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Trump's Second Summit with Kim Jong-un; Trump Withdrawing Troops from Syria; Interview with Former U.S. Defense Secretary, William Cohen; Oscar Nominated Film, "RBG": Interview with Producer and Director, Betsy West and Julie Cohen. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired February 7, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
North Korea the sequel, as Donald Trump prepares to meet Kim Jong-un again, I asked the former defense secretary, William Cohen, if the president can
achieve denuclearization and also keep his promise to end America's foreign wars.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUTH BADER GINSBURG, SUPREME COURT ASSOCIATE JUSTICE: I did see myself as kind of a kindergarten teacher in those days because the judges didn't
think sex discrimination existed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: The, the 85-year-old Supreme Court justice who's become a 21st century icon. We look into the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg with the makers
of the Oscar nominated documentary RBG.
Plus, an African Game of Thrones. Award-winning Jamaican author, Marlon James, tells us about his sprawling new fantasy epic.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
President Trump is preparing for his second summit with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. He said during his State of the Union address the
meeting will take place in Vietnam at the end of this month.
But while the war on the peninsula has been averted for now, North Korean denuclearization still looks to be a long way off. And when it comes to
ISIS, does it look like it's losing all its territory in Iraq and Syria? President Trump thinks so and says a formal announcement could come as
early as next week.
Although, the forces fighting ISIS tell us that will mean the terrorist group is down for the count.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Adnan Afrin is commanding the anti-ISIS forces at the front and warns against assuming the war is almost over.
ADNAN AFRIN, COMMANDER, SYRIAN DEMOCRATIC FORCES (through translator): Isis isn't finished yet, he tells me, it's still in this area, it's still
fighting, it's still has sleeper cells in the areas we've liberated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And Trump's foreign policy comes as the administration is also making empowering women a key issue, rolling out a program spearheaded by
the president's daughter and advisor, Ivanka Trump, to improve economic security for 50 million women around the world by 2025, with the hope that
they will then play larger roles in the public sphere including in conflict resolution.
So, let's unpack all of this with someone who's faced the very same challenges. He is the former defense secretary, William Cohen. He's a
Republican who served in the Cabinet of the Democratic president, Bill Clinton.
Secretary Cohen, welcome back to the program.
WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Good to be with you.
AMANPOUR: So, let's take some of these issues sort of in the order that we've laid them out. I guess the most important one coming up, tangible,
is the summit, the second summit with Kim Jong-un. What do you think the president needs to do or must do in order to walk away with more than
what's achieved at the last one?
COHEN: I think you he has to make clear that there will be no a real reduction, certainly, in the presence of our troops on the ground or in
relief from the sanctions until there is some measurable, irreversible, verifiable steps taken towards denuclearization.
Now, we had an opportunity, President Clinton had an opportunity to meet with Kim Jong-il during his tenure and we said, "We will meet -- you should
meet with him provided you know what the outcome was going to be," and that the answer was, "Let's meet and then we'll talk about the outcome."
And so, this has been done in the reverse, the presence of the let's have the meeting first and will work out the details. Well, the details have
yet to be worked out and it's going to be a long slow process. I'm hopeful that we would have a success, everyone would want that, but I'm very
I believe the intelligence community when they say they're doubtful that Kim Jong-il will ever -- un rather, will ever give up his his nuclear
weapons in totality.
AMANPOUR: Let's just unpack that a little bit. I think I hear your subtext in saying that perhaps President Trump should not have given this
ultimate recognition to somebody like Kim Jong-un without getting something concrete in return.
However, to play devil's advocate, there definitely is something in return, which is the lowering of the massively high tensions, and there is no war
on the peninsula and it all looked like it might be going that way more than a year ago.
COHEN: Well, of course, the president was the one beating the war drums. You may recall he was starting to rain fire and fury upon North Korea and
it was Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and then Security of State Rex Tillerson who were saying, "Look, give diplomacy a chance." And so, they
were responsible for trying to calm the nerves worried that Kim Jong-un might, in fact, see this a threat, a preemptive attack upon him.
So, the president gets credit for saying, "Yes, I may take military action as a last resort," but he was beating the drums pretty loudly. If it works
you'll get credit, if it doesn't, then he'll say that he approached it wrong way.
AMANPOUR: I mean, again, to play devil's advocate to what you're saying Kim Jong-un was busy testing intercontinental ballistic missiles and
threatening the United States and all of that.
But be that as it may, you're talking about specific steps that need to be taken. One of the key steps beyond -- or before you can even get to
denuclearization is a declaration of inventory. And the former chief advisor on North Korea for President George W. Bush, the Republican
president, said this to me, you know, not so long ago about the problems with just even getting a declaration from the North Koreans.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VICTOR CHA, KOREA CHAIR, CSIS: What the North Koreans are doing is providing piecemeal confidence building measures, saying, "You can look at
this nuclear test site or you can look at this satellite launch site," but not really getting at the heart of the program which has to start with a
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, that was Victor Cha talking about the essential first step having to be a declaration.
