Return to Transcripts main page
Interview With John Leguizamo; Interview With Erin Brockovich; America's Origin on Gun Obsession; "The Violence Inside Us," a New Book by Senator Chris Murphy; Sen. Chris murphy (D-CT), is Interviewed About Violence and America's Gun Fascination; Alexander Lukashenko, Europe's Last Dictator; The Fight for Democracy in Belarus; Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Belarusian Opposition Leader, is Interviewed About Alexander Lukashenko and Belarus. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired September 8, 2020 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): This appears nowhere else other than the United States of America. This epidemic of mass slaughter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Senator Chris Murphy joins us on violence and the origins of America's gun obsession.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SVETLANA TIKHANOVSKAYA, BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER: I was afraid every single day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: She's the accidental leader of Belarus. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya says people will no longer live under Europe's last dictator.
Plus, environmental activist, Erin Brockovich, immortalized on screen by Julia Roberts says, don't wait for superman. It's all up to us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN LEGUIZAMO, ACTOR: Chess is a great equalizer because it doesn't matter where you come from or your ethnicity or background or how rich you
are or poor you are, it's about the game.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Actor, John Leguizamo, helps underprivileged students say checkmate in his directorial debut, critical thinking.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
The day after Labor Day and it is the last furlong in the horse race known as the American election. Officially it is beginning now. Less than 60 days
out, the whole world has eyes on, and there is nothing normal about this one or about the state of play in America. From a pandemic to a recession
to protests against racial injustice and violence. At the heart of this, guns. Something my first guest has spent a lot of time thinking about.
Chris Murphy became a junior senator in Connecticut less than a month after the Sandy Hook School Massacre in 2012. 26 people were killed, most of them
children. And he says it changed his life forever and he's become one of the country's most prominent, most ardent gun control advocates. In his new
book "The Violence Inside Us," Murphy explores the history of America's gun fascination and where he sees a path to a less deadly tomorrow. And Chris
Murphy joins me now from Washington.
Senator, welcome to the program.
You know, from reading the book, it's clear that you see a sort of violent gene that has impacted American history from the beginning. And it's
extraordinary actually that it's coming out now as we see to an extent this playing out on the streets of the United States with an election, a
determinative election, on the horizon. How does this play into what's going on right now, in your view?
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): Well, thanks for having me on the show. And yes, we are having a renewed reckoning with American violence. For much of the
last seven years, we've been talking about this issue predominantly through the personal (ph) of mass shootings, but now we're watching these horrific
scenes of black men being shot in the back or killed by a police officer putting a knee on their neck. This book, I hope, will provide some answers
for people as to why America became this violent.
For me, my exploration did start after that brutal murder, the massacre in Sandy Hook, and this book in some ways sort of tries to tell the story of
my education to the readers, and, you know, the conclusion I come to is that, yes, there is a genetic code inside all of us that means humans as a
species are going to be predisposed towards violence, but then there's this unique history in the United States dating all the way back to the
settlement of the country when we were massacring native Americans through the period of enslavement to Jim Crow to today where America has become
numb to violence.
Violence has been used since the very beginning in order to sort of reinforce a racial caste system, and while it's different today than it was
when we had millions of Americans enslaved, still to this day, America has become anesthetized to violence in a way that few other nations are.
And my book is a history of that violence but then also an examination of the ways in which we can do better. It's a complicated story, which also
means it's a complicated set of prescriptions. It's not just about changing gun laws, it's also about recognizing that if you don't change the economic
order in this country, then you're not giving a lot of folks' pathway to success other than violence.
AMANPOUR: Exactly. But let me ask you, you say America has become anesthetized, and maybe from my perspective sitting over here across the
ocean, I wonder whether it's something different, something that's just so internalized as you say because it's not just happened, violence has been a
vital tool of the American experiment, of what's called the American exceptionalism, frankly. You mentioned native American slavery, I mean,
this is inbred in your history.
So, do you actually see a day when violence -- when America won't be such a violent place? I mean, has America even internalized what it's become?
MURPHY: Well, and my book is really a series of stories, and one of the early stories is the story of how American violence moves both up and down.
In fact, American violence isn't heading in only one direction. American violence has waves. One wave in the civil war era, another wave in the
Tommy Gunn era of the 1920s and then another wave in the '80s and '90s. But American violence comes down as quickly as it goes up.
And in the last 100 years, the two moments at which American violence has declined at the most spectacular rates has been right after America passed
the two biggest most comprehensive fire arms control acts over the last 100 years, in 1936, '38 and then in 1993, '94. And that's not coincidental.
When you control the means of violence, you can get a pretty big rate of return, and when you send a signal that America's highest leaders care
about this epidemic such that they are going to pass big comprehensive, controversial legislation, that moral signal in and of itself has an
impact. So, no, my book certainly tells the story of how American violence goes up, but it also tells the story of what we can do to force it down.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, that's really interesting, because you say, you know, in the publicity, you say that, you know, there will be some surprise reveals.
