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Interview With Akala; Interview With U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman; ; Interview with Clint Johnson, Member of the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired June 23, 2021 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
TONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I think our common challenge, which we very much agree on, is the need to demonstrate together that democracies
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Antony Blinken in Berlin. The secretary of state's deputy, Wendy Sherman, joins me about reviving the Iran deal she helped
negotiate and the challenge of China.
Plus: where hip-hop meets Shakespeare. I talk to the highly influential British rapper, author and activist Akala.
Then: love and loss. Clint Johnson from the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus talks to our Michel Martin about the power of song and the lasting impact
of the AIDS epidemic.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Pro-democracy voices in Hong Kong are gasping for air after the draconian crackdown on dissent claimed another victim today, and a very prominent
one. The newspaper Apple Daily, the popular tabloid, announced that it'll print its last edition on Thursday.
Last week, hundreds of Hong Kong police raided the office and arrested top executives under the new national security law imposed by China. Hong Kong
Chief Executive Carrie Lam insists the paper is being punished for violating the law.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARRIE LAM, HONG KONG CHIEF EXECUTIVE: Don't try to accuse the Hong Kong authorities for using the national security law as a tool to suppress the
media or to stifle the freedom of expression.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: But this is a crackdown and a blow against freedom of speech. The U.S. State Department has called for the release of the paper's jailed
executives, as America's top diplomat, Antony Blinken, is overseas again to promote democracy in the face of rising authoritarianism.
As number two at the State Department, Wendy Sherman is tasked with managing America's relationship with China. And she is no stranger to
working with adversaries. She was a key figure in negotiating the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
And the deputy secretary of state is joining me now.
Welcome to the program. Welcome back to our program.
So, you have a bit of a conundrum. You have your secretary of state and your president talk a great game about promoting democracies. Right under
our noses, it's being eradicated in Hong Kong, which was meant to be a bastion for at least 50 years after the handover. What actually can the
United States do?
WENDY SHERMAN, U.S. DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: The United States can certainly speak out, as we are today, as Foreign Secretary Raab of Great
Britain, who, in fact, Great Britain was -- turned over Hong Kong to China under an agreement that ensured their autonomy and democracy and freedom of
And as the foreign secretary said today, this is a chilling blow to freedom. And Jimmy Lai, the founder of Apple daily, who was arrested last
year and faces perhaps life in prison, said -- and I know you will agree with this, Christiane -- that delivering information is delivering freedom.
And, indeed, the United States must continue to speak out that journalists be free, that, in fact, Apple Daily is doing just that, was doing just
that, until its closure, that the national security law which the executive spoke of is indeed quashing dissent, quashing freedom of expression. It is
not bringing public order. It is creating just the opposite.
It is creating disorder in a community in Hong Kong which is used to freedom of expression, freedom of movement, and a measure of democracy in a
very difficult situation.
We will see what other specific actions we can take. But speaking out is critical. And, as you know, and as you yourself have done, ensuring freedom
of journalists around the world and having human rights at the center of our foreign policy, as President Biden and Secretary Blinken have said, is
AMANPOUR: And, indeed, we speak out about it because journalists are often the bellwether for freedom, reform and democracy.
And we are the prime targets, whether it's in Hong Kong, as we have just been talked about -- talking about, whether it's in Belarus, and the actual
forcing down by a military aircraft of a civilian aircraft to try to get a journalist off the plane.
And the space for dissidents, pro-democracy dissidents, all over the world is shrinking, as authoritarianism rises. So, again, beyond speaking out,
what can the U.S. do? Because, clearly, given what President Biden has articulated as his main mission, to promote democracy, what actually can
you do? Or are you in a bind, and you can't really do anything?
SHERMAN: Well, no, I don't think we're in a bind.
I think what we saw when the president went to Europe just a few days ago, and the secretary is now back there now, is to build our alliances, so that
we act together in concert with our allies and partners, or whether that is in speaking out, applying sanctions, taking direct action where necessary,
providing refuge for those who feel that they are at risk.
All of these are important actions. And, indeed, when the United States and Europe acted together against the genocide against the Uyghurs in China,
this made a great impression and had an effect on the PRC. So, I think our acting in concert with our European allies is absolutely crucial.
We have made great progress in a few short months of the Biden/Harris administration to do just that. And Secretary Blinken is back in Europe
intensifying those relationships on a variety of issues, from Libya, to de- ISIS, to the G20, to our bilateral relationships, to make sure that we can speak out, that we can act, that we can sanction, that we can provide
refuge, that we can work with our partners to show that democracy delivers for people.
And that is very key also to the foreign policy of the Biden/Harris administration. And that is to make sure that our national security policy
helps the middle class here in America.
OK, you have said that the tough response against the genocide against the Uyghurs in China, they sat up and took notice. I wonder how. First of all,
I want to play you a bit of an interview that I did exclusively a few months ago with the Chinese ambassador to the United States, who's just
announced his retirement back to Beijing.