COHEN: Right. And that has yet to be done. And so, that's just one issue. A full declaration of what we know and that what we don't know in
terms of what they have. And then, steps taken, how would we verify it, how much intrusion with the North Koreans allow the United States or
international observers and inspectors to take, all of those could have been negotiated in advance and then have the president come and shake hands
with Kim Jong-un.
But I think doing it the reverse way, standing the so-called triangle on its head by having the handshake first and let's talk about details later
puts the president at a less advantageous position. We have lost leverage now. The Chinese are going to be unwilling to impose serious sanctions in
the future. The Russians will not be helpful under these circumstances.
And so, we've already terminated, for the time being, our training exercises which has reduced our readiness. And so, these are issues which
could have been worked out in advance, they were not, and now we have to just play it by -- play it as it lays right now and step by step.
I have confidence in Steve Biegun who's a good man. And again, I'm hopeful that he's successful. I'm skeptical that the North Koreans will ever give
up their nuclear weapon.
AMANPOUR: Steve Biegun, as you mentioned, is the State Department point man on North Korea now for this administration.
Of course, you're saying all of this in the background of what the intelligence have been saying that they found evidence of a consistent
trend on the part of the North Koreans to disperse its assembly, storage and testing locations. So, again, let's see what the president can get in
terms of a declaration.
But that can I just move on, because this is also speaks to what I think you're addressing, the -- not just the strategy but the tactics of how you
go about some of these very, very challenging issues. So, let's move on to ISIS. The president says that soon there will be an administration
declaration that it's lost all its territory. What do you make of that? And also, you heard the forces on the ground telling us that even if they
do, that doesn't mean to say they are dispersed and we've seen this movie before when they were pretty much crushed by the surge in Iraq, the
precocious to ISIS.
COHEN: Christiane, consider this to be a medical condition. Your doctor has said he's been treating you for cancer and the doctor says, "We have
the cancer eliminated 90 percent. There's 10 percent remaining but we're going to cease treating you for the moment. We're going to declare victory
over the cancer." You would react, I think, quite negatively at that, that's kind of the same situation we have with respect to ISIS.
It has lost a lot of territory, it has lost a lot of people but they are still formidable, they are capable of capable of metastasizing in the
region itself and beyond. And so, is this the time you say, "We've won. Mission Accomplished. Cancer is eradicated even though 10 percent might be
left or 1 percent is still very malignant, but we think we've got it under control and we'll just ignore it for the time being." That's the
situation, I think, we're finding ourselves in.
And secondly, the president consistently undermines the credibility of the intelligence community. They have to a person testified about the
viability of ISIS returning and yet the president ignores it. He then publicly criticizes his intelligence community, and that to me is very
dangerous, because what he is saying is, "Don't bring me any bad news or any news that's inconsistent with my judgment."
Ordinarily, presidents depend upon the intelligence community to help him or her shape strategic policy and not the other way around. And what's
happening here is that I'm afraid that our intelligence is going to be compromised and politicize so that it's the president who shaping the
intelligence rather than his intelligence community giving him information and information is power that he needs to have. And that to me, long-term,
is very dangerous.
AMANPOUR: So, Secretary Pompeo says that this withdrawal of forces, for instance, which is sort of, I guess, connected to the idea that ISIS may
have lost its territory is just as a tactical issue that the strategy will remain the same, that there will be this air campaign. I want to get your
idea on that.
But also, on the way decisions are made and implemented and announced, because just this week the CENTCOM commander was asked about how much heads
up they got about the announcement to withdraw troops from Syria. Listen to the exchange on Capitol Hill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANGUS KING, U.S. SENATOR: General, were you aware of the president's intention to order the withdrawal of our troops from Syria before that was
GENERAL JOSEPH VOTEL, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: I was not aware of the specific -- the announcement. Certainly, we are aware that he had
expressed a desire and intent in the past to depart Iraq.
KING: So, we weren't consulted before that decision was announced?
VOTEL: We were not -- I was not consulted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, as a former defense secretary, what's wrong with this picture.
COHEN: What's wrong with this picture is the ordinary chain of command goes from, let's say, CENTCOM, in this particular case, to the secretary of
defense to the president. The president also did -- really not -- did not notify secretary of defense, Jim Mattis, and that is one of the reasons he
The president is impulsive, he issues declarations without thinking through the consequences, saying, "I made a pledge, I'm going to keep it and I'm
not making a call to all of my partners in the region, all of those countries who have contributed to the fight against ISIS, I'm not calling
anyone of them. The only person I'm going to call will be the president of Turkey, Erdogan. Beyond that, I'm not talking to my secretary of defense,
I'm not talking to my commander who really isn't in the best position to tell me what the situation is on the ground and I'm not talking to any of
my NATO allies. I'm simply going to issue this declaration, we're leaving."
And so, there is no interagency process, there is no process. It's simply the president decides and then carries it out irrespective of what the
military advice is or should be given to him. He just decides on his own.
AMANPOUR: Can --
COHEN: I think it's very demoralizing when you have a situation where military commanders, intelligence community are completely ignored, "I'm
going to do it on my terms. I'm the commander in chief and therefore, I get to make the decision without regard to your advised."