Well, perhaps one of them is that as a Democrat, you actually have concluded, and you do believe, that the Second Amendment extends to the
private ownership of guns.
Talk a little bit about, then, how that interpretation of the constitution, which many, many have, how you can balance people's rights with necessary
safety. In other words, how did those two periods that you talk about actually balance people's rights with a safety imperative?
MURPHY: You know, I think this will be a bit surprising, because there are, you know, many progressives and many folks in the anti-gun violence
movement that don't believe the Second Amendment protects the private right of gun ownership, and that's a really plausible argument because if you
read a lot of the history around the drafting of the Second Amendment, it does seem to be mostly about making sure that we can have reliable militia
But my broader read and examination of our constitutional history tells me that our founders probably did believe in a common law right to gun
ownership. But what's also interesting is that during the drafting of the constitution, America had a ton of gun regulation.
We required you to register guns, we required you to register your ammunition, we had broad populations that weren't allowed to own guns. And
so, from the very beginning, I think that there's been an understanding that, well, government can't broadly take away your right to own a firearm.
Government can require you to register weapons, government can say, these people are too dangerous to have a weapon, and government can say, these
weapons are too dangerous for anybody to have.
And so, I think that's the sweet spot, and frankly, I think that's where like 70 percent to 80 percent of the public are. So, if Democrats just sort
of got to the place where we acknowledge the right but also government's right to control gun ownership, I think we would be in a very good place.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you, because, you know, Sandy Hook was something that shocked you as a new senator. It shocked the world. I mean, nobody
could believe that it had gotten to the state where actually children could be deliberately targeted and mowed down. How did it affect you as a human
being, as a parent?
MURPHY: Well, you know, this book is clearly not a Sandy Hook book, but it does talk about my experience and how it transformed me. You know, I'm
pretty honest about, you know, some of the liabilities I thought I had as a political figure. I was pretty prodigious as a legislator, but I really
didn't have an emotional connection to any of the issues that I was working on and I do now.
I feel a connection to those families, to those parents, they're all about my age, and I feel like if I don't deliver a piece of federal legislation
that reduces the chances that a Sandy Hook ever happens again, then I'm a failure as a political servant. And that sort of emotional rooting is
different today than the way in which I approached issues before Sandy Hook.
So, my hope is that this book sort of invites people to go through a similar transformation, that equipped with all this information about why
America is violent and what we can do about it, that the reader can then become a more effective and more educated activist and become part of this
movement that we're building that I think eventually will prevail.
AMANPOUR: So, perhaps some of it you see on the streets, I mean, some of that movement started after the Park Parkland Massacre, now, you see Black
Lives Matter, that's all about not just protecting unarmed black people who get killed but also controlling the, you know, use of guns, so to speak,
and that violence.
You see this being used also as an election tool. Certainly, President Trump is talking about being the law and order candidate, the person who
can reduce violence. Tell me what's happening around this mega issue that we see, racial injustice, the use of weapons against unarmed black people
and the use of it in an election campaign.
MURPHY: Well, the beginning of the book tells the story of the biology of violence, and it's an interesting story. I mean, it begins thousands of
years ago. There is a piece of us inside that has been sort of built to fear those that are different from us, those that are in a different tribe.
That's been part of American biology for thousands of years. And politicians, unfortunately, know that. And so, for centuries, they have
played upon this irrational fear of the other. And societies have often used violence in order to stoke those fears.
That's what President Trump is doing today. He's creating this irrational fear of Mexican immigrants or Muslims or black Americans in our cities. He
is using violence as a mechanism to sort of Trump up and play up this fear.
I don't think he will ultimately be successful, but I think it's important for folks to understand that all these politicians that are trying to make
you be scared of something different than you, somebody that looks different than you, somebody that practices a different religion than you,
they are unfortunately tapping into something that is biological.
And more that we understand that and -- so that we know what we have to do to overcome it the better, and that's why the first chapter of this book is
about the biology of violence.
AMANPOUR: You know, this awful cliche that television has used in the past, if it bleeds it leads, whatever is violent gets, you know, so much
coverage. A very, very important report that was released last week said that 93 percent of the protests against racial injustice happening on the
streets of America right now have been peaceful.
So, I just want to ask you whether you think the American people are looking at violence or are they looking at COVID/coronavirus, their daily
safety concerns and questions about that as a lead issue.
MURPHY: Well, I do think that if you asked the average American what percentage of these protests have been peaceful, they would not say 93
percent. And so, I do think that there is this fear not based in reality about the nature of these protests.
But I will also say I think that to the extent that people who want investment in peaceful protest, then Joe Biden is that candidate. I think
that he has done a great job of saying, no matter who you support politically, there is no room for violence.
That being said, I do think ultimately it is COVID and the health care crisis that's going to dominate the decisions people make about this
election as people still can't get back to work, as their kids are sort of coming back home after wearing masks for six to seven hours at school.
