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Iranian Foreign Minister Announces He's Resigning; Trump Calls Spike Lee "Racist" After Oscars Jab; Oscars 2019, Diversity Celebrated, But Best Picture Panned; Interview with Harry Reid, former Senate Majority Leader, Talking Trump, 2020 and Cancer Battle; Fund Protesting 9/11 First Responders Running Out of Money. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired February 25, 2019 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: The foreign minister of Iran has just resigned. We have details on that next.

Plus, Spike Lee has finally won his first Oscar 30 years after "Do the Right Thing". Obviously, he was elated over the win. Cut to the announcement of "Green Book", billed as best picture and spike Lee was not happy. We'll talk about why that selection has so many angry today and the President's response to spike league.


[15:35:00] Welcome back. Breaking news. The Iranian Foreign Minister has just resigned. You may remember Mohammad Zarif was the man who led negotiations on the Iran Nuclear Deal. Our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is with me now on the phone. And Fred, I know Mr. Zarif made this announcement on his Instagram page. His last four words, be happy and upbeat. Can you tell me why he's doing this?

Fred, you with me? All right. No dice. There he is. OK. You're on the air, Fred. Can you -- can you -- OK. We'll try it again in a second. We'll come back to Fred.

Meantime in a night where milestones for diversity were reached and celebrated at the Academy Awards, a film whose story line was centered on race was not just one of the biggest winners, it was also one of the biggest controversies.




BALDWIN: With those seven words, "Green Book", which is set in the 1960s and inspired by the true story of the friendship between black pianist, Don Shirley, and his white driver, stepped into history. But the film's path has been problematic to say the least. Most notice, some of Shirley's family members say they weren't even consulted about the film and that its multiple in accuracies amounts to a "symphony of lies." The movies director says he was unaware that they were still living. And Spike Lee who won his first Oscar for best adapted screenplay and reportedly walked off when "Green Book" was announced. He said this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We saw a little bit of a reaction to the "Green Book" win. Can you give us your thoughts on that best picture win?

SPIKE LEE, DIRECTOR: Let me take another sip. I thought I was court side at the garden. The ref made a bad call.


BALDWIN: Justin Chang is a film critic for the "L.A. Times", Nischelle Turner, is a host of "Entertainment Tonight" and CNN contributor. My goodness, Justin, you -- we wanted to talk to you, your whole column is "Green Book" is the worst best picture winner since "Crash". You say the movie is an embarrassment along with the film industry's embracing of it. Why?

JUSTIN CHANG, FILM CRITIC, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES: I think that in 2018 or 2019, a movie that purports to be about race and racism should provide something a little bit more tough minded and complex than this very retro grade, very comforting, feel good story. I'm not saying that every movie needs to be hard hitting. And I understand why people like "Green Book". It's a very well-acted movie. It is a sort of earnest and soothing kind of story, but I'm just looking for movies that speak to me and us as a country and the world in different ways about race right now.

So Mahershala Ali, who won for best supporting actor, Michelle, for his work in the film, personally apologized to the families. Said he didn't even know that there were close relatives that he could have spokesman to. Last fall, Viggo Mortensen, he actually plays Shirley's driver, used the "N" word to discuss differences between the film's era and today. He has since apologized, but there's that.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, you know, I think that you just laid out a couple more of the issues that number one, the black community and communities as a whole, moviegoing communities had with the film. Not with just the film itself, but things that have happened since the film. You had that happen, you stated earlier that the director said he didn't know that members of Don Shirley's family were still living. Which I think if you're directing a film about this and it's inspired by a true story, it is doing your due diligence to in fact find out if there are other members of the family of the other man that you're talking about there. So you can also talk to them, get their experience, their take and do a really well-rounded version.

I think people just really thought they were getting kind of the afterschool special version of race relations by this movie and again, like Justin said, not that they didn't like it, they just thought, OK, number one, this isn't best picture. Number two, I'm tired of seeing these pictures about race being homogenized and whitewashed and just really, you know, blanketed over and not really going deep.

BALDWIN: Justin, also wrote this. Maybe "Green Book" really is the movie of the year after all, he says. Not the best movie, but the one that best captures the polarization that arises whenever the conversations shifts towards matters of race, privilege and the all- important question of who gets to tell whose story.

[15:40:00] I mean, there have been -- I think the criticism I keep reading today is that this is yet another what they call, white savior film.


BALDWIN: Justin.

