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Interview With Regina King; Interview With Barry Jenkins; Interview With Akala; Interview With "One night In Miami." Director Regina King And Screenwriter Kemp Powers; Interview With Justin Chon. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired December 28, 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.
Tonight, we are bringing you some of our favorite interviews of the year around the theme of racial justice and equality.
Here's who's coming up.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: There is nothing here but suffering, pain and suffering. It is time to go.
AMANPOUR: Academy Award-winning filmmaker Barry Jenkins on his epic American odyssey "The Underground Railroad.
Also ahead: where hip-hop meets Shakespeare. I speak to the influential British rapper and author Akala.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Everything's not so black and white, like you make it out to be.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Look, we are fighting for our lives.
AMANPOUR: Director Regina King and playwright Kemp Powers talk about bringing four black icons to the screen for "One Night in Miami."
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I was brought here when I was 3.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Can't we do something about this? I mean, listen to him. Look at him. He's American.
AMANPOUR: Facing deportation from the country you call home. Writer, director and actor Justin Chon talks to Hari Sreenivasan and about his film
AMANPOUR: Welcome to this special edition of the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
And, tonight, we're devoting our program to conversations about racial justice.
And we begin with America's original sin, slavery. It's the subject of Oscar-winning director Barry Jenkins' latest project, which is the
"Underground Railroad" series. It's on Amazon Prime video. And it's based on the blockbuster novel of the same name by Colson Whitehead.
And it tells a story of a young girl who escapes a Georgia plantation through a network of secret routes.
Here's a clip from the trailer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You came all this way on the railroad?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Yes, and left behind all those peoples.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Nothing was given. All was earned. Hold on to what belongs to you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And director Barry Jenkins joined me from Los Angeles to talk about bringing the series to life.
You have said that film is a visual language and it's your language. And, boy, does it speak loudly across these 10 episodes. Tell me about that. You
have said you believe visuals and your language can create empathy. Was that your first objective, empathy?
BARRY JENKINS, DIRECTOR: Well, it was my first objective, empathy and identification.
I feel like my ancestors' stories have been extremely well-covered in academic journals, in journalism, and different kinds of periodicals. But
we're watching more than we're reading these days.
And some of these stories, some of this struggle, some of these lessons that the world can learn from the ordeal of my ancestors has been pushed to
the periphery or is being lost to time. And so I did feel like giving them an imagistic treatment, creating these visuals, depicting them in sounds
and images was one of the best ways I could honor their legacy.
AMANPOUR: The first episode is a really brutal watch. And it changes throughout.
And it's the story, obviously, of Cora as she progresses through the U.S. But the first is very, very brutal. And I kept thinking of your mission
statement about empathy, about visuals, about setting the scene and building the story. And I wonder how hard it was for you, but also for your
actors, and particularly some of the younger actors.
And there plenty of children involved. How did they cope with being confronted? I mean, we have got a scene, the lynching scene, the whipping
scene, the burning scene, in the way the white owners disrupt the birthday, of an old man on their plantation, a slave himself, just out of pure mean-
spirited power, then end up whipping Cora and a small boy. They're very hard, not just to watch, but presumably to be part of.
You had therapists on set. How did you use them?
JENKINS: Yes, it was -- one, it was a collective experience of telling a story and creating these images.
And I think we all knew that we were there for the same purpose. Both the people who had the trauma visited upon them, the actors who must withstand
that, and the actors, unfortunately, who must commit those traumas, you're all there for the same purpose.
And, as you say, we had a therapist on set. We also had an intimacy coordinator on set. Any time we were dealing with these very knotty images,
we understood that we were there to unpack the images, but not allow the images to unpack us.
I think having that same energy would hopefully extend to the audience as well, and when they viewed those images, the image the energy that we put
into them, that would be very clear. And so it was one of those things where everyone understood that our emotional well-being or our intellectual
well-being, our mental health was just as important as creating the art.
And so, if someone wanted to stop, they could, and, collectively, we would all rally around that person, which didn't happen too often, but knowing
the safety that was there I think made everyone feel safe.
It's interesting. The book begins in this Georgia episode where these aspects of brutality are very clear. It is very fact-based depiction of
what this time would be, causing the tons of research, and there is nothing depicted in the episode that you can't find in the research from that time.
And yet, as I was making the show, I was trying to decide what should I show and what would I tell.
And this buzzword, from the last time I spoke to you, this buzz word was very prevalent, make America great again. It's just everywhere. It was
everywhere. You couldn't escape it and this idea of again, it almost implied that in the past America was better, America was undoubtedly great
And I thought, oh, in order to embrace a message like that, you must clearly just have a blind spot or willfully be ignoring so many things in
American history and I felt it was important to show those things in the outset of the episode.
AMANPOUR: I mean, indeed.
And you also talk about the MAGA hats and the red and all the rest. So, you were filming in Georgia. It takes place at least some in Georgia. And you
talk about comments that you have received that people just wished that you didn't have to tell that story about what America was back then.
JENKINS: Yes. It was kind of a head trip. You know, we didn't intend to film the entire show in the State of Georgia but because of logistics and
things like that, we ended up filming the entire show in the state of Georgia.
And it was our crew, because of the state of Georgia, I'm pretty sure it was filled with people across the spectrum that not everyone politically
thought the same and yet, still everyone was united around creating this work of art. But then you would be out in the world and you would very
clearly see, as your intro teed up, that maybe not everyone around me is ready for these images or wants to acknowledge them. And you have, I think,
the role of art is to speak truth.
