tv Amanpour on PBS PBS February 22, 2018 6:00am-6:31am PST
welcome to "amanpour" on pbs. tonight n the age of movements, grieving students have taken up one week after a mass shooting at a high school in parkland, florida. social commentator van jones tells me that lawmakers need to start listening to these future voters. plus, notes from the field. playwright and actress anna deavere smith joins me to talk about her one-woman show about race, education and the criminal justice system in america. ♪ "amanpour" on pbs was made
possible by the generous support of rosalind p. walter. good evening, everyone. welcome to the program. i'm christiane amanpour in london. in the week since the valentine's day school massacre in parkland, florida, student survivors have been transformed into activists. and today they traveled 450 miles to march on the state capitol, just one day after the florida house voted down a motion to ban assault weapons and rifles including the gun used by last week's shooter that killed 17 people. across south florida, thousands of students are rallying in solidarity. president trump has promised action, and he holds meetings with teachers and victims of school shootings today in washington. i've just been speaking to the political commentator van jones, who is a close observer of u.s. activism. and he's been traveling around the country trying to get people to listen to each other on
divisive issues such as gun control and immigration. and he joined me from new york. van jones, welcome to the program. >> glad to be here. >> yet another day of the most incredibly emotional and impactful images of the reality that's happening around florida and around the country. young kids going to march on their state capitals to demand change. the president says he's on their side. do you think that he wants change and can effect change and what he's suggested so far will change and move the dial. >> movements can change presidents. movements can chiang politics. you've seen it over and over again. tea party movement, black lives matter movement, metoo, timesup, #enough, these young people stepping forward. but i don't think that the republican party right now -- they're going to have to really look in the mirror because they seem to have married themselves to the worst ideas and to the money from the nra in a way that's going to make it hard for
them to do what i think common sense now requires. >> i want to play you a soundbite from a young man who has been passionately speaking as so many of his colleagues have from that school and from elsewhere. and this is what he said. >> do not change the law in our time of need would be a huge disservice to the 17 dead in parkland. the 13 dead in columbine, the 26 dead in sandy hook, the 50 dead in orlando, the 59 dead in las vegas. for the good of the students, the parents, the families and the country, we beg for commonsense laws that will prevent a terrorist because that's what he is. a terrorist. >> i mean, these are incredibly poised young people who come with experience behind their words. and we always ask after all those shootings that he listed there, will this time be any different. do you think it will? what do you make of these students? >> well, they're remarkable. and often, you know, it's hard
not to get emotional looking at these young people. they are acting like the adults while the adults are acting like children in american politics. it's just so moving to hear them speak in such a straightforward manner. you know, you just can't be any more proud of this generation of students. and often in the united states, it's the younger people who push this society forward. it was the younger people in the civil rights movement. the younger people in the women's rights movement, younger people in the environmental movement who have made the country be what it is. i think that you're going to see -- listen, nobody my age, and i'm in my late wh40s, nobod in my age group went to a school where no matter where you were you were having to drill so that you would be able to not have your brains blown out in your classroom. there may have been some bad neighborhoods and some situations. but to have an entire generation of young people now traumatized drilling on a weekly basis to survive being murdered in a
classroom, they're not going to take this. and i think that that is a new factor. and the nra is now going to be in a position for a whole generation of almost being like the kkk was for my generation. these young people, can't understand why do they think the stuff they think, why are they putting my family at risk. and i think the nra needs to go back to its earlier policies. the nra used to be pro commonsense gun safety measures. now they oppose anything and everything, even when it comes time with people with mental health issues getting guns. that has to stop. i think the nra is up against a generation it cannot defeat. >> you are going to be examining guns in your next show on cnn. but in the meantime, you're talking about two very different and very polarized parts of america. and that's just a fact, and that exists. this whole red, blue, and guns are one of the touchstones for this battle, this cultural
battle. so, you specialize in talking to people, again, of all different creeds and parties. >> yes. >> surely there has to be some kind of understanding of the story of the other. so i'm asking you what you can do as a progressive, as a liberal to bring in the other side, to get them to understand, to hear their side of the story rather than bashing them over the head with it? >> i think both sides have to do a better job of listening. i think for the culture of gun ownership, not gun violence, not massacring people, but of gun ownership, responsible gun ownership in our country. and, you know, i'm from the rural south. i grew up in jackson, tennessee, i went to public schools there, church on every other sunday, not every sunday, but i understand that culture. and my father was a gun owner. my father was a former cop in the military. i understand how important his gun was to him. i was scared of his gun, never