The candidate that has the most plausible path to getting us over the hump with respect to coronavirus is going to win this election. And right now,
hands down, that is, of course, Joe Biden. Donald Trump is, in fact, primarily responsible for the 170, 180,000 deaths we've had in the United
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you about another election issue that many people are very worried about, and that is Russian interference. This is what
vice-presidential candidate, Kamala Harris, told Dana Bash in an interview about this issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), VICE-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am clear that Russia interfered in the election of the president of the United States in
2016. I serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee. We have published detailed reports about exactly what we believe happened, and I do believe
that there will be foreign interference in the 2020 election and that Russia will be at the front of the line.
DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Could it cost you the White House?
HARRIS: Theoretically, of course. Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Do you worry about that at this point, Senator Murphy, and do you think that all these years later, the U.S. Intelligence and all the
people who need to be addressing this have done it sufficiently?
MURPHY: No, they haven't. They have not. I mean, President Trump has not taken this issue seriously. He had the chance to elevate it in his
discussions with Vladimir Putin. He hasn't, and he hasn't likely for one reason, that is that he expects and hopes that the Russians will interfere
again on his behalf.
And what is so disturbing to me is that the Intelligence Services, who have already made clear the Russians are attempting to manipulate the 2020
election in order to elect Donald Trump. The Intelligence Services have very detailed information about who is acting on behalf of Russia, who are
actually Russian agents that people are hearing about in the American political debate. And they have not released that information to the
I don't know why we spent billions of dollars on collecting intelligence about an election interference if we're not prepared to tell the American
public who is acting legitimately and who is acting on behalf of a foreign government. They better do that soon, or others who have access to that
information will have to do it ourselves.
AMANPOUR: I think I read between the lines of what you're saying there, but can I go back quickly to the subject of your book? Obviously, devil's
advocate -- well, no, it's the position of the NRA that, "good guys with guns deter bad guys with guns." In other words, the more law-abiding
citizens have guns, the less a criminal would have a gun and use a gun.
You have actually said, if more guns led to less crime, America would be the safest place on earth. But having said that, my question to you is, the
NRA, it's been so historically powerful, particularly in elections, particularly, you know, supporting candidates. But it's also facing a lot
of backlash right now. Where do you think it stands and where does its future stand? You know the New York attorney general is potentially going
to, you know, take it to court.
MURPHY: Well, in the NRA has never been weaker than it is today. It may be on its way to complete irrelevancy. This book does tell the story of the
NRA. You know, they used to be a sleepy pro-gun control organization. The NRA wrote some of these nation's first state gun control laws in the 1920s.
They got taken over in a push by radical hardline right wingers in the 1970s who sort of wanted to unite the NRA with all of the emerging anti-
government hierarchy and infrastructure inside the Republican Party. But they have sort of gotten way over their skis these days. They need to sort
of feed this paranoia about government in order to drive more and more gun sales.
But now, you know, 90 percent of their own members, 85 percent of their own members support universal background checks. And so, they have just lost
relevancy because their positioning has become more and more extreme as more and more Americans actually get to the point where they say, hey,
listen, we don't want to take away the right of gun ownership, but boy, we think these assault weapons should be off the street, we think that
everyone should have to go through a background check.
They look at the NRA and think to themselves, well, that's not an organization that's representing gun owners because almost all the gun
owners I know want everyone to go through a background check.
AMANPOUR: And everyone wants a safer America. Senator Chris Murphy, thank you for joining us.
And we just mentioned how Russia is interfering even in this cycle of the U.S. elections turning now to the fight of democracy playing out in
Russia's backyard on the streets of Belarus. The former Soviet Republic has seen weeks of protests against strongman President Alexander Lukashenko,
since he claimed a landslide victory in last month's election, which is widely thought to have been rigged.
Lukashenko has been in power for 26 years. He is known as Europe's last dictator. The protest movement has an unlikely hero, Svetlana
Tikhanovskaya, a stay at home mother, who launched her campaign for president after her own husband, Sergei, was jailed and prevented from
running. She tells me that she entered the race for love, but is now here to stay and fight for democracy. She talked to me in a rare interview from
her refuge in neighboring Lithuania.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, welcome to the program.
SVETLANA TIKHANOVSKAYA, BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER: Hello, everyone. Thank you that invited me.
AMANPOUR: You are in exile in neighboring Lithuania, presumably for your safety.
TIKHANOVSKAYA: It's a pity that I can't -- couldn't feel safe in my own country and I had to go to Lithuania. But I and my children feel safe here,
and I can work from where I am.
AMANPOUR: You know, in a way, you are the accidental leader. You did it because your husband was in jail. He was going to be running for president.
TIKHANOVSKAYA: It was my husband who wanted to take part in the election campaign, and he was the person who, about three years, was going around
the country and interviewing people about their lives in Belarus, about what they would like to change, what they are unhappy with about our
country, and he understood that people are so afraid to tell the truth. He understood that people's rights are not respected in our country. And so,
he wanted to try to -- I don't know, to do -- to try to become president.