AMANPOUR: Can I just switched to a different issue and I mentioned it in the lead in to you, there is an initiative now by the president and the
president's advisor and daughter, Ivanka Trump, on empowering women economically, it's got all these planks, it's been laid out, there's going
to be -- there's a signing ceremony in the Oval Office.
As a defense secretary, what is your take on the security aspects of such a policy? In other words, empowering women in many of these dangerous
countries, many of these war-torn countries, and by that factor, giving them more public space even potentially around the conflict resolution
COHEN: Well, first the policy is a positive one. I would hope that we would empower women the world over because they deserve or entitled to be
part of the policymaking decision, they are equal to men, they should be given every chance to participate on a full basis.
But you've raised the crucial issue, how do we do that without providing stability and contributing to the stability and countries, let's say, such
as Afghanistan? The president has already announced of pulling half of our troops out, the other half at some point in time. I doubt very much
whether the Taliban is ready, at this point, notwithstanding what they say to give equal rights, so the speak, or any opportunity for women
inconsistent with their traditional submission subordination and, in fact, horrific treatment of women.
But is this a good policy? The answer is yes. It must be combined with diplomacy, economic assistance and security, they all go together. So, I
like the policy. I'm hopefully -- I'm hoping that the president will put the resources necessary and make the commitment to securing those rights
rather than saying, "Every country is on its own now. It's America first and we basically are putting our people first without regard to your
So, I like the policy. I hope he'll put the resources behind it and stay with it.
AMANPOUR: And you must like the policy also of siding with the Democrats in Venezuela, when I say Democrats, I mean, literally the Democrats, the
Democratic opposition, recognizing the opposition, Juan Guaido. And given that you were defense secretary during what was a humanitarian intervention
by the Clinton administration in Kosovo and it actually succeeded, do you have hope that this humanitarian intervention in Venezuela, including
trying to provide, you know, humanitarian, you know, support, this is a good thing.
COHEN: Yes, it is a good thing. I think the president, again, is correct. The -- some of the countries in the region, Colombia, by way of example,
that has been in undated with refugees from Venezuela a million last year, a million coming this year, they really can't handle that kind of influx of
And so, it's a humanitarian disaster that we are responding to positively in conjunction with our European friends, and this gets back to having
partners the world over and nurturing those partners and not denigrating them on a given occasion, but saying, "We're all in this together and this
is a very serious humanitarian issue. I want all of us to join in this and resist the temptation to start, again, talking about military intervention
but rather treat it as a humanitarian catastrophe in which we are going to participate in a very significant way, in a diplomatic economic and
internationally, coercive way."
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you to put your politicians' hat on and cast your mind back a long, long time ago, to the Nixon administration, when you were one
of the few Republican congressman to break with the party and take on the president and call for his resignation.
It was a big political risk. If there was the similar situation now and you were in the same position, and we're showing a picture of you there,
would you take on --
COHEN: We shouldn't do that.
AMANPOUR: -- this president at this time in a similar situation?
COHEN: Well, I think that members of Congress have an absolute obligation to get to the facts in terms of whether or not President Trump has been
From the very beginning, I said a cloud of distrust was going to hang over the administration until such time as he opened up his tax returns so that
the American people could see whether or not there is Russian money involved, there's nothing wrong with Russian money being involved in his
business in the past, but is it still involved now? Are they, in fact, trying to launder money through the Trump organization? How much
compromise was issued here or is he under?
There is a tremendous pressure. Otherwise, he would say something critical --
COHEN: -- about President Putin. He has criticized every single leader in the world but President Putin, President Xi and now, also President Kim
AMANPOUR: All right.
COHEN: Three dictators basically but not President Putin. There's something wrong with that picture and I think they have an obligation to
find out why.
AMANPOUR: Secretary Cohen, thank you very much for joining us.
And we turn now to perhaps the most famous face on the United States Supreme Court, known formally as Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
She also is the notorious RBG, the octogenarian liberal lion of the times, star of documentaries and biopics about her extraordinary life in Korea.
Progressive America has been holding its breath recently as Ginsburg struggled with a bout of health problems. She is on the man (ph) now but
she did miss oral arguments for the very first time since joining the court 25 years ago. She is a trailblazer who rose despite entrenched sexism and
who paved the legal path for women's rights.
One of the films about her is "RBG." It's just nominated for an Oscar, which was, of course, a thrill for the produces as you can see.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Well, that was the nomination process, which is where we started our conversation about their work capturing this extraordinary woman.
Betsy West and Julie Cohen, welcome to the program.
BETSY WEST, PRODUCER AND DIRECTOR, "RBG: Great to be here.
AMANPOUR: So, we showed in our -- in that introduction your incredible excitement at being nominated for an Oscar. How does it feel to be
nominated or to have had this runaway success about a film with a slight, a petite 85-year-old woman who wasn't a cultural icon until she suddenly
WEST: Well, it's very gratifying. I mean, the fact that audiences have responded to our story about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg makes us so happy
because we think, really, her story deserves to be told. She's one of the most important women in our country and a lot of people didn't know what
she did to help all women achieve equality.