But they spoke very clearly about how they continue and they will continue their policy against the Uyghurs. This is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CUI TIANKAI, CHINESE AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: What we did was not to start a war there. We did not use missiles or drones. We set up efforts
for education and training, help people to learn more about the law, to acquire good skills to improve their lives, find good jobs.
And all this has made a huge difference. There has been no single terrorist attack in the last few years. And in terms of population, the Uyghur
population has more than doubled in the last four decades. So how can people talk about so-called genocide?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Wendy Sherman, the ambassador, i.e., Beijing, seems to be sticking to its guns.
But I want to know how you think your stance made a difference? What do you see as a result of your tough words about the genocide against the Uyghurs?
SHERMAN: I think it's not just tough words. It was the sanctions, where, in fact, there was accountability and a price to be paid.
Look, our relationship with China is a very complex one, Christiane, as you have heard Secretary Blinken and President Biden speak. We will challenge
China where we must. We will compete with China because this is the world in which we all live. And we will cooperate with China where we can.
But human rights is one area where we will continue to challenge, we will continue to speak out, we will continue to work for accountability, just as
we must challenge them in what they're trying to do to stop freedom of navigation in the South China Sea or to steal American trade secrets
through hacking our companies.
At the same time, when it comes to climate change, we need to cooperate, because we will not be able to ensure the future of this planet without
China taking concerted action. We will work with China when it comes to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran, which you mentioned in the
setup for this program.
But we will compete. And the infrastructure plan that President Biden is working so decidedly on, the American action plan, Family Plan, all of
these things are meant to say that we are going to claim the 21st century and we're going to make sure that America and our allies and partners
together are ready to embrace this century and all the technology and change that comes with it.
AMANPOUR: So, clearly, the human rights community and individuals who are the sharp end of a violation of human rights are going to take comfort and
be pleased to hear those words, because so many administrations promise it, and then other things take over, realpolitik or whatever you talk --
whatever you call it.
So, to that end, I want to ask you to respond to Senator Bernie Sanders, who is appealing to the administration not to start another cold war,
saying it was headed that way under the Trump administration, but not to pursue that.
Let me just read what he just wrote in "Foreign Affairs."
Bernie Sanders says: "The primary conflict between democracy and authoritarianism is taking place not between countries, but within them,
including in the United States. And if democracy is going to win out, it will do so not on a traditional battlefield, but by demonstrating that
democracy can actually deliver a better quality of life for people than authoritarianism can."
Now, you touched on that. And you said that the administration wants to make sure that that proof is in the pudding. Again, you're in charge of
managing this relationship. China seems, as I said to one official, kind of unembarrassable, unshamable on the things that it considers in its vital
It has said terrible things. President Xi Jinping has said publicly show them no mercy when talking about the Uyghurs. He has completely hardened on
the Chinese policy towards human rights and any kind of dissent, unlike anything since Mao.
What is the trick that you may have learned from Iran or other adversaries that you think you can apply to trying to get them to play ball a bit more
on the things that are important to you and to the world?
SHERMAN: Christiane, I don't think there is a trick or a gimmick. I don't think there -- this is something that changes overnight.
AMANPOUR: I don't mean a trick or a gimmick.
I mean a thing, a real bit of educated experience that you have had in your negotiations with other very recalcitrant regimes.
SHERMAN: It takes persistence. It takes courage to speak out and to not be afraid to do so, and to take action to hold countries and even our own
country accountable for what we do when we go astray as well.
One of the major differences between the United States and China is ,we understand we have flaws. We have a legal system, we have a framework to
address those flaws, to try to improve and make perfect, more perfect our union. China does not take that approach.
China stifles dissent, stifles its flaws, looks in the other direction, tries to justify what it does. And it is quite critical that the
international community speak with one voice about ensuring that that is held accountable, that kind of action, that we will not turn away from it.
We will have to work with China where we can, compete with China where we must, challenge China where we must, and speak out about human rights at
the same time. All of these things must be done simultaneously in a consistent, persistent way to not only take note, but to hold countries,
including ourselves, accountable, when, in fact, there are concerns of human rights.
One of the things that China does is, it speaks of sovereignty all the time, but never speaks about individual rights and human rights.
Sovereignty is important, but so is the individual. And so is -- are people's ability to have life and liberty and to pursue prosperity and
AMANPOUR: I'm just going to note here, because, in all fairness, I need to say that many of the dissidents and the pro-democracy activists in that
region actually quite appreciated President Trump's belligerence against China.
Now, it may or may not have delivered. And, of course, people will have different views, but they appreciated that he put them on the back foot.
Now, I want to ask you another really important issue, which is Afghanistan. And, conversely, President Trump appeared to have entered a
deal with the Taliban that was not conditions-based and that the Taliban did not meet the good faith that the United States under the Trump
administration put into an attempted peace negotiation.