But at the moment of registration, he was in jail, and I wanted to support him somehow, and I brought documents instead of him. So, my first trip was
done absolutely for the sake of love because I just wanted to support my husband. I never was involved in politics.
I was just a wife and mother. I saw the intention of Belarusians to fight for their rights. They wanted changes. They wanted a new country. They
didn't trust this president anymore. They wanted to build new, free and safe country together with me. And, you know, this way was extremely
difficult. And I was afraid every single day.
AMANPOUR: Svetlana, I wonder whether you consider what Lukashenko must be thinking, because they obviously allowed you to register. They obviously
did not think you would become this figure.
TIKHANOVSKAYA: I am sure they registered me just to make laugh at me because they understood that I am with my husband, and nobody knew me, and
nobody would vote for me. But people -- and this, too, that I'm my husband's wife, and if I made this step that -- just for love, you know,
that in our family, one for everybody and everybody is for one.
So, they supported me, and it was -- I think it was like a show for the authorities. So, they just had to leave me to show that there was a hint of
democracy in this election. So, they -- at that moment, they left the weakest person as they thought.
AMANPOUR: Look, Lukashenko said after the election, you're talking about unfair elections and want to have fair elections? I am answering your
question. We held elections. Until you kill me, there will be no other elections. That is pretty defiant, even though every weekend 100,000 people
at least have come out onto the streets against him. What do you think is going to happen?
TIKHANOVSKAYA: The Belarusian people made their choice, and they will not be able to live with this president anymore. They don't trust him, they
don't believe him, and after all this violence he committed towards usual people, they will never be able to forgive him.
So, we are going to go out for demonstrations. People will strike. People fulfill any other protest just to show that we are against this one person.
We don't want him anymore. We don't want to live with him anymore. And this is deep political crisis in our country and it's going to be a deep
economic crisis in our country if they will not start this dialogue. The situation could change in a moment.
AMANPOUR: What about the fear of Vladimir Putin's Russia. You know that Lukashenko has asked him for help. We understand that he's already sent in
Russian state media to take place of some of the Belarusian state media who've walked out on strike and she's also said that he has a special
police force, if it's necessary, he said? What do you expect to happen? What do you expect Putin to do?
TIKHANOVSKAYA: You know, all the leaders have to understand that what is going on in Belarus is just about Belarus. It's our inner political crisis.
It's our protest only against one single person. And we don't want any external interference into our internal affair, and we asked all the
leaders to respect the sovereign (ph) of our country. And we hope that every leader has heard our people.
AMANPOUR: What do you expect the United States to do? You know, the secretary of state made, you know, a pro forma demand for fairness in
Belarus, but he was in your region not so long ago, in Prague, and never mentioned Belarus, even while protesters were on the streets. What do you
expect from the United States of America?
TIKHANOVSKAYA: You know, maybe he has reasons not to talk about the situation in Belarus, but I am sure that the United States, as the oldest
democracy in the world, really supports the Belarusian people in their fight for their rights. And I have met a couple representatives from the
United States, and they really do support us.
AMANPOUR: As you know, Alexei Navalny has been the long-time anti- corruption campaigner. He also, like your husband, had YouTube channels and did a huge amount of work on that issue. He has just been removed from his
artificial coma in Germany, and, you know, people say, the German doctors, that he was poisoned by novichok, the nerve agent. Are you worried that
something like that could happen to you?
TIKHANOVSKAYA: I feel rather safe here, but the situation, of course, can change because, you know, I understand that there is nothing impossible in
our life, but it doesn't mean that it can stop me.
AMANPOUR: What is it that caused the Belarusian people after 26 years of Lukashenko, and in many instances, kind of accommodating with him after 26
years? What happened all of a sudden that they had enough?
TIKHANOVSKAYA: OK. I have to admit that it happened not all of a sudden. It took a rather long period of time. I think about two years. But there
were some events that pushed the Belarusian people to this state. COVID, one of the most important, because we saw the real attitude of the
authorities toward the Belarusian people when the effect of the virus was rejected at all, because he -- you know, authorities told that we are
guilty ourselves, that we could (INAUDIBLE), that there was no virus in our country at all, and the numbers of ill people, they were much lower than
they were in reality.
Moreover, the fact that after the elections, such violence was committed toward the Belarusian people, it was so awful that it will never be able to
be forgiven and forgotten by the Belarusian people. And once more is that a new generation grew up and the Belarusians in Europe, they had the
opportunity to go abroad, and, you know, our parents didn't have such opportunity. So, we can see how people in other countries live.
Our young people understand that our rights can and have to be respected, and the falsification of elections of course influence the people a lot.
So, they got what we have now. We want our rights to be respected. We want to build a new country where people respect each other, where authorities
respect each other, and where we can be involved into development for our country.
AMANPOUR: It's a fascinating story. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, thank you so much for joining us from Lithuania.
TIKHANOVSKAYA: Thank you for inviting. Goodbye.