touched it, never fired it. but i understand. i think we have to recognize a group of people that are responsible gun owners. they feel themselves to be a beleaguered group that's being attacked by the press, the government wants to take their rifle away. they might be home invaded. and they feel under siege. when you approach a group like that, whether it's african-americans or muslims or gun owners, you have to have some sensitivity to their sensitivities. and often i think liberals just say things over and over again that are so dismissive, so contempt tuous and so ill informed that it triggers them, a-ha this is an agenda to take my guns away. we want you to be able to defend yourself in your home. we recognize you have a right to hunt. these are superlethal weapons that we don't think have a place in civil society. on those we want to have more restrictions. but first, we have to do a better job of giving that
respect. on the other side, i think the gun-owning community and responsible gun community has to recognize even the first amendment is not without any restrictions. you can't cry fire in a crowded theater. all of our rights have to be sponsibilities, and the second amendment is no exception to that. >> i know you talk to all different viewpoints in las vegas, which, as we know, is the site of the worst and most deadly shooting in american history. and we'll hear that when your program comes out. but in the meantile, you do a similar thing around av divisive issue and that's immigration. we do have a clip of you and your band, van and the band. let's listen. >> you both came to the united states when you were 5 years old? that's amazing. >> i just became a u.s. citizen. my first vote was for donald trump. >> congratulations. >> thank you. >> brother. >> hold on a second. so we've got two kids from
mexico basically the same age. >> right. >> one is now a citizen. one is a dreamer. and one voted for donald trump. why did you vote for donald trump? >> just look at what's going on right now. the economy is up, all the jobs are coming back to america. he's just the right guy. >> so it's really instructive that. what did you make of that particularly for the culture we're living in? >> such an amazing thing. my show is called "the van jones show," we do it every other saturday on cnn. i go to these iconic places. that was houston where the storm had happened. the young dreamer who was sitting there, he had -- he was a paramedic. he saved lives, then a week later he found out that daca was being rescinded. his ability to stay in the country had been taken away by president trump. here's a hero in the floods, then the next week he is, you know, no longer welcome in the country. sitting next to his peer who also came to the united states, but came legally and is now a
citizen. and they literally, they couldn't be any more different. and i love doing that on my show so that you take away some of these, oh, well, the white people think this, the black people think that. that might be true in big picture sense. but you always have people who, for whatever reason, see things differently and the conversations get very, very rich. what i learned in that exchange was that for those young dreamers who came here because their parents brought them here, you know, they feel every bit as american as any other kid who grew up here. and they are fighting for their lives. they are really fighting for their lives. they can't imagine being sent to a country they've never even visited. and yet their peer group who came here legally have the sense that, hey, listen, we did it the right way. you should have done it the right way. >> on a different issue, equally fascinating, you spoke to jay-z and had a nice interview with
him for the debut of your program. still talking about this kind of bring the other side in. don't try to, you know, nail them with your logic. i was fascinated to hear what he said to you about that instance where the former owner of this l.a. clippers basketball said some racism stuff and then had his team taken away from him. listen to what jay-z said about it. >> there was a moment where donald sterling had been exposed as this racist on a private phone conversation that he was having, and they took his team from him. and it's like, okay, that's one way to do it. but another way would have been let him have his team and let's talk about it together and maybe penalties, but because once you do that, all the other closet racists just run back in the hole. you haven't fixed anything. what you've done is spray perfume on the trash can. and what you do when you do that is, you know, the bugs come and you spray something, and then they come and then you create a
superbug. >> that pretty much is a brilliant description of what actually happened. >> you know, you got to be pretty smart to make it to top of any field. if you're at the top of hollywood or athletics or music or whatever it is, there's not that many dumb people with no opinions who can get that far and have that staying power. so to have jay-z, that was actually a -- from a black lives matter perspective, which is all about, hey, we're going to call these people out, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, that was a critical intervention. he's saying maybe we're being a little too tough sometimes and we may get something worse than we expected. those are the kinds of conversations, surprising turns the and wisdom i hope we can make more and more room for because you can't -- listen, you get to disagree in a democracy. that's great. dictatorship, you cannot disagree. democracy you get to disagree. but you can't only disagree and fight and still have a country. you've got to be able to disagree more constructively and find areas of common ground sometimes. that's what i'm up to with the
show. >> i'm telling you, you really have your work cut out for you. so does jay-z and all of us believe that because the russian bots are now making it their business to create divisions even more profound than exist in the united states. they've already leapt on this latest shooting to create division. it is truly terrifying because it's culture by algorithm. it's really terrifying. i want to end on a bit of an upnote and ask you about "black panther." what an amazing film and a story to come out now, of all times. how did you react to it? >> it's a revelation. the reason this film works is -- and there are some people who are not of african descent who say, that's a good action film. good stuff in there. i don't understand why it's become really global hysteria. this is the biggest movie in the world. i think it will wind up being bigger than "star wars."