Right now, "The Wall Street Journal" has published an exclusive report quoting American intelligence that fears that when six -- within six months
of your administration's withdrawal from Afghanistan, a non-conditions- based withdrawal, the democratically elected government could fall.
I want to know your reaction to that, particularly since the president of Afghanistan is coming to meet your president, Biden, this week at the White
SHERMAN: First of all, let's be clear. We are withdrawing our troops from Afghanistan, but we are not withdrawing from Afghanistan. We will have a
very robust diplomatic and humanitarian assistance presence in Afghanistan. We will continue to support the Afghanistan military in its efforts to
ensure the security of its own country.
The United States initially went in there to make sure that we followed up on 9/11 and did not have terrorists continue to attack the United States of
America. So, we believe that we have achieved the core of that mission. We will be able to deal with any such risk that -- or threat that comes again.
But we are not withdrawing from Afghanistan. We are just withdrawing our troop presence and changing our posture.
When President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah come to Washington this week, we will reassure them of our presence, of our continued support, and our continued
support for a peace negotiation to ensure that there's really sustainability for Afghanistan. We will also encourage them to unify their
country and to build the future that is necessary for the Afghan people.
AMANPOUR: You're a really experienced diplomatic hand. You have been around the table and in the room for so many decades.
You can see with your own eyes that the Taliban are gobbling up territory in advance of the U.S. withdrawal, that your own chairman of the Joint
Chiefs have said that their incredible success on the battlefield right now, under your eyes, as you withdraw, has taken this government by
Afghan officials say that the Taliban are circling major cities, controlling major roads. They're going to put pressure on Kabul, and that
they are heading towards a takeover. And they're very, very worried. I know what you said that you're going to try to stop them, but how?
I just want to know, are you concerned about the military gains they're making on -- in situ?
SHERMAN: Of course, we're always concerned about gains that the Taliban make. Most of them right now are in territory that is really Taliban-
controlled more than it is by the Afghan National Forces.
We will continue to provide support to the Afghan National Forces. We have been training, equipping and helping them for many years. They are very
capable. We believe they will be able to hold the territory that they must to have the leverage for the peace negotiations, which are ongoing and are
not yet resolved.
Look, Christiane, I share all of the concerns that you were expressing including the concerns for women and girls in Afghanistan. You may well
recall from our own discussions in the past, former Secretary Albright and I were at the Peshawar refugee camp in Pakistan when women and girls were
thrown out of Afghanistan or left quickly because the Taliban were taking away every right they ever had.
And I listened to horrifying stories about what happened to women and girls under Taliban rule. None of us wants that to happen again. We are all
committed to ensuring that does not happen again. It has been very key to the negotiations that have been ongoing. And we will continue to do the
hard work of diplomacy to ensure and support the Afghans themselves in reaching peace and the governance structure that ensures the rights of all
Afghans, including women and girls.
AMANPOUR: I just want to ask you a final question, because I set it up and we mentioned it, about the Iran nuclear deal.
Clearly, it seems both the United States and your partners and Iran wants to get back into this deal for your own reasons to have this arms control
deal. And they want the lifting of sanctions. But there seem to be red lines. And the United States would like a deal-plus, as Tony Blinken says,
secretary of state says, longer and stronger.
The Iranians would like to have a deal that ensures no U.S. president can unilaterally pull out, as President Trump did. Are they bridgeable? And
despite the fact that you both want to get back in, do you believe that it's -- that it will happen? Could we be left without a deal after all of
SHERMAN: I certainly believe it's possible. We have a terrific negotiating team that has been working on this along with the Europeans and Russia and
China. So, yes, I think it is possible.
But there are also political decisions to be made here. You know that Iran has just elected a new president. He will be inaugurated in August. He is
very different than the current president. Some believe that he wants this deal to get done now, so that he has the relief from sanctions relief that
will help the economy of Iran.
Others believe that he's not so excited about this. And, ultimately, it will be the supreme leader of Iran who will make a decision about whether,
in fact, the deal is done, just as the president of the United States must.
For us, it has to be compliance for compliance. Iran knows what it must do, ensuring that it can never obtain a nuclear weapon. They haven't made all
those final decisions yet. Everyone can see the outlines of the deal. But until you get to the very last detail in negotiating with Iran on this
compliance for compliance, we will not know if we have gotten there.
You can get 99 percent of the way there. And then they will have to decide whether they really want to do this and click in that last piece of the
puzzle to make it real. So, yes, it's possible. But we don't know the end of the story yet.
Iran knows what it must do. And we will see if they will do it.
AMANPOUR: Still on a knife edge, then.
Thank you so much, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, for being with us tonight.
And now: What do hip-hop and Shakespeare have in common? A lot more than you might think, says my next guest. So, that's the award-winning British
rapper, activist and author Akala, a social commentator for our time.
His memoir, "Natives," shot up the bestseller list during last summer's racial reckoning. And it's now being developed into a docuseries for the
BBC. His debut novel, "The Dark Lady."