AMANPOUR: And from that one woman's fight for democracy, we turn now to another woman's fight for clean resources and a safe environment. Erin
Brockovich showed the power of individual activism when she took on California's massive energy corporation over contaminated water some 25
years ago. And she was immortalized by none other than that Julia Roberts in the 2000 blockbuster film simply called, "Erin Brockovich." here's a
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JULIA ROBERTS, ACTOR, "ERIN BROCKOVICH": These people don't dream about being rich. They dream about being able to watch their kids swim in a pool
without worrying that they'll have to have a hysterectomy at the age of 20, like Rosa Diaz, a client of ours, or have their spine deteriorate like Stan
Bloom, another client of ours.
So, before you come back here with another lame ass offer, I want you to think really hard about what your spine is worth, Mr. Walker, or what you
might expect someone to pay you for your uterus, Ms. Sanchez.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: That is in-your-face activism, and after all this time later, it is hard to believe that access to clean water is still not guaranteed in
the United States. And Brockovich is now calling on Americans themselves to stand up and join her fight. Her new book is called "Superman's Not
Eric Brockovich, welcome to the program.
ERIN BROCKOVICH, ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: So, It is extraordinary to see -- it's great to reacquaint ourselves with that clip and see at least the film version of yourself.
You have done something extraordinary. And I just wonder what you feel, as I said, that, all these decades later, it's still not a given. There are
contaminated waters all over the United States.
BROCKOVICH: You know, that's a great question, and I can't believe it's been 20 years since we addressed that issue.
I think I myself thought that that might have been a one-off situation. And to go back and know where I have been for 20 years and in and out of so
many communities like that, and we're still talking about it, makes me frustrated, it makes me sad.
And this is why we did the book "Superman's Not Coming," because communities oftentimes feel that they're underestimated, that they won't be
heard, that they get pushed around on, you're not this or you're not that, therefore, your voice doesn't count.
And I think it's really important, as I have gone across the United States, that people learn their voice and start to speak up. And we work with them
on how to have the tools to fight, so that they can be heard.
So, it makes me sad and frustrated that this hasn't gotten better; it's gotten worse.
AMANPOUR: Well, you know, we just heard from Senator Chris Murphy talking on -- talking about people. He hoped his book about gun violence would
inspire people to join the fight against that.
So, I'm asking you, how do you get ordinary people to do this? Give me some of the examples that you have inspired, because you have. Apparently, Erin
Brockovich has become a verb, to Erin Brockovich.
BROCKOVICH: Well, you know, that's good old gumption. And we definitely teach them about the power stick-to-itiveness.
And there are all steps that we go through. They will often come to me when the issue has now hit home for them. And that's why I think we're seeing
such an explosion, because these pollution issues are hitting home for everyone.
And, oftentimes, I find that, when they come to me, they're looking for some permission, if you will, that maybe they're on the right track and
that they should speak out. They're definitely going to get that from me.
And then, when they get into their communities, what they need is support, because, oftentimes, the community members, they're fearful. They worry
about property values. They're like, oh, my God, I can't believe somebody would do that to us and not say anything to us, and our children have been
So we get in there with them and teach them different tools, fact vs. fiction. We give them information the facts. And when they are angry
enough, they turn it into action. And, often, it's about protecting their children and their health.
They will stay in it for the long game. They will learn about the chemical. They will educate their community. They're running for city council. And
they're finding that voice.
I will tell you, nine times out of 10, it's a mom, and they are really on the move right now. And so, once they have the support of the community and
they have their facts -- knowledge is power -- and they know that their child has been harmed by some pollution or deception or a misrun agency,
they will spring into action.
AMANPOUR: Well, I mean, they have already -- you talk about moms.
Well, there's your story about the moms in Hannibal, Missouri, who protested about ammonia in the water.
AMANPOUR: And you say in your book, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only
thing that ever has."
You're quoting Margaret Mead, the great anthropologist.
So, tell me about how Hannibal, Missouri, changed. And even there is an Erin Brockovich do-alike with your gumption in China.
BROCKOVICH: There is.
And that all came from the movie, and people find themselves in something that I did. I couldn't be happier. And we will be there to support them all
the way, and like the moms in Hannibal, Missouri. They had lead levels in their water in some portions in the distribution system as high as Flint,
Michigan, which we're all aware of.
They had this issue before they were adding ammonia to the system, which creates a corrosive water system. And so all the iron lead and manganese
was precipitating out into the distribution system, and the lead was being delivered to their tap.
These moms weren't going to have this say. They were aware of lead issues. Their children had been affected. They made it their job, their business to
understand what ammonia added to the system, the havoc that it wreaks on the distribution system, the infrastructure, lead and more pollution
And they wanted to do more. They educated the town. One of them ran for office. She won at city council. They did a referendum. The town had
knowledge. They voted no more ammonia. It became a law.
And I'm thrilled to say it was no big federal oversight that came down and did that for them. They did it. And they now have lead-free water.
BROCKOVICH: And I find that inspiring.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you, finally, in our final minute -- well, it is inspiring.