no let-up in this movie. i've already seen it twice. why? fundamentally entertainment is about wish fulfillment. and the big wish for most people of african descent is that our continent -- was that we hadn't been invaded. what if we hadn't been degraded. what kind of people would we be? would we be beautiful? would we be dignified? would we have technology? and this movie delivers that inside of all the marvel comics superhero stuff. but you don't just have a black superhero. you have a black superheroic nation that was never colonized in africa. it's so amazing to see dark skin lit properly. and accents and the -- and yet, wakanda is the most technologically advanced country in the world. it brought people to tears. the first time i saw it, i sat there in tears. it's an amazing breakthrough at the level of culture.
>> van jones, thank you so much. >> thank you. an amazing cultural moment indeed. and one no doubt recognized by my next guest, the formidable playwright and actress anna deavere smith. she has spent decades chronicling american society. and her latest project is notes from the field. a one-woman play where she flawlessly transforms into 18 real life people delivering a work of art with powerful messages on race, education, poverty and criminal justice. "notes from the field" premieres saturday on hbo. and anna deavere smith joins me from new york. welcome to the program. >> so nice to be here with you. >> you spent, i think, over two years interviewing more than 200 people for this real tour de force. and you spend, you know, all this time on stage playing 18 different people. what was the -- if you could
encapsulate, what exactly was the mission? >> the mission is to draw attention to the fact that we're losing some american children to the criminal justice system. during the obama administration, the justice department released data to show that black, brown and native american children in poverty are disciplined more harshly than their middle class and wealthy counterparts. i now know it's also the case of poor whites. things that could have been considered mischief could get them expelled or suspended from school. and as the chief justice of the state of california told me while i was on the road doing this, is that when you're not in school, you're in trouble. so they end up in juvenile hall and then into these cycles of mass incarceration that aren't good for them, aren't good for communities, aren't good for families, aren't really good for the united states. and i think that there's been a rise in understanding that we need to do something about mass incarceration. actually, on both sides of the aisle. democrats and republicans. and really, what i'm trying to bring into the conversation is
kids, youth. >> you talk about at some point during the play you talk about the school-to-prison pipeline. i mean, it's stark, but it really does sum up what you're talking about. >> that's exactly it. if you're not in school, you're in trouble. the only problem i have to say about that phrase school-to-prison pipeline is it does seem to blame schools and teachers for something that's much more complicated, which is poverty. frankly -- >> go aheadp. >> if we want schools to break the pipeline, we have to reinvent them and give teachers the and schools more resources. >> before i go to one of your clips, i'll ask you about that. i believe your mother was a school teacher. and you have been back to your neighborhoods where you grew up in baltimore, and you said, you know, it's just completely changed even in the couple of generations since you were at school. >> that's exactly right.
well, you know, my mother was a teacher. her friends were teachers. my aunts were teachers. and that's actually, honestly, what a black woman could do in those days with a college education. but the good news was they were really taking care of a whole generation of kids. and some of us ended up, for example, going to different kinds of schools than their jenngeneration had, and we had more privileges. and i wouldn't be here today if some doors hadn't opened. i believe my mother and her friends and her jenngeneration part of opening those doors. since education is in my dna, for me to hear that public schools in baltimore and the kind of disarray that they are was a wake-up call for me. and i see this project as my going home project. i've made 18 plays this way. most things not about baltimore at all. and then i did end up in baltimore right after the riot that followed the beating and the death of freddy gray. >> i'm going to get to freddy gray in a moment, but because we were just talking about schools,
i want to play this first unbelievable scene. in fact, the video went viral back in 2015 when this young girl, i think she was only 16 or so, was dragged from her chair as she was sitting in class. and it was really very, very dramatic. and you also interviewed her classmate niya kenny. and you impersonate niya and her observations. i think she's the one that took all this video. so one of your theatrical moments there is impersonating niya. let's watch. >> well, they was wrestling on the floor for like a minute. that's what i thought, too, she must be strong. because we talk about a ninth grader. and he's a 300-pound body builder. but i was like, you know, i was like, you know, is nobody going
to help her? somebody record this! put it on snapchat! then i asked mrs. weber and mrs. long, look at it. then i turned to mr. long, you did this. what are you going to do? you didn't even call the administrator. >> it's really very powerful. cast your mind back not just to when you were delivering that speech, but what you felt when you saw that video that had gone viral. what caused you to take this character? >> oh, well, i mean, i actually -- i think all of us were just stunned when we saw young shakara being thrown like a rag doll across the floor of the school. you know. and many of these public schools now do have what's called school resource officers, police officers really who take the place of what, you know, the principal used to do in terms of discipline. and we all saw that. we were all shocked. as i put together my route, i
went to north carolina, philly, baltimore and south carolina. i went to spring valley high school. then i finally did find young niya kenny and i had an opportunity to sit with her and talk with her. now, this is a kid whose dream is to open a smoke shop. and she finds herself in this particular moment in history standing up because that's a part of who she is and says, you know, what are you doing? and you see the video. you see the other kids just looking in their computers. and they took her to jail for it. >> it's really remarkable. i just want to now play the part where you are, again, impersonating the young man who actually recorded the arrest of freddy gray. and as you know, freddy gray died in police custody. but this is the young man who witnessed it. >> the screams are what woke me out of my sleep. the screaming. like, wow, what's all this screaming about? then they came to pull me up. dude, they're tasing him, they're tasing him. woo! i jumped up, i threw some clothes on and i came out that way.
