On the surface, no one argues that veterans are a valuable part of American society. In fact, acknowledgment of their heroic personal sacrifices is often used as proof that the people they served to protect actually care about them. And yet, for all of the gestures and platitudes, there are still a staggering number of areas where veterans simply don’t seem to be given a fair shake. 

That’s not to say that some companies aren’t trying. The U.S. Postal Service, for instance, has made a special effort to hire veterans, and it has succeeded at doing so to the tune of over 100,000 employees. But for every example like this, there seem to be countless other companies that could care less about paying attention to our country’s military personnel. One of these areas, in particular, that has been devoid of a healthy staff of veterans for decades now is the film industry.

Hollywood and Veterans: A Complicated History

They may not sound like two peas in a pod, but Hollywood and the U.S. military actually have a long history together, for better and for worse. In fact, it’s a history that goes way back to the beginning of the film industry itself.

From the start, early film stars were out pounding the pavement in order to raise support for the troops during World War I. It was a trend that would only increase in the short term. In fact, by World War II the entire industry had gotten in on the action. Actors made bold statements of support by enlisting in the armed forces. At the same time, filmmakers formed a nearly united front as they propagated pro-war messages throughout their films. They made sure that both they and their audiences were in full-throated support of their boys as they headed off to Europe and the Pacific in defense of their homeland.

But after that point, things began to go south. As Vietnam played out, popular films like “Deer Hunter” and “Full Metal Jacket” began to focus on the darker side of things. They showed the negative sides to service in the army and depicted veterans struggling with PTSD upon their return home. While this did reflect an accurate struggle that as many as 30% of vets from that war faced, it hardly did much to paint them in a positive light. The trend continued right on into the 21st-century, with Iraq War veterans receiving similar treatment in the form of films like “The Hurt Locker” and “Thank You For Your Service.”

Why Hollywood Must Up Its Game

To be fair, many of the films from the Vietnam war era forward were simply making an artistic attempt to depict the wars themselves in less patriotic and more realistic terms. But a tragic casualty of this trend towards realism was the veterans themselves. Rather than being accurately represented, the 19.3 million veterans currently living in the U.S. found their on-screen counterparts disproportionately represented as dysfunctional or out of place.

While movies depicting minorities and other struggling demographics began to appear all over the place, the staggering disparity and misrepresentation of veterans continued to haunt the industry for years. And this doesn’t even take into account the less noticeable fact that veterans were just as underrepresented behind the camera on these movie sets as well.

This has naturally led to the rise of organizations like We Are The Mighty, a group committed to gaining proper representation for veterans both in front of and behind the camera throughout Hollywood. Not only that, but We Are The Mighty is also actively working for veteran representation by heading off the Hollywood elite and beginning to create their own content that properly depicts veterans and their families.

The Results

Fortunately, the film industry leadership hasn’t turned a blind eye to the mounting pressure. In recent years Disney committed to hiring 1,000 vets between 2012 and 2015. In addition, NBCUniversal attempted to outdo their competition by announcing that they were hiring 10,000 veterans over the course of the following two years.

The efforts being made by the larger entertainment companies set excellent precedents, but it remains to be seen if they’ll have any long-lasting impact on the general antipathy that the modern film industry has exhibited towards the veteran community over the course of the past half-century. There are so many other social forces at work throughout Hollywood at this point that it’s hard to believe that films shedding a positive light on anything related to military matters will be received well after so many years of anti-war conditioning.

However, the recent efforts by companies like Disney and NBCUniversal, combined with the “feet to the fire” pressure of groups like We Are The Mighty, provide a glimmer of hope that the tide will turn in our veterans’ favor at some point. If and when it does, it will be a refreshing change of pace to see respectable representations of veterans in film, all the while knowing that the production of the entertainment itself is simultaneously being enabled by vets working cameras, hoisting boom mics, directing, and producing from behind the scenes.

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