CHANG: Yes, I would agree with that. Or whether who's saving whom. I mean, the idea of these movies is sometimes that everyone's saving each other. But I just have a real problem with the framing of it. And you know, this is not necessarily even about the historical inaccuracies or the factual in accuracies. I think a movie can and should depart from the literal truth sometimes. But I have a real problem with a movie that pretends to get inside Dr. Don Shirley's head and Mahershala Ali gives a very good performance, I think.

But you see him completely through the perspective of the Tony Vallelonga character played by Viggo Mortensen. The movie really almost can't even conceive of this character outside of the perspective of this -- outside of this very unexamined white perspective. And it especially hurts because there were so many terrific movies this year -- some of them nominated for best picture, like "BlacKkKlansman" and "Black Panther" that actually did have interesting things and less comforting, less soothing, less palatable things to say about race and racism and African and African-American identity. And so the fact that the Academy would single out this movie, "Green Book" is the best of the year, I think it takes a very specific and very unfortunate set of blinders to come to that conclusion.

BALDWIN: Sure. I appreciate both your perspectives and at least -- what were three years ago talk about Oscars so white. And moving some chapters forward but some chapters still to go. I've got to go back to our breaking news on an Iran. But Michelle and Justin, I appreciate both of you very much.

The breaking news is this. The Iranian foreign minister has just resigned. So, let's try this. Senior international correspondent, Nick Payton Walsh is on it. Because you just interviewed Zarif last year. What do you make of this?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Correct. It was a rare audience he gave in Tehran in August just after we had seen new sanction imposed by the U.S.' part of the Trump administration darted to pull out of nuclear deal. Now I have to say, not inevitable, but Mohammad Javad Zarif, an American educated, very western focused, yet patriotic Iranian, had made the Nuclear Deal his kind of figure head policy here. And was continuing I think to -- you got the feeling in Tehran to persist with convincing his superiors, Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian President, and presumably the sort of Supreme Council that guide Iran to stick with it as he believed it could possibly bring some sort of economic alleviation to Iran's problems.

Now, of course, the sanctions have been put back in by the Americans and a statement we've seen from Mr. Zarif, where he talks his sort of failures to perform in the role. I'm paraphrasing here, forgive me. I haven't got the quotation in front of me. Perhaps suggest that as time has gone by, the hardliners who said this Nuclear Deal wasn't necessarily such a brilliant ideal and as they saw overnight economic improvement from sanctions really from Iran may have begun to get the upper hand. And I think we've also seen some of the European allies who thought that the U.S. pulling out of that deal was a bad idea, like the U.K., still continue to criticize Iranian moves outside of the nuclear sphere. So, he said moment perhaps from a man who was possibly a force for moderation inside of Tehran -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Again, making this announcement over Instagram. He wrote, I sincerely apologize for the incapacity to continue serving and all the shortcomings during this service. Be happy and upbeat.

Nick Payton Walsh, thank you very much for jumping in on that, having just interviewed him.

Meantime, former Democratic Senator, Harry Reid, speaking out about his pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Talking about President Trump and he offers up some advice for 2020 candidates, including what they should not be talking about.


BALDWIN: President Trump is lashing out at former Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid after the Senator sat down with CNN's Dana Bash for this CNN exclusive interview. And the man who used to be one of the most powerful people on Capitol Hill did not hold back. Did he Dana?


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, earlier this year, the political earth shook after Mark Leibovich of "The New York Time" reported that former Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, does not have long to live. Well he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer year, he is now in remission. And I went to see him in Nevada and found a very much alive Harry Reid.

How are you feeling?

HARRY REID, FORMER SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: You know I feel so -- I feel very good.

BASH: Your cancer is in remission.

REID: Yes, I have pancreatic cancer and it's in remission. Chemo is all gone many months ago. That was worse than the surgery.

BASH: The chemo? REID: Yes.

BASH: So for people who are concerned about you -- understandably so -- your message is?

REID: I'm doing fine. I'm busy. I work quite hard. I enjoy my family.

BASH (voice-over): A big part of what keeps him going, his love affair with wife, Landra, of nearly 60 years whom he met at age 15.

REID: She had on a pair of Levi's, just (INAUDIBLE). She looked so good.

BASH (on camera): That's amazing.

REID: That is true.

[15:50:00] BASH (voice-over): Reid retired from the Senate in 2017. A former boxer and ever the fighter, not being in the arena with Donald Trump is hard.

(on camera): You've had some choice words for President Trump. Spoiled brat. Con man. Human leech. Big fat guy. And amoral seems the to be your favorite right now. Is there anything you think he's doing right?