Akala, welcome to our program. Great to have you on.
So, let's just -- let me just start by asking you, what do Shakespeare and rap and hip-hop have in common? And then you have invested a lot in this --
in this thought and in this process.
AKALA, AUTHOR, "THE DARK LADY" AND "NATIVES": Yes, we founded a company about 10 years ago called The Hip-hop Shakespeare Company, which was a
music theater production and education company that does workshops, live events, residency, theater productions, et cetera.
And, really, one of the things I wanted to explore was not just the obvious linguistic parallels and use of poetry and storytelling and so on, but,
more solidly, the way in which I was always fascinating with. The Elizabethan era in London has really been heavily sanitized.
Shakespeare was pretty much the only playwright who never went to prison. All of Shakespeare's closest contemporaries, one was stabbed through the
eye and killed in a bar brawl. The other killed two people himself and pledged the benefit of the clergy. That's Ben Jonson and Christopher
It was a very gritty time in London. And, actually, the Elizabethan theater was the only place where the rich and the poor conglomerated in the same
place. It was the popular entertainment of its day. It was heavily involved with the underworld, so on and so forth.
So there are lots of ways in which, really, we have sanitized that era and sanitized the role that theater played in Elizabethan London.
And as someone who was lucky enough to take my high school exit exam the year the Baz Luhrmann "Romeo & Juliet" came out, I was all -- and grew up
in a theater -- I was always interested in presentation on the stage and who had the right to be the custodian of that knowledge, and the way in
which particular artistic representations are portrayed, and the way in which we interpret even more than hip-hop.
You think of some of the greatest rappers of all time, a Biggie, a Kendrick Lamar, a -- these people are first-rate, world-class lyricists and
storytellers. And perhaps some of people's aversion to or reaction against that recognition is more about the backgrounds of the people involved and
the class origins of the people involved than it is about an objective analysis of the quality of the work.
You think of an album like "Stillmatic" by Nas or so on and so forth, to say nothing of hip-hop's global influence as a cultural force.
AMANPOUR: OK, so, I'm really interested by how you describe the audience at the time. And we know, because that's what history tells us, that some
90 percent of the audience for Shakespeare at the time couldn't read or write.
They just went and absorbed it and presumably loved it. Now, though, it's basically suggested that the 21st century and the 20th century audience are
really -- it's more like for the elites. And you have talked about the class structure.
What -- how do you think we can break that down? Or does it still resonate with the people who Shakespeare was trying to reach, which were not the
AKALA: Probably not as much.
I mean, obviously, he had his relationship with the elite and had patronage of monarchs and so on and so forth. But the theater was a unique
institution at that time, because it was probably the only place that rich and poor interacted.
And what's really happened in a way, in my view, is a sort of post Victorian cultural co-optation, where the Elizabethan theater even received
pronunciations of what most people think of as the Queen's English or proper English, is an invention that comes 150, 200 years after Shakespeare
So, Shakespeare didn't speak proper English. He invented thousands of words, so on and so forth.
But I think, touching on both the books I have written, "The Dark Lady" and "Natives," really are rooted in the idea of class in Britain, and the way
in which Britain is still to this day a class-obsessed society, and it has roots in this era and in the Industrial Revolution, and in hereditary
aristocracy, and so on and so forth.
And I think the way in which the theater has become this sort of sanitized, quiet place is representative of that. In its actual time, the theater was
more like a cross between a sort of modern rock concert and a rap show. And, actually, people would say stuff like, I'm going to hear a play, which
is where the word audience comes from, because they were very conscious about the fact that it was very much about the wordplay and not about
acting in a modern sense.
AMANPOUR: So, in that case, I'm going to read some of your words that -- about Shakespeare. You rapped it. But the clip we have is not very audible,
so I'm going to read it.
You say: "I'm similar to William, but a little different. I do it for kids that's illiterate, not Elizabeth, stuck on the road, faces screwed up, feel
like that world spat them out, and they chewed up."
AKALA: Yes, I mean, that was a song for a long time ago and probably doesn't scan has as well as it listens to on song.
But, really, it was about exactly that, looking at the way in which I think the British education system reproduces a lot of the inequalities of
British class society. And I was someone who was very lucky, who was part of a sort of Pan-African Saturday school movement.
So when postwar Caribbeans came to Britain, they weren't satisfied with the kind of education that exists in Britain schools and the racism that a lot
of British Caribbean children were receiving. So they set up special Pan- African Saturday schools.
I went to one of those. My step-dad was also the stage manager of what was probably London's leading black-led cultural institution in the 1980s, is a
place called Hackney Empire theater, a theater with an F, because you know we don't pronounce our T's properly around here.
AKALA: But, ultimately, I was (AUDIO GAP) in that sense.
And so I felt a sense of cultural entitlement to the stage and to the page that came from this Pan-African Saturday school movement. That helped me
avoid lots of pitfalls that lots of young people born into similar families to mine go through.