But you know politics and the weight of politics is against you. We have seen EPA rules, all sorts of clean water and clean air rules and
regulations rolled back under the Trump administration.
I understand that you grew up in a Republican household, and you say in your book that environment should not be left or right, Democrat or
Republican. It should not be political. And you remind everybody that it was Richard Nixon, a Republican president, who created the EPA.
So, when you think about all these grassroots activism, how do you think they're going to get the help that they need from the federal government,
which is where they really need it from most to really make big change as well?
BROCKOVICH: Well, yes, that's somewhat true. We're definitely learning hints Superman's not coming.
They can get change at their own city council with permits. They can get state action, which oftentimes is missing. And the federal oversight -- I
get into these communities, and they are Republican and they are Democrat, and they still have a common interest in water and their health.
And so I don't get involved politically, even though I'm from a Republican family, and my dad ran the pipelines for Citigroup. I heard a message from
my father, a man, no matter what side of the aisle you are on. This is all in our home.
And we have acquired a fateful power to create great damage. So, politics actually bog it down, when I need both sides, this planet, this country
needs both sides to come to the middle and address first that, yes, we have a problem. We have antiquated infrastructure. We have pollution issues. We
can't keep ignoring it and kicking the can down the road politically, because I think that we are all seeing a moment and a crisis is here.
And instead of waiting for it to happen, we need to take action, as the people, no matter what side of the aisle you are on, to divert further
damage and/or a disaster.
AMANPOUR: Well, it's really great to have you talking about this.
Your book is going to be very inspiring, as you are.
Erin Brockovich, thank you very much, "Superman's Not Coming."
Now, Latinx voters will also shape the outcome of the presidential election, with some 32 million eligible to vote this year.
Stand-up comedian and actor John Leguizamo has starred on Broadway and dozens of films, including box office hits "Romeo and Juliet" and "Moulin
He's now a first time director with "Critical Thinking." It's the true story of a group of underprivileged Latinx and black teens who made it to
the national chess championship back in 1998.
And he tells Ana Cabrera, education and knowledge matter then and now.
ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Christiane.
And, John Leguizamo, welcome to the program.
JOHN LEGUIZAMO, ACTOR/DIRECTOR: Thank you for having me. What a blast.
I have such huge respect for you and everything you do.
CABRERA: Right back at you.
I'm excited to talk about your new movie, "Critical Thinking."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEGUIZAMO: We got a tournament coming up in a couple days. So we need to start really considering if we're serious about what we're doing here or
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: It's your directorial debut, which is super exciting, obviously.
What was it like for you being in that position?
LEGUIZAMO: Oh, my God, I had so much fun. I had such a great time.
I didn't realize that this whole catalog of directors' techniques to solve problems. I mean, I worked with some of the best. I have been in over 100
films, not all of them good.
LEGUIZAMO: But I got to work with Spike Lee and Baz Luhrmann and Brian De Palma. And I have -- Ava DuVernay.
And I have all this information that I was able to use in the movie. And I felt like, oh, wow, I do have a visual sense. I have a great way of talking
to actors. And I understand storytelling.
And I think I was able to take this movie to the next level. So I'm excited to continue in this path.
CABRERA: And you also play one of the main characters, a high school teacher who is so passionate. You really pour your soul into these children
who are underserved, overlooked, black and Latino students. And you help them on to the national chess championship.
I have to ask, what, first of all -- first of all, what drew you to this story? It's a true story. Are you, like, a big chess player yourself?
LEGUIZAMO: I mean, I play a little chess. I knew a little bit. I used to go to Washington Square Park, where the best players would be, and I would
lose all the time, but -- and you play for money, and I'd lose all my money, but it was all right.
I learned a little bit. But the thing that really drew me was, I knew what these kids went through. I knew what ghetto nerds feel, ghetto
intellectuals. There's no place for you.
And this teacher, Mario Martinez, created this safe space for kids who didn't want to go the wrong way, for kids that didn't want to play
football, for kids who liked using their mind, that were intellectual. He created this elective, this after-school elective where the kids could go
and practice chess.
And, obviously, it turned out to be a great idea, because they became United States chess national champs.
CABRERA: The movie is heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.
When you say ghetto intellectuals, explain what you mean.
LEGUIZAMO: I mean kids who are cerebral, kids who are gifted, kids who are super bright, who love to read.
And these kids in 1998, their school didn't have enough supplies, didn't have the electives they needed. And this one teacher, Mario Martinez,
believed in them. And he's -- I met this guy. He's an incredible nurturer. He just loves these kids and felt what he needed to give them, because they
already had the talent and the brains and the passion.
They needed the book knowledge to make -- to cross them over from just being good chess players to become regional champs in every region in
Miami, then state champs all over Florida, and then national champs.
And one of the guys, Marcel, almost won international world champion. But they disqualified him for some weird off technicality that he wasn't
In the movie, you say chess is the great equalizer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEGUIZAMO: All right, now, people, this is going to be very basic for some of you, but for the fish, or the newbies, as I like to call you, this is
going to be eye-opening, because what you have got is 64 squares, 32 pieces.