JULIE COHEN, PRODUCER AND DIRECTOR, "RBG: There's been this perception for so long, you know, particularly in the motion picture world that the only
thing that's interesting about a woman is when she's in her 20s and what she looks like and what she's wearing.
Here is a woman who is tiny, who is 85 and who is known primarily for her intellect and yet, audiences are responding and want to go into theaters to
hear what she has to say. That feels pretty cool.
AMANPOUR: What was the process? How did you get access? Because Supreme Court justices are normally fairly reticent, they're not out there, you
know, posing for documentaries and other such things.
COHEN: That's absolutely right. In fact, this is the first documentary that's been made about a sitting Supreme Court justice. And when we
approached Ruth Bader Ginsburg with the idea that we might make a full documentary telling her life story, this was back in January of 2015, her
initial response was, "Not yet." But Betsy and I kind of took a page out of the RBG playbook of patience, persistence and kind of step by step
fighting for what you want and basically kept at it.
AMANPOUR: Yes. I mean, is it extraordinary and you got access not just to her speeches and you followed her on the road but at home and inside the
WEST: Yes. I mean, we did the final interview with her in the Supreme Court and we were able to do some steady cam filming in the actual chamber,
which is unusual to be able to get in there. Obviously, there are no cameras in the courtroom when the proceedings are going on. And, you know,
about a year into filming, we asked for a meeting with her and that's when we said, "Hey, can we feel new in your home, meeting with some family, you
know, in your office and also, could we go with you to see your legendary gym workout." And we were very, very happy that she said yes.
AMANPOUR: We have great pictures, obviously, the gym workout, so -- as you're describing it.
COHEN: Yes. One of the most fascinating days of our filmmaking lines, I would say. Betsy and I were crouched in the corner while Justice Ginsburg
was being put through the paces by her incredible personal trainer, Brian Johnson, whose other life includes doing fitness training for members of
the army. Yet, he says that RBG is really the toughest person that he's ever worked with in terms of working out. There's just nothing he asked
her to do that she won't go along with.
And Betsy and I watched this whole routine. When we came out of that room, our initial response was -- well, first of all, oh, my God, and also, we've
got to up our game. It was Betsy who first started doing her own, planking on her own and I followed suit.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, look, rigorous body, rigorous mind. I mean, apart from the fact that she's got this whole new life as an important cultural and
social activist and icon for the United States, she has really been at the forefront, as you mentioned, of equality and women's rights.
And to be honest, I don't think a lot of society knew what a fundamental role she played in each aspect of the battle for women's rights. So, I
just want to play a clip from slightly later on but to sort of set us off on this discussion about her role in making women go forward. Here's a
clip about how she handled the sexism that came out even as a justice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Men and women are persons of equal dignity and they should count equally before the law.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You won't settle for putting Susan B. Anthony on the new dollar.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When they would say things like this, how did you respond?
GINSBURG: Well, never in anger. As (INAUDIBLE) that would have been self- defeating. Always as an opportunity to each.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, it's remarkable.
WEST: Yes. Well, I mean, this was a woman who graduated the very top of her law school class. She was on the Law Review. And yet, in 1960 when
she went out to look for jobs, she was just told very openly, "Sorry, we don't hire women or we hired a woman once before and it didn't really work
So, you have to take yourself back to that time when discrimination was just kind of out in the open and accepted. Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the
early 70s as the women's movement was coming alive saw an opportunity to challenge those assumptions and she understood and came to understand that
the U.S. Constitution should protect women. Her job was to convince nine name justices to go along with that idea.
And as she said in that clip, she did it very carefully, without anger. I mean, she goes on to say, "I really thought of myself as a kindergarten
teacher," not just a teacher a kindergarten teacher, which we loved the idea that, "Look, they just don't understand what women are up against and
it's my job to show them," and she was very strategic in the cases that she took to kind of bring the justices along.
Ultimately, this fight concluded or ended with her as a justice where she wrote the majority opinion in a case which found that discriminating
against women, forbidding women from entering a military institution that had Federal funding was unconstitutional. So, her whole career came full
circle from being a litigator in the 1970s to then being on the Supreme Court and writing this important decision.
AMANPOUR: Give me just a little bit of what we owe her in the legal domain, what women in America owe her.
WEST: Well, as a result of the cases that she argued as a lawyer in the 1970s, she -- basically, hundreds if not thousands of laws and regulations
in this country that discriminated against women are -- were found unconstitutional. Some of them were done in the guise of protecting women.
And as she explained, putting women on a pedestal was really often putting them in a cage. So, it was -- the impact of her work is pretty sweeping.
AMANPOUR: Can I just play this clip then from the film just to your point, putting them on a pedestal is akin to putting them in a cage. This goes a
little bit to that. Let's just play it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The sex criterion stigmatizes when it is used to protect women from competing for higher paying jobs, promotions. Is
assumes that all women are preoccupied with home and children. These distinctions have a common effect, they help keep woman in her place, a
place inferior to that occupied by men in our society.