And I suppose that's sort of what that's about, like what I received very early. Being lucky enough to have cultural enrichment coming from my
community, being lucky enough to have Saturday school, access to the arts, despite being economically poor and having a lot of those other cliches, is
something I have always tried to put into my work, both the books and the music.
AMANPOUR: I just want to quickly ask you, because I think it's incredible, given -- you have explained part of your background. We will get a little
bit more into it -- but that you were raised by a single mother. Your parents split, they were not married, before you were born.
But she kept giving you books as gifts, as presents, on special occasions. And that really brought you to where you are today.
AKALA: Well, I wouldn't say it was quite that simple.
The argument I'm making in the whole book "Natives" is basically looking at the British class system and the British empire. Obviously, my dad's
family's from Jamaica. My mom's family's from Scotland. My mother's family were in the British army. In fact, she was born in Germany and brought up
in Hong Kong, because her dad was in the army.
So, even in my own family, there's this history and relationship to empire. And what I point out is that, in many ways, a lot of the stereotypes that
existed in Britain of my community just weren't very accurate.
And that's what saved me, because I had black Saturday school, because I had this cultural often, because I had, not just my mom, but actually even
some of my uncles, not all of whom were perfectly well-behaved, threatening to beat me up if I dropped out of school.
There was actually a lot of the stereotypes of poor communities -- poor black communities, in particular, aren't accurate. And so my argument is,
more than my own individual willingness to read or just being interested in literature, that this broad-based community support was a huge part of why
I was able to -- quote, unquote -- "pull myself out of poverty."
And so I have spent lots of my adult life trying to do that work, doing works in schools, in prison, and working with young people, because I was
so fortunate to receive that community support myself.
AMANPOUR: So, I think this is really crucial, because, obviously, it begins with education and the opportunity, no matter what class or
demographic or ethnicity you come from. That's the crucial first step, many, many say.
And there's so much controversy about it, not just here in the U.K., but also in the U.S. And I want to know whether you draw any parallels or
differences. A recent report commissioned by the prime minister's office here, Number 10 Downing Street, basically declares there is no such thing
as systemic racism in this country.
And the British believe that they don't have the same problem at all that the United States does, where it's generally accepted that there is
Tell me how you see what the government has now said, and the differences with the United States.
AKALA: I wrote a whole chapter on exactly this in "Natives" called "Britain and America."
And it literally contrasts, with primary source material, the difference between public government rhetoric and what they do privately.
So, for example, after World War II, all of the British Caribbean and, in fact, the entire British Commonwealth were legally citizens of Britain with
the right -- which include the right to live and work in Britain. Once Caribbean start actually coming to Britain and people from the subcontinent
side common to Britain, what the government did was start to threaten the governments of those countries, they wouldn't issue passports and all this
sort of stuff. And privately, they were very clear that the issue was about skin color.
So, if we think about the Caribbean, very culturally English, obviously Jamaican had been a democracy before United States or before Canada, for
example. So -- and British Commonwealth was very that people from the Caribbean were culturally English at the time, English speakers, Christian,
Jamaica had been ruled, which is where my dad's from, since mid of the 17th century. Yet, the British government then changed the entire legislation of
citizenship based on skin color. Bear in mind, they were subsidizing the immigration of millions of people from postwar Europe and Ireland to come
to Britain at the exact same time. And subsidizing the migration of people from Britain to the Commonwealth at the exact same time.
But black and brown Commonwealth citizens come into Britain were excluded from citizenship solely based on the grounds of race. I'll give you one
quote that gives you a sense of the difference between what government says publicly and what government sate privately. The home secretary at the
time, Rab Butler, said of Commonwealth Immigration Act, its great benefit is it can be presented as non-discriminatory while its restrictive intent
is indeed intended to and will apply to colored people almost exclusively.
So, the need to deny public intention of racism is as old racism itself. That said, there are significant differences between Britain and the United
States because, obviously, African and Caribbean and Asian migrants migrated to a country, Britain, we have a large white underclass already
established where -- with an inherent class system that wasn't just based on skin color. Whereas, of course. in the United States, the British empire
exported the British class system and placed a race-based veneer on what they had originally perfected in, say, the colonization of Ireland.
So, yes, there are significant differences. No one is suggesting that police brutality is as bad in Britain as in American, gun violence in
general is not as bad in Britain as in America but this sort of patting ourselves on the back as if -- but then at the (INAUDIBLE), right? There's
no -- there's not been the equivalence of a Quincy Jones or all of the successes that have happened in the United States that we can point to,
black American successes, massive impact on culture, massive contributions to science and technology. People actually on the rhyme (ph) and so on and
So, the simple sort of, oh, America is where racism happens, Britain isn't is a very juvenile way of understanding the ways in which state power,
capital and ordinary people interact.
