry had a shared interest in bringing people to our country. We started brainstorming ways to make the entire process, from getting a visa to standing in an airport security line, more customer friendly. One of the things we all talked about from our very first meeting was using television monitors to display a welcoming video message as people stood in lines to go through customs.

Providing a warm welcome is more than something nice to do. Attracting people to our country is vital to our economy, our national interests, and especially to public diplomacy. I believe our education and exchange programs have been our single most effective public diplomacy tool of the last 50 years, and I’ve worked hard to make them more strategic and expand them. We’re bringing key influencers like clerics, journalists, teachers, business leaders – and we’re sending more Americans overseas to learn languages and more about the rich cultures and contributions of other countries.

I meet with veterans of these exchange programs and they almost all say the same thing – the experience changed my life. It also has the potential to change the world – more than 130 of our exchange participants have gone on to become leaders of their countries, including the current prime minister of Great Britain, the president of France, and the president of Turkey. We want to make sure the same thing is true 20 or 30 years from now.

I like to describe the way others view our country as a complex tapestry that is woven by many different artists from many different threads– from the pop culture of Hollywood to government policies of Washington, from the products of our companies to the personalities of our people. This video will now become one of those threads, illuminating the many smiling faces of America to welcome international guests.

We have already sent the video and associated posters to embassies and consular offices across the world, where it will greet aspiring visitors long before they arrive on our shores. We’re going to play it in waiting rooms and at embassy events – and we hope it will inspire many who otherwise might not have thought about traveling to America to come and see it for themselves.

Comments

Comments

carol
October 31, 2007

Carol writes:

How about "welcoming" those of us who live at the border when we come home? The Canadian border agents are gernally polite and efficient behind their plexi-glass booths. But coming home? My God! I could walk home (2.2 miles south of the border) in the time the generally surly U.S. agents are through with their questions, grunts, vehicle inspections, dog walks, tapping on their keyboards and general nonsense about how long I was gone and who I saw and where I went - in Canada!!!! Make all the glossy PR media you want (however confirm what country you are photograping in) but until the Homeland Department requires a courteous approach to all entering through long and mandatory lines, I am telling my Canadian friends to not bother coming down. I am so sick of being treated like a suspect - I am so sick of feeling like I might not get home again should I leave. This pretty video is not going to do much to dilute the paranoia and animosity generated by this Administration.

David
|
Florida, USA
October 31, 2007

David in Florida writes:

@ Shirley in Canada -- Exactly what are we lying about?

Matt
|
Georgia
October 31, 2007

Matt in Georgia writes:

When we brought back our baby girl, adopted from China, a couple years ago, we touched down in Chicago O'Hare. After two years of painful waiting, stuck in a trans-national swamp of paperwork and soul-crushing scrutiny, we finally brought home our baby. We descended into the basement of the airport, where you clear immigration. Babies brought over with complete documents are now citizens once they clear immigration. We passed over the documents, the Homeland Security guy reviewed them quickly, stamped them, and said, "that's it, go ahead.""That's all?", I asked. "Yes", looking to my daughter, "you're an American now... congratulations." He shook my hand. Tears in our eyes, we put a little American flag in our hand and passed through, an American family at last.

That's America. Now I'm a snarky dude, sarcastic and cynical most of the time... but folks, that video -- it's wonderful. Good job, State. I'd pull the Canada thing so people can get past it... some folks can't see the forest for the trees.

Bruce
|
California, USA
October 31, 2007

Bruce in California writes:

I loved it! It'll be nice to view this movie, it's nice soothing musak, and laugh at the uptight Canucks, panties all twisted because a 1/2 second shot of the Niagra Falls was taken in....canada....ohhhh...what meanies we are!

I'm glad this mean, evil administration is doing something that the previous, nice, generous, kind, caring ones didn't do. I know my family and I will enjoy it each time we come into our Homeland. I also will say that each and every time we come home from Asia, or Europe and get off the plane in Los Angeles, we get a 'Welcome Home' from the customs agents.

Kimmy
|
Canada
October 31, 2007

Kimmy in Canada writes:

How would you feel if we made a video called Portraits of Canada and shot beautiful footage of America and put it in our video and tried to pass it off as our country? The reason people are angry is because there are 3 parts to Niagra falls and two of them lay in the US. They aren't the famous horseshoe falls but they are quite lovely. To shoot the one waterfall in Canada while standing in Canada to shoot it...Isn't that kind of an insult to both our countries?

Gordon
|
Canada
October 31, 2007

Gordon in Canada writes:

I wonder how Americans would feel if we had a U.S. landmark in a video promoting Canada? Offended? Or maybe they would think that Canadians are not very well informed or can't tell where the border is.

Mary K.
|
California, USA
November 1, 2007

Mary in California writes:

I'm stunned. Not sure what activist e-mail sent me here tonight, but this is my father's immigrant America. Every image suggests there is bounty and frontier. Instead, we have debt, we have disaster, we have not-enough-money for SChp health care for kids, our immigrants in LA are being hounded and hated, punished and threatened and deported. Where are the pictures of people waiting in emergency rooms with kids with measles, or dying before they're seen, as here in LA at Drew-King? I like optimism as much as the Bush Administration, but I'm a realist about planetary climate change, drought (ask Atlanta) and homelessness (ask the sub-prime mortgagees). This version of America takes for granted that everyone will have a good job, health care, education, green acres, free space, no hate crimes, honest elections and government protection and security. Most people I know -- across the economic and political spectrum -- feel none of those things are certain for them, or anyone else, right now. I am stunned to know we are perfuming ourselves, via Disney (Fantasyland, after all!!!) to attract immigrants "necessary for our economy!" Excuse me? There are hundreds of thousands who WANT to come and keeping them out has become THE issue of the upcoming election?? What gives? Do we need immigrants - or not? Or just a certain type of immigrant? Why do we need a film to attract legal ones? Otherwise they wouldn't come? What about the Iraqi immigrants who will need to come? Where are their pictures? Attracting more immigrants reminds me of attracting more developers in a city that will run out of water in ten years. Growth is good, and no-one wants to think about limits of resources or how to ration them if that becomes necessary - as in Atlanta.