GINSBURG: There was not a single question. I just went on speaking and, at that time, wondered are they just indulging and not listening or am I
telling them something they haven't heard before?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I mean, she really did seem to be mystified at the way she was being treated by these super highly educated guys.
WEST: Yes. Well, it was something she'd gotten used to from really her days in law school and it was her job to push back. It was actually Gloria
Steinem who first told me about what Ruth Bader Ginsburg had done in the 70s and who pointed out that while women were out in the streets and
fighting for equality, very quietly and very systematically, Ruth Bader Ginsberg was affecting a kind of a revolution in the courts, and Gloria
certainly gives her her do.
AMANPOUR: And I was going to say, Julie, one of the things I found extraordinary, obviously, watching the documentary and reading a lot of the
research now around her, is that there was a lot of women actually who kind of opposed her nomination as Supreme Court justice, right, people were
concerned that she might not be as -- I mean, I think people on both side, as committed to, let's say, Roe versus Wade or on the opposite side of the
spectrum as well.
COHEN: Yes, that's true. In the in the 90s there was some question among feminists, she wasn't a firebrand, she was much more someone who wanted to
very carefully consider the legal aspects of things, you know, kind of like a law nerd as, of course, a Supreme Court justice should be, I think
whatever concern there might have been around the time of her confirmation in 1993 was quickly wiped away by Justice Ginsburg's strong 25-year record
of standing up for Reproductive Rights in every case where it's come up, including some dissents in recent years as there's been some move towards
eroding women's rights to legal abortion.
AMANPOUR: I just play another clip about how she hoped the makeup of the Supreme Court would look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUTH BADER GINSBURG, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: In my lifetime, I expect to see three, four, perhaps even more women on the High Court bench. Women
not shaped from the same mold but of different complexions. I surely would not be in this room today without the determined efforts of men and women
who kept dreams of equal citizenship aligned.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Again, I think it's extraordinary. She kept involving the men, right. She was one -- she tried to bring everybody into this struggle.
WEST: Yes. I mean she talks about gender equality. It's helping women and it's helping men. And certainly, in her own life, she had a
tremendously supportive man who she
WEST: -- always gave credit to, her husband Marty. And their love story is also a big part of our documentary.
COHEN: Certainly something that has struck a chord with audiences, both female and male, the idea that you can have a heroic feminist man is sort
of a character we don't talk about so much. It's either like -- you know, there's -- as we talk about the current era this move toward sort of
exposing men who have behaved not so well over the course of their lives.
Marty Ginsburg is a pretty exemplary guy. RBG always gave him his due and bringing forth that part of the story we thought was really important.
AMANPOUR: Well, more than important, it was really fundamental. It was really central and dramatically beautiful actually. The relationship was
so amazing. Anyway, let's play a little clip of what she said about Marty and then we'll talk about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GINSBURG: I have had the great good fortune to share life with a partner, truly extraordinary for his generation. A man who believed at age 18 when
we met that a woman's work, whether at home or on the job, is as important as a man's.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: It's really moving. And in that clip, we see the camera zoom in on him during those confirmation hearings. And, of course, she lost him in
And just give us an idea of -- I mean he was very funny. He almost sort of humanized the family. He was the cook. He tells stories about how his
children refused to allow the mom -- her to cook and how they sort of saw him being more of the domestic type at home.
But he also lobbied very strongly and very professionally and strategically to keep her on that path to eventual promotion to the Supreme Court.
WEST: Well, Marty Ginsburg was a very successful lawyer in his own right. And during the '60s, when he was going to -- for a partnership, Ruth Bader
Ginsburg was supporting him.
But as he saw the importance of her work in the 1970s, I think he began to understand that she really could play an extremely significant role in the
life of our country. And maybe -- and he probably started to dream right then that she could be and should be a Justice. So yes, when the time
came, he was very supportive.
I mean in terms of the storytelling, I think that we're telling a pretty serious story about constitutional law and the fact that there's a love
story to go along with it, a true love story that Justice Ginsburg loves to talk about, really helped our storytelling. And sometimes in the course of
putting the film together, we'd have a section about constitutional law, then we look at each other and say, "Oh, we need a little more Marty."
COHEN: More Marty. There's been an idea, there's been like a myth out there, especially I think in the Hollywood movie world, that feminism and
equality is not romantic and it's not sexy. That's something that I feel has been used to kind of tamp down women who are fighting for their rights.
And I think what we really wanted to do was explode that myth and show that a feminist marriage can be romantic and sexy.
AMANPOUR: Oh, well, good for you. When they went to law school together, wasn't -- the professor, didn't he sort of challenge the female [13:35:00]
students and say, "How come you're there taking a place that could go to a number of me?" She was only nine in a class of nine -- among nine women in
a class of 500 men.
COHEN: Yes. It was actually the dean of Harvard Law School that invited the nine women to his home and then had them go around the table answering
that question, "Why are you take taking the play -- a place that could be held for -- by a man?"