It doesn't matter how rich or poor you are, what Ivy League school you may go, may not go to, what prison you hopefully never set foot in, because
chess is the great equalizer, OK?
Now, in the opening, white always most first. Now, I wonder what old white guy thought of that rule, right?
LEGUIZAMO: I know you hear me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: I wonder, when you were doing research for this film, what did you learn? And what do you hope the audience learns as they watch?
LEGUIZAMO: Well, I -- you do feel like chess is a great equalizer, because it doesn't matter where you come from, or your ethnicity, or background, or
how rich you or poor you are. It's about the game and your ability.
And these kids proved it. And what I learned was, chess is a very intellectual sport. You have got to be five to 10 moves ahead. Like, in the
movie, Marcel can play blind chess with up to five people. That means that he doesn't have to look at the board. You just call out the name of the
space you're in, and the piece, he can do a move with five people at the same time without looking at the board.
So, it's all up here, that -- the way they can see patterns in their heads.
CABRERA: You talked about how your own educational experience influenced how you went about this movie.
And growing up myself in a Mexican American family, I can think about how important education is to my family. And my grandparents' families
immigrated from Mexico, and they really saw education as the biggest key to assimilation and financial stability, their ability to build a better
future for us.
And I'm just curious what your experience was like with education growing up.
LEGUIZAMO: Well, obviously, my parents believe education is the key to everything.
It's the most important thing. But you can believe that, but, if your schools are underfunded, and you have 45 kids to a class, it's going to be
impossible to learn.
And that's kind of the education I had. And the other problem is, Latin people have the highest high school dropout rate in America. And I believe
it's because these kids don't see themselves in the history textbooks, in the literature, in anything.
I mean, and then when you find out that we're the ones who discovered this country and found it and then handed it over to the British, and then some
of it was taken from us, and that we have been -- and we were there before that as indigenous people. We were Aztecs, Mayans, Incans, Toltec, Zapotec,
And 10,000 of us fought in the American Revolutionary War out of 80,000 troops. That means we were one in eight. And we had generals in the
American Revolution. You had General Galvez, who had an army of 3,000 patriots who were Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, freed slaves, and Native
And they kicked the British out of the South, so the British couldn't surround the patriots and crush them. So, if I had seen that in my history
textbook, if kids could see themselves as these heroes, then you can project yourself as a success, and other people then would have to respect
you. You can't demonize Latin people, if you include our contributions to the making of America.
CABRERA: Why do you think it has been, in your words, written out?
LEGUIZAMO: If the hunter tells a tale, you're not going to know the lion's side.
And I think it's definitely sort of a power grab. Latin people, from 1830 to 1930, 1,000 were lynched and 5,000 were burned alive and shot, as they
tried to take away their land, tried to take away their farms, tried to take away their ranches and their homes, and they -- and then 1930, during
the Repatriation Act, they deported 500,000 Latin people that were American citizens.
They were American citizens, and they took away everything they had and threw them out. I mean, it's crazy what they do to us. And if we're in
history textbooks and in literature and in classes and celebrated as heroes and makers of this country, then you can do -- you can't do that to us.
But, without that, they can demonize us and say we're not really American, when we really are, more than most.
CABRERA: When I look at these students portrayed in your movie, I mean, they are facing all kinds of barriers.
There's a language barrier. There's poverty. There's drugs and violence in their communities, in their homes. And, unfortunately, that is a sad
reality for too many children in this country.
You do take a potshot at public schools and funding in the movie.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: We're here to raise $1,300 to offset our cheap public school system that's a little broke.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Oh, so you're funding this yourselves?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Like I said, we were hoping our principal, Kestel, at Miami Jackson.
LEGUIZAMO: So much for a low profile.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: We were hoping she was going to hook us up and get some school funding, but I don't know. She probably needs, like, a fresh
new pair of rims or something.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEGUIZAMO: That is not a potshot. I think I'm saying, this is one of the problems in public schools.
I'm all for public schools. Public schools are very necessary and very important, but they're not -- I mean, Betsy DeVos defunded, defunded the
public school system by $9 billion when she came in, and she's trying to voucher now, so that you can create charter schools, so all the great kids
in certain neighborhoods can go.
And then what happens to the rest of them? Are they just forgotten, left behind? I mean, that's not the key. The key is put more money. They just
need money. That's the magic serum, the magic--
CABRERA: So, you think that is the solution; it's a financial problem above everything?
LEGUIZAMO: Absolutely. Absolutely.
They have done lots of research. And they found out, in New York City schools as well, that all the better public schools, which are in white
communities, get a lot more money than the public schools that are serving Latin and black kids.
CABRERA: Why is that?
LEGUIZAMO: Because white parents -- when white parents complain, when they go to government officials and they write letters, they matter. When Latin
and black people do it, they are just kind of ignored.
CABRERA: What has been your experience in Hollywood being a Latino?
LEGUIZAMO: Well, it's been pos and neg, a little bit of both.
