Public Diplomacy and Global Communication 2014b

Hollywood Diplomacy – How the stories it tells matter

‘And believe it or not, entertainment is part of our American diplomacy.  It’s part of what makes us exceptional, part of what makes us such a world power.  You can go anywhere on the planet and you’ll see a kid wearing a “Madagascar” T-shirt. You can say, “May the Force be with you” — they know what you’re talking about.’


We all have to agree, it does not happen every day that a country would threaten another with a nuclear attack because of a movie release. However, with The Interview, upcoming American comedy about assassination of North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un, US-North Korean diplomatic relations did not get any better. Perhaps, one could identify this as an overreaction, nonetheless, it clearly proved that stories Hollywood presents, affect the opinion about country and can influence the diplomatic efforts.

Moreover, despite an arguably less important role of the cinema in diplomatic practice comparing to more conventional approaches, one has to recognise that Hollywood international role has only grown since early decades of the Cold War. The American cinema has been always caught in the political firestorm and mirrored the power shift. Due to its popularity among publics, it has become a useful tool for advocating public policies.

For instance, the list of anti-communism motivated movies produced since late 40’s and during 50’s kept on growing, and until now one can see the  majority of Russian-speaking characters being portrait as negative. Nonetheless, the (soft) power of the film has been apparent since then. Infamously scrutinised ‘Hollywood Ten’ as well as many others  producing movies, which do not align with American foreign policies over decades, has been accused of inserting pro-communist messages into the movies such as Red Scar, or M*A*S*H* series.

The role of the film in public diplomacy has however expanded since then. Firstly,  in the last decades, the American film box shifted its focus to portrayal of the ‘American dream’ to the rest of the world. It has become a strong advocate for positive image of the country. As Irina Orlova, an Ukrainian immigrant to US points out, watching American films during the 80’s in at-that-time Soviet Ukraine, presented the US as very pleasant and happy place of endless opportunities. And therefore, as Barack Obama noted in his speech as Hollywood’s Dream Works studios, the cinema has become a strong actor in USA’s public diplomacy. It not only brings American culture directly to homes of the whole world, but also translates this culture in a very effective and informal way, which is in many ways inaccessible to the diplomatic envoys. Moreover, by adjusting its focus and character of the movies, Hollywood’s production has been able to win hearts and minds of publics in countries, where direct diplomatic engagement would not be possible couple of years ago. For instance, out of 10 top movie ratings in China, 6 of them come from Hollywood production.

However, there lies yet another diplomatic role of the American cinema abroad. This type of cultural diplomacy has worked reciprocally. Not only that the US has been able through movies improve its own image, production of movies showing other cultures in positive light have widened its impact. Hollywood has been praised for its Seven Years in Tibet, Kung Fu Panda sequel, or retouch on the Red Dawn villains (transforming them from originally Chinese to North Koreans). Hence, on one hand, American public influenced by its media and film industry gets a glimpse of other cultures, on the other hand, promoting other cultures have won the Hollywood and therefore, the US yet another argument in building its image.

However, as mentioned above in North Korea’s case, and borat_wallpaper_1050moreover with famous Kazakhstan’s instance. American sense of humour, has damaged not only world’s perception of the country (such as Borat movie’s footprint on Kazakhstan’s image) but moreover it can in particular cases hinder the diplomatic ties (for example North Korea-US on various occasions or Iran-US after release of Argo). Therefore, as much as Hollywood seems to help the US to improve its image after rather damaging 1990’s-2000’s War on terror era, one has to be careful about occasional backfire it can cause and stir the foreign affairs once again.


Calvan, B. (2013). Hollywood’s impact in Washington goes beyond social issues. Available: Last accessed 12th Dec 2015.


SBS. (2014). International diplomacy is a foreign concept in Hollywood. Available: Last accessed 12th Dec 2015.

Shah, R. (2014). Is US monopoly on the use of soft power at an end?.Available: Last accessed 12th Dec 2015.

The US Center on Public Diplomacy. (2014). The Use of Film for Public Diplomacy: Why Hollywood Makes a Stronger Case for China.Available: Last accessed 12th Dec 2015.


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2 thoughts on “Hollywood Diplomacy – How the stories it tells matter

  1. djtrue73 on said:

    A really interesting entry you have posted, something I’ve never really thought about. You raise several solid points and give good examples, relating it to Nye’s soft power etc. Although I think we are starting to see the demise of Hollywood as other independent and foreign productions take hold. I also think that people are starting to see past Hollywood and their portrayal of America. The film American Sniper received a lot of bad press for example.
    I think it’s interesting to note that like Hollywood and it’s political ties, the record industry also has connections. Def Jam, and other big labels have long had political advisers and staff from the presidents adminstarion

    Liked by 1 person

  2. piyalmatilal on said:

    I am not a fan of Hollywood diplomacy but I think you raise some good points. It has had some effect but I think as DJtrue says is having less impact. But there impact is still significant and found this actually really interesting


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