Actually, extremely, a common question in law schools and medical schools for women at that time. We subsequently heard from dozens of women who had
the same thing asked of them.
AMANPOUR: But her answer was staggering because she said --
COHEN: Yes. Her answer back then was, "Well, you know, my husband is going to be a lawyer so I thought I would -- I want to understand his world
a little more." Like you know she was being a good little wife at that point. She regrets --
COHEN: She actually regretted not being tougher, not really speaking out at that time. And she never - didn't speak out again.
AMANPOUR: Well, she made up for it in a lifetime of speaking out on the bench. But define her importance politically right now at the moment of
American history that we are living right now.
WEST: Well, Ruth Bader Ginsburg occupies a very important role on the U.S. Supreme Court. She's in the minority but she's in there fighting for her
point of view and hoping that she will on occasion as she had convinced some of the more conservative justices to come over to her side.
I mean I will say we've never met a more determined person. And after -- the morning after we received the Oscar nomination, we called Justice
Ginsburg, and we were very happy to hear her sounding strong and talking about how she was doing a lot of reading and writing and keeping up with
the court work and expected to be back on the bench soon. So I think that those theories are crazy.
AMANPOUR: And not in the retiring mood?
WEST: No, no, no.
COHEN: She does not seem to be in a retiring mood. I mean she's focused quite a lot on her recovery from the surgery she had in December, precisely
for the reason that she wants to get back on the bench.
AMANPOUR: All right. Well, we wish you good luck. Julie Cohen and Betsy West, thank you so much for being with us.
COHEN: Thank you, Christiane.
WEST: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And from that living legend, we delve into some ancient myths with our next guest Marlon James, the award-winning Jamaican author who
brings us a powerful saga in his new book, "Black Leopard, Red Wolf", the first of his Dark Star Trilogy. Best known for his Man Booker-winning
novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, he told our Alicia Menendez about his new fantasy epic.
ALICIA MENENDEZ, CONTRIBUTOR: Marlon, thank you so much for being with us today.
MARLON JAMES, AUTHOR: Thanks for having me.
MENENDEZ: This is a complex book, a complex world. How do you describe it?
JAMES: You know the best way to describe it is to just start at the beginning. This book -- in the Black Leopard, Red Wolf, a slave trader
hires a bunch of mercenaries and heroes for hire to find a child who's been missing for three years. That's all they know.
This story then jumps to the end. They found the child, terrible things happened, people want answers. There are only three witnesses. And each
witness is now going to tell the reader what they saw.
MENENDEZ: Right. What does that then tell you about the nature of truth if there can be three different versions of one story?
JAMES: Well, for one, the reader is going to -- the reader has a lot of work to do. The reader is going to have to decide because I'm not going to
tell them who to believe. It's pretty much your judge and jury as a reader.
MENENDEZ: I like that.
JAMES: Yes. Because the whole idea of truth, of authentic version of the director's cut, all these things, ever are Western. In a lot of African
storytelling, you know from the get-go that it's a trickster that's telling you the story. It's always -- you always know that you're dealing with an
And that fascinates me. I still am fascinated by eyewitness accounts and people who look at the same thing and come to completely different
perceptions. You know if you see some -- somebody can look at a guy gorging down a bag of chips and think "Oh, he's starving", another person
thinks, "Oh, he's gluttonous" but were seeing the same thing.
MENENDEZ: You have described this trilogy as an African Game of Thrones. I would love for you to read us a passage from the book.
JAMES: Absolutely. This is from the beginning actually. It says, "The child is dead. There's nothing left to know. I hear there is a queen in
the South that kills a man who brings her bad news. So when I give word of the boy's death, do I write my own death with it?
[13:40:00] Truth eats lie just as a crocodile eats the moon, and yet my witness is the same today as it will be tomorrow. No, I did not kill him.
Though I may have wanted him dead. Craved for it the way a glutton craves goat flesh. Oh, to draw a bow and fire through his black heart and watch
it explode black blood, and to watch his eyes when it starts blinking when it looks but stop seeing, and to listen for his voice croaking and hearing
his chest heaving in a death rattle saying, look, my wretched spirit leaves this most wretched of bodies, and to smile at such tidings and dance at
such a loss. Yes, I glut at the conceit of it. But no, I did not kill him.
Bi oju ri enu a pam o. Not everything the eye sees should be spoken by the mouth. Should I give you a story? I am just a man who some have called a
wolf. The child is dead. I know the old woman brings you different news. Call him murderer, she says. Even though my only sorrow is that I did not
kill her. The redheaded one said the child's head was infested with devils. If you believe in devils. I believe in bad blood. I will give
you a story."
MENENDEZ: How did you know that that was how the book had to start?
JAMES: I didn't. My beginning sometimes comes after I finished a novel. I'll have -- this is why when I'm teaching students, they have so much
pressure on how to begin and it's going to take them forever. I usually just begin. To the first word you read is rarely the first word the reader
is going to read. And some of these have survived all the drafts. But I didn't really know how it began until I got to the end of it.