I know, when I started out with all my white friends, we were all in the same acting classes at NYU. And they were going to five auditions a day,
and I was going to one every five months, and always for something incredibly negative and demeaning.
That's why I started to write my own plays, because I was sick of having to play such a dark side of humanity just because I'm Latin? And that was not
my experience of the people I saw.
And Hollywood -- you know, I pitched this movie. It's impossible in Hollywood. I mean, we're 20 percent of the population, if you include
undocumented immigrants, and we're 25 percent of the U.S. box office, but less than 4 percent of the faces in front of the camera.
LEGUIZAMO: Well, I think it's because executives aren't us.
The gatekeepers aren't Latin. We need executives who are Latin and see the value of our stories, who appreciate us, because where there are no
gatekeepers, we win, like in music. J. Balvin is the number one star on Spotify. He beat Drake.
And why? Because you can measure. We're -- Camila Cabello top 10. Maluma is top 10, Bad Bunny, Cardi B. Why? Because you can measure those scans.
And, in baseball, we crush why? Because you can -- you have stats. In politics, AOC crushed because what? Because you can count those votes. And
we flipped four big seats in New York City to Latinas. Why? Because you can measure that.
But when it's a gatekeeper who we have to rely on his opinion or his taste, we lose, because he doesn't see the value of our stories. They didn't see
the value of "Critical Thinking." They would tell me: John, Latin people don't want to see Latin people.
I'm going, what?
CABRERA: Where are they getting that?
LEGUIZAMO: I was like, pull out your demographics, brother. Put out the -- show me some stats.
LEGUIZAMO: They were none. It's just their wisdom.
And Latin people don't want to see--
CABRERA: So, it was an assumption.
LEGUIZAMO: Well, they pass it off. I mean, he's an exec, so, I mean, you assume that it was research.
But that can't be research.
CABRERA: I know, for you, in your show, "Latin History For Morons," it's beyond entertainment. It's about education.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEGUIZAMO: But, yo, what happened in the 3,000 years between our great indigenous civilizations and us? How did we become so (EXPLETIVE DELETED)
Because, if you don't see yourself represented outside of yourself, you just feel (EXPLETIVE DELETED) invisible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: And you wanted to take this show on the road, but, because of coronavirus, everything's been sort of turned upside down.
But I know you're trying to really get the Latino community engaged in their communities to prove to them they have that power, they have a voice,
and they need to use it.
So, what does this mean for your efforts?
LEGUIZAMO: Well, you're right.
Latin people, we're the largest voting bloc in America, 32 million registered voters. We are going to decide this election. And what we need
to do is just reach out to them. I mean, when you reach out like AOC, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, did, she knocked on doors, she stumped, she made
calls. My mom stumped with her in Queens.
And Latin people, when you talk to us, we respond. We're loyal. But if you ignore us, we're going to ignore you. So, that's what my advice to
And then I'm doing what I can. I have talked to Beto O'Rourke. I have talked to Julian Castro, Veronica Escobar.
CABRERA: What about the current president and the vice president who's running to defeat President Trump, Joe Biden? How -- have you had any
interaction, or what's your take on how they're courting Latin voters?
LEGUIZAMO: Yes, he's been courting me through -- and other Latinos -- through all his surrogates. He's definitely seeking the Latin voice and how
to win our vote.
And now what I have been telling his campaign is, name Latin people to your Cabinet. Put Julian Castro in your cabinet. Put Veronica Escobar in your
Cabinet, AOC. Put us in your Cabinet and show us that you are including us, because we're 32 million voters. That's a huge bloc.
We're going to decide this. You need to talk to us directly by including us and talking about our issues. And that's the only way we will see that it's
CABRERA: And you're right. According to Pew, Hispanic voters will make up or have the potential to make up the largest non-white voting bloc for the
first time ever.
In your mind, what's on the line in this upcoming election for Latino Americans?
LEGUIZAMO: I mean, a lot is at stake. I mean, this is the most important election in our lives in so many ways.
I mean, it's a fight for our democracy against cronyism, against being ostracized. I mean, does Trump even have any Latin people in the Cabinet?
CABRERA: He doesn't have a lot of diversity. You're right about that. He doesn't -- he will point to Mercedes Schlapp as an example of--
CABRERA: -- one of the people who's part of his administration.
LEGUIZAMO: I know. We're 20 percent of the population. We should be 20 percent of his Cabinet.
I'm not asking for more. I don't want more. I just want parity. I just want equity. I want 20 percent of the roles in Hollywood. I want 20 percent of
the children's picture books to be about Latin kids, so they can see themselves. I want 20 percent of the Cabinet.
That's what I want. I want equity. I don't want more. I don't want to take anything from anybody. I just want what belongs to me and my people and
people who look like me and children who look like me.
CABRERA: John Leguizamo, thank you.
LEGUIZAMO: Thank you. Much love.
AMANPOUR: A passionate reality check about a vitally important constituency.
And that is it for now. Thank you for watching, and goodbye from London.