AMANPOUR: I just wanted to get to your novel, as we said. "Dark Lady" -- "The Dark Lady," it's your first novel. It's aimed at young adults and its
protagonist is Henry. He's black. And it is set in Elizabethan England in the working class. Why did you choose this? I mean, clearly, it's, you
know, connected with your -- you know, your experience with Shakespeare, obviously, but why did you choose this now?
AKALA: Because I think there is a whole host of myths about British history. And one of them is obviously that the black presence in Britain
began with the Windrush in 1948, internalizing if so. One of the things that's fascinating about this period, there were already a small number of
Africans in Elizabethan London, probably a few hundred, maybe a few thousand at most. But depending which scholars you consult. But there were
enough -- much working on behalf of Queen Elizabeth attempted to form a petition to have Moors, as they were called at the time, of which they're
already too many in this "realm," this is his quote, expelled from Elizabethan London. He wasn't successful.
One of the things that's fascinating about this period is that lot of the prejudice against people was also against workers from what today is
Belgium and the low country, that region of Europe. So, there was an anti- immigrant sentiment already, there was a lot of poverty already. And there was early forms of antiblack bigotry that had not yet taken on the form
that they would take after Britain's major entrance into the transatlantic slave trade.
But one of the reasons I was always fascinated about this period is precisely because of that. It is in this period before Britain is this big
global empire. It is a period of time where Britain is very conscious that Turkey is more powerful. I mean, Elizabethan government had an allegiance
with Morocco against Catholic Spain. Can you imagine that today, England having an allegiance with a Muslim power against the power in the E.U.?
So, it's a very, very different time politically. And I wanted to highlight some of that but I wanted to also highlight that there were so many
parallels between life in the underclass in London then or be it much more extreme and life of the underclass in London today. In many ways, this sort
of Dickensian massive inequality, (INAUDIBLE) right next to each other, London has always been like that and continues to be like that today. So, I
feel like it was a story that had massive modern resonances.
AMANPOUR: Akala, great perspective. Really great to hear from you. And thank you so much for joining us.
Now, to the power of a different kind of music and art, amid love and terrible loss, the first case of AIDS was reported 40 years ago this month.
Millions of people all over the world have lost their lives to the virus. The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus feels the pain of that tragedy acutely.
It has lost over 300 sinners to AIDS since the choir was founded back in 1978. Clint Johnson had been a member of the Chorus for over 34 years. And
here he is with Michel Martin reflecting on the impact of the AIDS crisis and the legacy of the Chorus.
MICHEL MARTIN, CNNI CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Christiane. Clint Johnson, thank you so much for talking with us.
CLINT JOHNSON, MEMBER, SAN FRANCISCO GAY MEN'S CHORUS: Sure. My pleasure.
MARTIN: You know, we are acknowledging the 40th anniversary of the first reported cases of HIV/AIDS. Since then, it claimed 32 million lives
worldwide. But I was wondering if you wouldn't mind taking us back to those early days when we really didn't know what was happening. Do you remember
when you first heard about HIV/AIDS and what you heard and what that was like?
JOHNSON: Actually, yes, I do. I was actually visiting my parents at the time. And, you know, the first reports started coming in. And it was
confusing and it was unclear about what exactly was going on. Being part of a marginalized community in that way and working in the activism that, you
know, the Chorus does, you know, you are well aware of how your community is seen. And with the mixed reports and the confusion, if you will, around
how serious people were taking this and when it seemed to be more serious here in the community, was a little distressing.
MARTIN: I remember it well that there was a lot of stigma. There was a lot of -- you know, there were shunning of people. People being afraid to have
people in their homes. There was this question of, you know, what can I do? Like, can you hug people? But I -- but, you know, just sometimes when you
are going through something like that, you internalize it. What was that like for the Chorus? Did it strain relations within the group?
JOHNSON: I never experienced that and I didn't see much of that. Although, I can't imagine that, you know, it was completely devoid of any of that.
It's people -- it was -- so much of that is fear based and what was happening was frightening.
The thing that impressed me more than anything else and made, you know -- made an impression upon me was how people in the Chorus did not turn away.
That, you know, we embraced, you know, what we needed to do. We thought -- you know, we thought about ways to make the lives of our friends and Chorus
members better. How can I step in to help? There was far less concern. I mean, there was obviously awareness of needing, you know, to be mindful of
your own safety and help.
But at the same time, the need was so great and so apparent. You know, when you are faced with that option, fortunately most people, you know, decide,
OK, the risk that I have to sustain or I have to bear is not as threatening or the implications of having to deal with that are not as grave as person
who was standing before me who now has to face death. Because at that time, it was a death sentence. And how do you walk away from somebody who you
know is standing near, somebody you know, somebody you work with, somebody you care about, you know, in various ways who is going to, based on how
things were going, quite possibly die a slow, painful, lonely and terrifying death. You know, how can you turn your back and say, you know,
my fear is more import than helping you through this?
MARTIN: So, people help each other through it?
JOHNSON: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.
MARTIN: How did they?