REID: Is there anything I think that President Trump is doing right? I just have trouble accepting him as a person and so frankly I don't see anything he is doing right.

BASH: You told "The New York Times" that President Trump is without question the worst President we've ever had. About a dozen years ago I remember coming here to Nevada and you telling me almost the same thing about George W. Bush.

REID: President Bush is the worst President we've ever had.

In hindsight I wish every day for George Bush again. I think that he and I had our differences but no one ever questioned his patriotism. Our battles were strictly political battles.

BASH: I just try to wrap my head around somebody who covered you and was with you real time all those years ago in the Bush administration when you were his chief antagonist in the Senate. Calling him a loser, calling him a liar and now you're saying, please, I wish I had George W. Bush in the White House again.

REID: There is no question in my mind that George Bush would be Babe Ruth and that's not easy for him with Donald Trump in the league. Donald Trump would make the team.

BASH (voice-over): Chemotherapy compromise several vertebrae. He can no longer walk unassisted but wry sense of humor firmly intact, he was eager to stand and show us a 2010 letter from Donald Trump hanging in his Las Vegas officer. (on camera): Dear Harry, congratulations. You are amazing. With

best wishes, Donald Trump.

REID: That is in the days when he didn't know if he was Democrat or Republican.

BASH (voice-over): President Trump has tweeted about Reid's 1993 speech opposing birthright citizenship.

REID: How about offering an award for being an illegal immigrant? No sane country would do that.

BASH (on camera): You've said those comments were a mistake.

REID: Yes. They were a mistake. I had a staff member that was -- I shouldn't have listened to as closely as I did. But that ended pretty quickly when my little Jewish wife, whose dad was born in Russia, reminded me, first time she heard about it, she said what are you doing? Don't you realize my father was born in Russia?

BASH: What do you make of the President using that tweet?

REID: I guess everything is fair. He found it. Let him use it.

BASH: What's your view on impeachment?

REID: Well, first of all, unless you get some Republicans joining it's a waste of time. During a Republican in the Senate are so afraid of Trump that they are not going to get involved in this.

BASH (voice-over): Still he says House Democrats should do what they think is right.

(on camera): You don't think there would be a political backlash against Democrats for doing that before an election?

REID: I don't think there would be a backlash. Because the last majority of the people know something is wrong with Trump.

BASH (voice-over): That's his basis of advice for Democrats running for President.

REID: The candidates running need not talk about how bad President Trump is. They just need to talk about what's good for the country. Everyone knows. Even those people that supply, no sweat, problems he has.

BASH (on camera): Reid maybe feeling good now, but he has been trying to tie up some loose ends. One story he told me that I found fascinating is he made amends with Mitt Romney. Remember there was really bad blood between them after Reid went to the Senate floor during the 2012 campaign and accused Romney of not paying taxes. He didn't offer any proof. Well since then -- pretty recently, Reid reached out to Romney. He said that they met and they had a nice visit, shook hands and put stuff behind them -- Brook.


BALDWIN: Incredible what he said about President bush and your reaction to that. Dana Bash, great interview. Thank you very much.

Just shortly after this interview first aired President Trump hit back at Senator Reid saying this. Former Senator Harry Reid (he got thrown out) is working hard to put a good spin on his failed career. He led through lies and deception only to be replaced by another beauty. Cryin' Chuck Schumer. Some things never change.

So fact check, Senator Reid was not thrown out of Washington. He retired after being injured in an accident.

Coming up next the fund protecting 9/11, first responders and their health care is running out of money. Hear what John Stewart just demanded of Congress.


BALDWIN: Comedian and former "Daily Show" host, John Stewart, was on Capitol Hill today pushing for passage of a bill that will permanently authorize a September 11 victim compensation fund. The Justice Department says the fund is running out of money and will cut benefits in half to most recipients. Anyone with a new claim is also facing a 70 percent reduction in payouts. Earlier Stewart spoke with CNN.


JOHN STEWART, COMEDIAN, ADVOCATE FOR 9/11 FIRST RESPONDERS: Those towers disintegrated on 9/11. And the first responders breathed in and ate this atomize combination of glass and mercury and asbestos and any kind of toxin that you can imagine and began to get sick almost immediately. The idea that 18 years later they're still tugging on the hemline of the government to get this bill through and to get it funded properly and to make it permanent is truly beyond comprehension.


BALDWIN: The victims fund has paid 21,000 claims, about 20,000 more are still pending. I'm Brooke Baldwin thanks for being with me. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts now.