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Hollywood and the OWI

The effects of the OWI on Hollywood during WWII

Published onDec 06, 2022
Hollywood and the OWI

The American film industry started in the early 1900s. Since the beginning, there were several stages that the film industry went through. Since it was a new industry with new technology that had yet to show its full potential, America did not really know how far the film industry would go. Before the start of the Second World War, America had just gotten out of the Great Depression. During this period, the main purpose of American films was to act as entertainment for the mass population as a way of escapism.[1] Even after the Great Depression, Hollywood continued to focus primarily on comedic films that primarily focused on entertaining the crowds. It was not until America directly became a part of the Second World War that films started to shift in their genre. Instead of having a focus on escapism, films started to have more of a propagandistic role in America. The Office of War Information or OWI was a leading cause in this change.

Before the creation of the OWI, Charlie Chaplin was one of the first directors to tackle the issues of the war in his film The Great Dictator.[2] This film came out on October 15, 1940 and was a satire comedy about Hitler and shared a message about how antisemitism is wrong and should be stopped. Although this film was very successful at the time as it became Charlie Chaplin’s most profitable film, Chaplin later expressed regret for making the film as he was not aware of all the inhumane actions that the Nazis were practicing.[3]

After the United States joined the war, the Office of War Information was created on June 13, 1942, by President Roosevelt to help promote information and updates about the war to the public. One of their goals was to push for propaganda in media such as newspapers, radio, and films since media and entertainment was one of the best ways to subconsciously encourage the nation.[4] As Hollywood was the main place that movies were being made in the United States, the OWI set up headquarters in Hollywood to help make sure accurate information was being put out through the films. The OWI never directly led or changed the films that were in production but rather read through the scripts and corrected war information as well as gave advise as to how the films could help support the war effort. With these guidelines, the OWI gave the film industry a new lens to work through.

The cartoon industry was one of the first places that the government nd OWI took over to start promoting war propaganda. The government created their own studios where they would create animated maps and other motion graphics to help spread basic war updates to the American people.[5] While there was a lot of typical propaganda cartoons that were specifically created by the government, there were also cartoons still created by their original creative teams. Disney put out a series of short cartoons staring Donald Duck which include Donald Gets Drafted, Sky Trooper, and Der Fuehrer’s Face which helped entertain audiences while still supporting the war. This was what the OWI hoped to achieve by finding ways to subtly promote ideas of patriotism in order to encourage people to support the war effort.

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