This is really another aspect of an absolutely tone-deaf Bush State Dept. No wonder Karen Hughes resigned. Even she must feel that this kind of work is a waste of talent on propaganda that no longer has any meaning. There are real problems for communicators like her to solve.

And I like Disney. I've worked for them. They've done wonderful things. These images are pretty. If they weren't so utterly evocative of exactly what has been taken from our country by greed and dishonesty, I'd give in to the celebration of diversity. But where are the gay kids who feel isolated and are committing suicide because they're hated by the Christian right? Where are the children of urban poverty, the autistic, the vet amputees? Yes, I know; that's a different video. But to present perfumed America without them -- even as you get close, as in New Orleans Mardi Gras images -- is dishonest in the extreme. Who are you tryign to attract? High-level corporate employees who will be making hundreds of thousands a year in the land of the free because we don't have good-enough science education here to do their jobs? That's another way America has fallen - our broken education system. But you hide all that while "attracting" people to work here that, de-facto, admits the problem. It's embarrassing how hard this film works to present nothing less than perfect American diversity bliss.

Why doesn't the State Dept allow in all the immigrants now coming illegally, if we need more people? What happened to "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free?" If this is the new statue of Liberty message - this film - how the mighty have turned phony.

I know you don't want to hear this. I don't want to say it. But I was stunned into speech.

Jim
|
District Of Columbia, USA
November 1, 2007

Jim in Washington, DC writes:

Why does the film show the Canadian falls at Niagara?

Daniel
|
California, USA
November 2, 2007

Daniel in California writes:

There are many programs, ideas and strategies that my associates have developed to make America safe: in each community, school, towns, cities and states, protect all Americans and improve our image worldwide. There is only one problem… Our government leaders would not listen.

Daniel
|
California, USA
November 2, 2007

Daniel in California writes:

It is sad to hear that Under Secretary Hughes is leaving the State Department. I hope she would at least consider looking at other options we have prepared for the sake of the American people, the country, the administration and our image to the world. Thank you.

David
|
Florida, USA
November 2, 2007

David in Florida writes:

@ Gordon and Kimmy in Canada -- We wouldn't care, since no ones goes to Canada anyways.

Vladimir
|
Canada
November 2, 2007

Vladimir in Canada writes:

I wish you a very pleasant work and all the best.
At the same time (and even some Russian web-site noticed that) for just two seconds new "Welcome" includes the picture of Niagara Falls... Canadian 'Horseshoe'!
That part of the Falls is not in U.S. territory and more... the view given in the movie could be taken just from Canadian side and could not even be seen from U.S.... U.S. Falls though are nowhere in the picture.
Not a big deal really, but a small mistake can cause big trouble. I hope, not this particular one.
Oh... I see that my fellow Canadians did say already about that 'occupational aggression'...

We are in America, dudes. Only... why do you need to see my passport now?

Steve
|
California, USA
November 5, 2007

Steve in California writes:

I applaud Disney and our State Department for this video. It is a wonderful portrayal of our country. Good job Karen Hughes for her efforts to try and bring a more realistic and better public image for our country.

For those who consider my comments above as fawning of our country or naive, I am more than happy to be critical of the policies of local, state, and our federal government, however, I believe in this country. As a veteran, I have served it.

I am frankly a bit disappointed at those Americans who are quick to criticize, and yet fail to vote or do other things they're obligated to do as citizens. Look at the wonderful place and people with whom we have to interact? How could one not want to get involved?

Thank you again!

Graham
|
California, USA
November 13, 2007

Graham in California writes:

I love this movie! I have not seen a movie that has made me feel more patriotic than ones that were produced during our bicentennial in 1976 -

I want to show it at my families Christmas event - Is it possible to get a copy?

Thank you for giving me that great goosbumply feeling that I am an American who lives in a the best country in the world!

RJacobsen
|
Arizona, USA
November 15, 2007

Rick in Arizona writes:

I think that it's great that you are trying to change the general perception of foreigners. Unfortunately, like you mentioned, the majority of people who haven't visited America, are the ones who have negative views towards us.

I don't think that it is some sort of huge conspiracy for others to dislike Americans; instead I think that most people from most countries prefer sovereignty, and detest everyone else.

In fact I'm willing to bet that many nations, who historically have spoken negatively about America, have greater dislike for nations who are direct soccer rivals!

Anyways, I think you are doing a great deal to improve international relations and I wish you the best of luck!

Victoria
|
Canada
November 20, 2007

Victoria in Canada writes:

Karen Hughes always does a great job.

Fabulous video! Disney should be commended for promoting USA and Canada free of charge. It's a win-win scenario for both United States and Canada. Besides, I think a Divine piece of art like Niagara Falls should be admired and appreciated by all. If Niagara Falls is an issue then a simple way to fix the problem is to have Disney give tourists a voucher for toll fees and gasoline, so they can enjoy the view of Niagara Falls as depicted in the video. It could be done through the internet-it's really easy in today's modern world. I think it would not only be a generous gesture but also a way for the corporation to work on it's image.

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