MENENDEZ: When you have a book that is as successful as A Brief History of Seven Killings which critical acclaim, won the Man Booker Prize, how does
that change the way you approach the work that follows?
JAMES: I don't think it changed as much because if I was really concerned about it, I think I'd have written a more careful book. I think that I've
written -- that I've made a less risky turn. Although to me, this does seem like a jump even.
Even in Brief History, a large part of the novel is told by a ghost. So -- and if you grew up in the Caribbean, you grew up with the -- not just
fairytales and so on but the African traditions and myths and legends and the Native American myths and legends and so on, real and surreal doesn't
have the boundary that people -- it seems to have for other people.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez always said that the great thing about the Caribbean is that truth is fixed, choosing a stranger in a way that is fiction. And
he's actually -- he's absolutely right. It didn't feel so much like a leap for me. In terms of the work, it definitely was a leap.
MENENDEZ: But then how strange is it to you that the vast majority of epic fantasy ends up happening in Western Europe?
JAMES: Oh, that's not strange for me at all. And that's the thing I had to come to terms with as a fan of epic fantasy, that most of it is European
or most of what I read was European. Most of it was based on European history, European myths.
I mean I love Vikings. I love Lord of the Rings. I love The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I love Philip Pullman.
MENENDEZ: Yes. Do you have strong opinions on Hobbits?
JAMES: You know I have strong opinions on people's opinion. But reading these stories when I was growing up, it's not like I'm clamoring for
representation. But, of course, if I'm a 10-year-old kid and seeing people doing dashing and daring events, I want to know somebody who looks like me
every now and then.
And I think somebody from Celtic or Scandinavian descent can take for granted stuff like Thor, could have a Thor. For people in the West, for
black people in the West who have been sort of cut off from all these epic traditions, it's new era, it's new discovery.
MENENDEZ: Why did you know you had to write this book?
JAMES: That's a good question. Because there are other books I could have written. I think there are a few things. One, I am always gravitating to
the book I think I would want to read. And if it's out there, then I don't have to write it. But if it isn't, then I mean that's a book I'm going to
I also -- because I'm kind of a glutton for punishment, I always go after the most impossible kind of book. Almost every book I start writing, it
starts from the position of me going there is no way I can write this. I don't know how to get into this story. It's going to get -- this is the
book that's going to kill me.
[13:45:00] And that happened with this as well. It's --
MENENDEZ: Because it was a trilogy or because it was epic fantasy?
JAMES: Because it was epic fantasy and because I didn't know who was telling the story. And I didn't know how to tell it. And that's when the
whole idea of the trilogy came up actually that it wouldn't be me trying to create this one long narrative. It would me -- it would be me writing
stories that sort of confound each other and cancel each other out. The hero's story, it may very well be the victim of story B or the villain of
MENENDEZ: How does writing in the realm of fantasy change the way you grapple with what many consider social constructions like gender, race?
JAMES: No. That's a good question because a lot of that didn't happen for me until I did the research. So in the book, there is queerness. There is
gender fluidity. There is, you know, people -- there is people with plural personalities. There are different genders. There are different attitudes
towards sexuality and homosexuality and so on.
And all of that might seem like me trying to hit some intersectional point in a novel but all that was from the research. It turns out that's the
oldest element in the book, that there are tribes with 14 genders, that there are ways in which African societies had accepted queerness and
homosexuality and strangeness and even trendiness from way back thousands and thousands of years.
That is not until, you know, a bunch of American T.V. preachers told them this is evil, that a lot of viewers start to reconsider it. But that to me
was the most mind-blowing aspect of the research just how old all of that was.
MENENDEZ: Much like Game of Thrones, the book is replete with sexual references. And I wonder how often when you're writing about sex in this
book are you really writing about power.
JAMES: Quite a bit, actually. One because people spend a lot of time trying to demonstrate sexual power over other people. That's one aspect of
human nature that hasn't changed.
But there is also a certain kind of sensuality and frankness that's part of the African storytelling tradition that I think we with more puritanical
minds can really appreciate or think it's something that should be shunted away. You know, it's -- that's one of the reasons why Blues was so
And in other ways, that's the African coming out in Blues music because the -- and to latch on to that, to write in that sort of supersensible world
with a really high erotic energy was exciting and it was also kind of scary because at the backend of that is also a danger, at the backend of that is
abuse and so on.
And the aim then though is how do you capture that without that becoming the viewpoint of the book because that's always a risk we run when we play
with things like that. Did you have a racist character? Did you write a racist book? Do you have a sexist character? Did you write a sexist book?
And that's the way I think I hit a mix with between not believe -- not flinching and not blinking in the sight of all this. But I also point out
that this world knows enough about what's going on, that this is not normal. This is not tolerated, that this is all people exercising power as
opposed people exercising what they think is right.
MENENDEZ: I think that a lot of us, especially in those teen years, who feel that we're growing up on the margins. I very much identify with
everything you've ever said about being a nerd and retreating into books.
MENENDEZ: And so then I wonder, is epic fantasy a means of escape or a means of belonging?