JOHNSON: We established care teams. And, you know, people would -- we'd divvy up whatever kinds of responsibilities needed to be covered, you know,
to care for the person, be it housekeeping, grocery shopping, getting people to doctors' appointments, making sure that visitors were there. You
know, all of the things that need to happen. Like when you -- if you are caring for a family member who is ill, all of those things happen.
As an organization we began to focus on how to tell these stories. How to affirm our lives and the lives of the people that we were singing about.
How to bring joy when we can. How to help people not forget that there is so much more to our existence and our lives than this moment of discomfort
MARTIN: I can't think of any other way to ask this. But the Chorus lost, as I understand it, some 300 members to HIV/AIDS over the course of its
life. And, you know, you have had like 2,000 members overall. That is a huge number of people.
JOHNSON: It is.
MARTIN: I mean, losing 300 people is a huge number of people.
JOHNSON: It is. It is. I think the thing that is most powerful is not just the individuals, but because it has -- it's hard to separate myself from
the whole group experience because it happened to all of us at the same time. And no matter what part of the process you were involved in, be it,
you know, caring for somebody, grieving for somebody, just coming out of grieving for somebody, helping somebody care for somebody or caring for
somebody who just finished caring for somebody, there were all kinds of people around you constantly who were in that same place no matter what it
So, it was never really a singular experience. And the losses, you know, it hurt me to see my friends lose their friends as much as it hurt me to lose
mine. But it is the -- thing that hurts the most is -- so, you are going to make me cry. The thing that hurts the most is, losing people that brought
such light to your life and to the world. And knowing that no matter how much you did, you couldn't save them. Knowing how much was lost by the
people -- other people in their lives and the joy that they brought, you know, how they made you feel, the work that they did, you know, the talents
that they shared, you know, it's kind -- it's hard to fathom that amount of loss in that length of time because it didn't stop.
There were people who sang, you know, came to rehearsals and prepared to sing as many concerts as they could. And, you know, you wondered if this
person is going make it to the show. And it is tough to go through that.
MARTIN: Did you feel -- did you ever people like it was just too much?
MARTIN: Like you want to get in your car and drive away and just not come back?
JOHNSON: Yes. And that's where some of -- you know, some guilt comes in. Because there were times when I couldn't do another memorial. You know, I
just -- I could not. I just didn't have it in me. And as much as I wanted to honor the person who had passed, I just couldn't do it. I have not --
and I know so many, you know, survivors who have not been able to process the amount of loss.
I mean, how do you -- like for some -- I know people who lost hundreds of friends in, you know, a year. How do you process that amount of loss? When
you came together in many respects as a family because the world was not having you. You know, the world was not going support. So, you bonded
together over the things that you shared in common. And all of these people are gone. They are gone. And so much of the world didn't seem to care.
MARTIN: There is this famous picture that the artistic director came up with this idea to represent the toll.
MARTIN: Eric Luse of the Chronicle took a portrait of the Chorus showing seven of their members in a white dress shirt with the rest dressed in
black facing away from the audience. And the seven in white represented -- tell me again just what represented what. The seven were the survivors and
all the rest were those who had died?
MARTIN: So, you had basically these kinds of dots of white in a sea of black.
MARTIN: That must have been -- I don't know, just even being there kind of gives me chills -- gives you chills.
JOHNSON: Yes. It was an interesting thing. It was an interesting experience to have. Also, I was thinking about this the other day because
we did another piece many -- not too long ago called "Unbreakable." And one of the movements in it was a called 41. And it was about the first 41
people who were -- you know, who the world found out had passed away. And as we're seeing this movement, we are turning our backs in bunches, to
represent -- you know, as we're counting the numbers, people are turning around.
So, that by the end of the movement, everybody's back is turned. And it gave the audience an idea of what it felt like to, you know, be just
discounting, where you are just counting the bodies and you are just watching, you know, the back's turns as this person's face disappears. That
person's face disappears. So, it is a powerful statement and a powerful experience.
MARTIN: How did you balance the need to challenge and the need to say hard things with also the need to bring joy and comfort to people?
JOHNSON: Well, our artistic directors have been very, very good about being able to combine a mix of things. So, we have -- you know, we -- you
have your moment that, you know, with tears. You know, where we're going to make you cry. Moments that are going to give you the chills and moments
that are going to make you laugh, because these are all the things that make up the life experience.
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JOHNSON: And the one thing we don't want to do is do what is done to us and narrow us down to this very slice of what our life experience actually
is. I think during, you know, the epidemic, I think of the pain and I think of the loss but I also think of the beauty that I saw and the courage and
the strength of the people around me. And, you know, I -- we are mindful that we are full people, we are complete, we are varied in our views and
experiences. And we don't want to be re reductive.
MARTIN: Do you have a favorite piece that represents that for you?
