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Tom Hanks thinks Hollywood isn’t best suited to tell stories of Iraq, Afghanistan wars

Tom Hanks at the "Sully" red carpet premiere in Japan. (Dick Thomas Johnson/Wikimedia Commons)

Tom Hanks, who starred in a blockbuster film about World War II and later produced two miniseries about that war, doesn’t think Hollywood is best suited to tell stories about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now in its 18th year, the war in Afghanistan, in which many servicemembers have served multiple deployments, is difficult to portray in movies confined by plot lines with clear chronologies, protagonists and antagonists, Hanks said. The actor spoke about the issue Thursday at an event in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, which benefits caregivers of wounded and ill veterans.

“I don’t know that Hollywood could create as authentic a story about Iraq or Afghanistan or people on their fourth, fifth, sixth tours of duty that couldn’t be told much, much better by a documentary or caring news media,” he said. “It’s a tough thing.”

He continued: “We argue about this all the time, ‘What is going to be the best venue for the story?’ And many, many times, it is not a Hollywood movie, it’s something else. The trick there is, how do you get eyeballs on it?”

Hanks was nominated for an Academy Award for his role as Army Capt. John Miller in the 1998 film “Saving Private Ryan,” which was set in France during WWII. Later, he helped write, direct and produce the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers,” a dramatization of actions in WWII by “Easy” Company, 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. He also worked behind-the-scenes on “The Pacific,” a companion series to “Band of Brothers” that focused on the Marine Corps in the Pacific theater during WWII.

For his portrayal in “Saving Private Ryan,” Hanks received an honorary induction into the Army Ranger Hall of Fame.

“I think in Hollywood, the best thing anyone can do is to tell the true story, to be authentic about it and not mythologize — make it easier than it really is or make it worse than it really is,” Hanks said about Hollywood portrayals of veterans and servicemembers.

He’s working on another war drama set during WWII. “Greyhound,” expected to be released in 2019, is based on the novel “The Good Shepherd” by C.S. Forester, which follows a Navy destroyer during the Battle of the Atlantic. Hanks is starring in the film, as well as helping write and produce it.

Earlier this year, the movie creators were seeking servicemembers and veterans to act as extras, playing Navy crewmen.

Hanks has been involved in several military and veterans’ initiatives since “Saving Private Ryan.” On Thursday, he was honored by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation for his work with Hidden Heroes, the foundation’s campaign to aid veteran caregivers. He helped launch the campaign in 2016.

As more injured servicemembers transition out of the military, more caregivers will need help, Hanks said.

“This marks the start of work that is going to be going on for a generation,” he said.

Hanks also helped raise funds for the National World War II Memorial, and he’s on the advisory committee for the memorial to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was commander of the Allied forces in Europe during WWII.

He’s involved with veterans in other ways. For example, Hanks starred in Shakespeare’s Henry IV at the West Los Angeles Medical Center this year. Forty veterans were hired to help with the production. Last year, he narrated a national public service announcement about veteran suicide, encouraging people to reach out to veterans in crisis.

On Thursday, he had a warning for others in Hollywood who might attempt to portray veterans: Don’t stereotype them.

“I don’t think there’s any more stereotypical character than a twisted veteran who’s never going to be the same,” Hanks said. “The reality is, when you talk to people and hear these stories, people are just trying to get on with the rest of their lives.”


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