JAMES: It's both though. Just as though -- X-Men Comic. I remember when I was reading X-Men, the thing about being an X-Men fan or reading X-Men is
a lot like being an X-Men. Because you're like --
MENENDEZ: Sell me on it.
JAMES: I think, certainly for me, the idea that by opening a book, I can live another life was what drew me to it. So you're being drawn to these
huge worlds but your sense of belonging from, oh, I can belong in here.
There are other people like me here. There are other people like me reading this at this moment. I mean we didn't have the Internet so we
didn't have chat rooms or we didn't have forums. You just have to assume there must be somebody else out there who is reading X-Men, who's reading
Watership Down and who's having the same moment that I am having.
And then when I get older and I read of writers like Michael Chabon or even Tenacy Kowitz (ph) and they talk about what comics and fantasy did for
them, I realize I wasn't alone [13:50:00] after all.
MENENDEZ: How much of the marginality though was about that nerd identity and how much of it was about being gay?
JAMES: I don't know if those are separate.
MENENDEZ: Right. So where did they --
JAMES: I think you know that -- back then, I thought of it as -- I went through all sorts of stages with that, the whole it must be a phase or God
is going to fix it sometime. And actually, that way of thinking took me all the way into my 30s.
It's -- it adds to it. I think it adds to the sort of -- I mean everybody around me are nerds, that I have one more degree of remove where I can't
reveal to even you guys. You end up locking yourself off quite a bit.
I remember 1987, I had caught known talking to such an extent that I remember I went to visit my family in Chicago and my cousin sent a note
back to my brother. The first thing it says, "First, your brother, he doesn't talk." Because I was so convinced as soon as I open my mouth,
people go, "Oh, there goes the gay. There goes the such and such." So I just decided you know I'll just stop talking.
So I certainly ended up in this huge can of just voluntary mental and social close down. Close down to the point where one of my next door
neighbors thought I went to America for high school. I was like no, I was right here.
MENENDEZ: But was the danger to you based on your nerd identity or on your gay identity?
JAMES: For me, it was both. Jamaicans reputation for its homophobia, of course. And growing up -- when I was growing up, I felt in a very acute
way. I mean I was never gay bashed or anything like that but I didn't have to be.
I think internalizing that fear was traumatic enough. And also, it's part of our culture. It's part of our music and so on. Back then, I don't want
to put Jamaica in the identity it's always had because it's funny. I talked to Jamaican writers who are eight years younger and they read my
essay in "New York Times" and they're like, "I didn't recognize that Jamaica you lived in."
And I realized how things have changed in some ways. But for me, it was -- the fear was so immense, I could internalize it despite nothing happened --
happening to me. It didn't have to. It's -- the fear, it doesn't need something to happen for it to happen.
And I realized for me, I had to leave. I had to get out. Not necessarily because I was afraid of attack but I was afraid of if I keep reducing
myself more and more and more away, what am I going to be left within three years? And I just -- I don't think I could have lived with such a constant
diminishing sense of self so I had to go.
MENENDEZ: Yes. I mean it's interesting to think of you living that dual life and then being able to write these characters that are looking at the
same events from dueling perspectives.
MENENDEZ: Because you yourself were able to do that constantly.
JAMES: Yes, absolutely. And I'm not just sort of code-switching but behavior changing and the slipping into different identities all the time.
I was like yes, I was Clark Kent and Khalil.
I used to have this ritual where I was staying with family in the Bronx. Of course, I was like super closet in the Bronx and dress very hip hop and
got my baggy pants and all of that. And I'd take the train on to Union Square's Barnes and Noble. And I go into the Barnes and Noble bathroom and
put on my skin tight jeans and my queer outfit. It's like Superman, super queer.
And then I would sort of gallivant all over downtown in the village and so on. And I was like Cinderella. I had to get back to Barnes and Noble by
9:30 because it closes at 10. So I had to like dash back to go back in the bathroom, change back into my normal clothes, and then take the fact back
to the Bronx. And that was life for a really long time.
MENENDEZ: Until when?
JAMES: Until maybe 2007 actually.
MENENDEZ: What changed then?
JAMES: Moving here permanently, moving to Minnesota. I think one thing about moving to Minnesota is I thought well, I would never have the eyes of
Jamaicans or the eyes of my family on me. And I could completely reinvent myself the way I want to reinvent myself. I didn't have to be -- have all
these versions of myself running around.
And the writing more and learning to be bolder and learning to accept myself more, that those versions of me just started evaporating until
[13:55:00] there was only one but it took a while. It took years.
MENENDEZ: You must look back on that and feel like there's a lot of lost time?
JAMES: Oh, God, yes. I have to believe that things happen when they're supposed to happen, I think. And maybe I just wouldn't have had the
emotional maturity to deal with all of that in my 20s or even in my 30s because I mean I'm having one hell of a 40s.
MENENDEZ: Marlon, thank you so much.
JAMES: Thank you so much for having me.
AMANPOUR: And with that, we are out of time.
Thanks for watching. Watch us online. Goodbye from London.