JOHNSON: One song that we do that speaks to me is called "Never Ever." And it is on a piece that we did in '96, I believe, called "Naked Man," which
is a suite of songs about the gay experience. It is based on stories and interviews from men in the Chorus. So, it is telling actually stories. And
"Never Ever" is the one that speaks to, I think, one of the things that we learned and that everybody, hopefully, learns. And unfortunately, is often
learned at great expense and loss. That the moment you have before you is really the only moment that you have. And, you know, you should treat each
moment as a gift.
MARTIN: Give me a couple bars.
JOHNSON: Never will there be a moment ever when we all will be together never.
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MARTIN: Could you talk a bit more about the music that the Chorus performs and how is the experience of AIDS reflected in the repertoire?
JOHNSON: I think it is both reflected in the actual music that we pick in terms of the stories that we tell, some of the stories we tell. We often
speak of it. You know, our director speaks about it during the performance or there are other ways to bring, you know, what we call our "Fifth
Section," which is, you know, the members that have passed away. We do performances at times where we have a stool with a rose and they show the
list of names. So, we do things like that.
And I think that our sensitivities, you know, our emotional sensitivities and awareness is different. So, we are more conscious of telling meaningful
stories about ourselves. You know, making sure that we show -- we speak the truth of who we are, regardless of how painful it is to tell or hear.
MARTIN: Now, we as a country, as a world, you know, this last year and a half, we've been living through another epidemic. And I just have to wonder
what that brought up for you.
JOHNSON: A lot. A lot. I thought about that early on. You know, I was actually texting some friends and mentioned how, you know, for better or
worse, we've been here before. We know what social lockdown, and emotional lockdown looks and feels like. We know what it is like to have those in
charge seemingly uninterested in our welfare. So, it was retraumatizing in a way.
We don't know what tomorrow will bring. And the AIDS epidemic kind of, you know, put that in high relief. And the pandemic, in many ways, put that in
high -- you know, the uncertainty that people felt around everything and how one thing can cascade into other things. And people are going to be
afraid of you and not want to help you and run from you. That was all very, very familiar. It is just that with this pandemic, it happened to
everybody. Whereas with AIDS, it was concentrated in my community. And that was -- that was, I think, the starkest difference. That it was not a public
concern. It was a political concern. And the cause for further vilification as opposed to attempts to understand and figure out how we can get out of
MARTIN: Before we let you go, I was wondering how would you want us to think of this period, the period of the greatest loss?
JOHNSON: What I would like to see is people to not -- again, not just to remember the horror of it all but remember the depth of humanity that my
community showed. The grace that, you know, my community and my friends showed. The strength, the resilience. All of the things that, you know,
remember us for the things that allowed us to survive this.
Because I saw the best that humanity has to offer in the people that surrounded me. And we are not always seen as that community. You know,
we're seen as -- we're often seen as frivolous. And, you know, all kinds of, you know, as it was alluded to earlier, of the reductive ways in which
we're viewed when the depth of the humanity was astounding, the generosity, the compassion, the empathy. All of those things that allowed us to not
only to take care of each other but take care of ourselves and our community.
Who you are is shown when your back is up against the wall. Push came to shove, and this is what we did. So, remember us for that.
MARTIN: Clint Johnson, thank you so much for talking with us.
JOHNSON: My pleasure.
AMANPOUR: And so important to remember what happened then. And also, to know that AIDS is still ravaging so much of the world.
And finally, rare insights into pop culture's big mystery. Today, Britney Spears appears virtually before L.A. court. She is speaking out formally
for the first time in just over two years to, again, challenge her father whose taken over her entire life, controlling her every move. It is called
a conservatorship and it's usually applied to the elderly or the mentally infirm. And yet, a vigorous high performing, high earning 39-year-old pop
star has to hand over authority for years now, from her financial assets to who she dates, even to how she decorates her own home.
I spoke with the director of the documentary "Framing Britney Spears," Samantha Stark, about all this when the film debuted in February.
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SAMANTHA STARK, DIRECTOR, "FRAMING BRITNEY SPEARS": The central mystery of our film really is how could somebody make millions of dollars performing
in Vegas, headlining her own show, you know, appearing on the X Factor and making albums and also qualify for this layer of protection, which is
usually meant for people who are incapable of making decisions in their own best interest? So, it is very mysterious and we don't know what the legal
reasoning is behind it because all the records are sealed.
AMANPOUR: Could you figure out the dynamic between the father and Britney? And also, where is the mother on the scene right now, Lynne Spears.
STARK: Right. So, it is -- it's very confusing to us because what we do know about Jamie is that, when Britney was growing up, he struggled with
alcoholism. We know he went to rehab. We know he had trouble managing money and filed for bankruptcy, he and Lynne together. And it really -- you
really don't see that much of him in Britney's life until this conservatorship happened.
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AMANPOUR: Now, with the Free Britney movement making a strong comeback, her fans demand not just answers but a young woman's right to liberty.
That is it for now. You can always catch us online, on our podcast and across social media. Thank you for watching.
Bianna Golodryga will take you through the rest of this week. Good-bye from London for now.