by that time they had him all bent up, face down on his stomach, handcuffed and they had the hills receipt almost to his back and handcuffed at the time and they had the knee in the neck. that pretty much explains the crushed vertebrae and larynx. you could see the pain in the man's face. you know what i'm saying? then they pulled around on mount street and they pulled him out again and they put leg shackles on him. you put leg shackles on a man that could barely walk to the paddy wagon? that don't make sense to me. i never know an on-beat officer to care leg shackles. that's something you do when you're going to another compound or you're being transported to the court or something like that. >> you really do transform yourself. i think you are that guy. but how do you get your audience to act not just to care and not just to be moved by your art, but presumably you want it to have a knock-on effect.
>> absolutely. in fact, when this play was in the theater, i stopped the show in the middle and i asked the audiences to go out and talk in small groups to have facilitated conversations to really, really confront that. you know, what am i going to do? and we do have a moment in the country now that people have been more active than they have before, people taking to the streets. i think for the matter of race relations, proximity is always something that is very, very useful. we do live in silos. we do live in some ways in a segregated society. what we have to ask is the question of what kind of investment do we want to make in our country. we performed in the movie says that. do we want to invest in education or do we want to invest in prisons? we know now that the investment in prisons is just a very bad route to take. and so, you know, does it mean running for office? more people are getting involved in local politics. does it mean for young people
who are in high school to learn something about kids across the city who may not be as well off as they are? wouldn't it be great if they came together and worked together so that they could get equal opportunity for all of them. you know. one of the people who i perform is brie newsome who much of your audience might remember climbed the flag pole in columbia, south carolina, took down the confederate flag in response to dylann roof having gone into mother emmanuel church and killed those people while they were praying under the banner of white supremacy and the confederate flag. there's a moment in that that the police officers, while brie on the flag pole, about t tase her, in which cas she would have been electrocuted. there's a white friend of of hers at the bottom of the flag pole and he grabs the flag pole and he says, well, if you electrocute her, if you tase her, you're going to have to tase me, too. i think this is one of those
moments where we have to really come together. >> it's really powerful that. we were talking with van jones about how to bring people together of different colors, different parties, different creeds. and i wonder just in that idea of hearing the story and being heard, you say that some of freddy gray's friends saw the play. how did they react when they saw you perform? >> oh, well, you know, i've been in the theater now for the greater part of my life. and one of the most extraordinary, beautiful things that has happened was that one of the people who was on my team, a young journalist from baltimore brought one of freddy gray's best friends to the theater when i was performing the play in baltimore. and she said that it was the first time he'd ever seen a play and he cried and he cried and he could not be consoled. he said this was the first time that he'd been able to grieve the death of freddy gray. and, of course, she had to then
drop him off on the corner where he'd be selling drugs through the night. that meant so much to me that a piece of theater could actually get to his heart, help him get to grief and sometimes we have to go through rage to grieve to transformation. >> perhaps there's hope in the stories that you're telling and the stories that we're seeing playing out in the aftermath of parkland, florida, as well. anna deavere smith, thank you so much for joining us tonight. and that's it for our program tonight. thanks for watching "amanpour" on pbs. join us again tomorrow night. "amanpour" on pbs was made possible by the generous support of rosalind p. walter. >>