AMANPOUR: So, I want to talk about -- it is called "Underground Railroad." but it is magical realism in the fact that you do show an underground
railroad but that is sort of metaphorical.
Nonetheless, Cora, she goes through the process and she here's a little clip, a little excerpt from her asking about who actually gets to get on to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Everybody keep telling me how special I am. What good is a railroad if only special folk can take it? What good is a farm full of
freedom if only special folk can tell it?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So that's a very pointed question. Tell us what you were saying in that instance. And of course, it obviously calls some white head, but
using a railroad, which it wasn't really in real life.
I think the first part of the question, I think that we if only the privileged people in any class or strata or group of people are receiving
the benefits of empathy, the benefits of abolition, the benefits of anything, then are we truly saving any other people?
And so, I think that's what that conversation was about. I thought it would be important to object that. In the story about all these black people, you
assume that they're all just very happy to have any individual's freedom.
I love that Cora, either receiving the blessings of the underground railroad is wondering what good is it if only I can receive the blessings
of this underground railroad. It reminds me of "12 Years A Slave" and she would tell this character, Solomon Northup, gets to leave the plantation
while Patsey is left behind. And I always thought this is a very sad moment.
Yes, I'm thankful for his freedom but about hers? As far the magical realism, it's interesting, I love that you have your quote it's about --
it's about a truthful interpretation or a neutral interpretation.
I think this idea of fact and fiction is a very hard one to reconcile, because so many of these facts that we accept have been given to us by the
people in power. I went to grade school in the U.S. And in my textbook, it described slavery as this condition of conscripted labor.
I would have learned more about actual American history or the actual conditions of my ancestors by reading the fiction of Toni Morrison than I
did from reading textbooks, the fact-based textbooks that were given to me by the government.
AMANPOUR: Finally, I really want to focus on your, I think, tribute to parenting and you have talked about parenting a lot. There is a sound bite
or a -- Cora says: "Birth was the last thing my mama gave me." And then, of course, her mother left. She escaped.
And you've described parenting during slavery as the greatest act of collective parenting the world has ever seen. Tell me what you were trying
to tell us with that.
JENKINS: I think for you and I to have this conversation right now, for me to sit here and have this conversation with you, despite the horrors that
we witnessed in the first episode of the show, which are just a fraction of the horrors that my ancestors endured, and yet, that generation of people -
- because, again, the children were constantly under assault, the families were constantly getting torn asunder.
And yet somehow these people felt retained the will to live. I think the only way this could happen is this act of collective parenting. A child
would be born and then separated from its birth mother and father and then flown far to a different plantation.
Somehow, those groups would come together and somehow these people will protect the children. I think the fact of any black artist politicians, any
black citizen's existence on the world right now is through this act of collective parenting.
And when we watch these narratives, we often don't see children as well.
JENKINS: We wanted to populate the show with children everywhere to just really show that this sacrifice that we're talking about, it wasn't a
sacrifice of death. It was a sacrifice of living and protecting all these children.
Thank you very much for being with us.
AMANPOUR: And you can still watch all 10 episodes of "The Underground Railroad" on Amazon Prime video.
Well, here's a question for you: What do hip-hop and Shakespeare have in common? A lot more than you think, says my next guest. Take a look. That's
award-winning British rapper, activist and author Akala, a social commentator for our time.
This year, he came out with his debut novel, "The Dark Lady." It's about an orphan haunted by the black woman at the center of Shakespeare's sonnets.
And I spoke to Akala about it and why conversations around class and racism are as relevant as ever.
AMANPOUR: 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 Marlowe.
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.
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. 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 elites?
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 died. 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...
AKALA: ... 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
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: 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
institutional racism. 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 the 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 the middle 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
But black and brown commonwealth citizens come into Britain were excluded from citizenship solely based on the grounds of race. I will 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 America.
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 anti-black 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, cheek by jowl, 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.
AMANPOUR: Akala reminding us all of how much Shakespeare's work resonates to this very day.
And for our next conversation, we turn to a fictional gathering of four legends, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, the singer Sam Cooke, and NFL star Jim
Brown, who meet one night in Miami.
In this telling, talk quickly turns to the movement for social and racial justice.
Here's a clip from the trailer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: A world where we're safe to be ourselves, to think like we want, without having to answer to anybody for it.
We have to be there for each other.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: The film was nominated for three Academy Awards. And the actor and Oscar winner Regina King made her debut directing a feature film.
She and screenwriter Kemp Powers joined me to speak about the film in the context of George Floyd's murder and black male vulnerability, as well as
AMANPOUR: Regina King, Kemp Powers, welcome to the program.
You know, the film is amazing. It's getting great reviews, obviously, Oscar-nominated.
Can you tell me what made you want to do this? It's your first outing as a director. What made you choose this story?
REGINA KING, ACTRESS/DIRECTOR: I read this script, and I felt like, here is an opportunity to tell a story from a perspective of black men that we
don't get to see in cinema so often, but we, as black people, see and experience and know black men as we see them in "One Night in Miami" in our
lives day to day all the time.
And it was -- I just felt like, I can't play any of these roles, but I could definitely lead the ship. And when I met Kemp, we connected. I think
I truly understood what his -- the story that he was telling, the love that he has for himself, the love that he has for the struggle and the different
ways to approach how we will overcome that struggle.
AMANPOUR: So let me ask you, Kemp Powers, who wrote the screenplay, what is it about the love?
I mean, we've already set up the premise. Take it from there.
KEMP POWERS, SCREENWRITER: Yes, well, this -- I was really thinking back to when I first found out that this was a real night.
And one of the -- while I was doing a lot of my research, there was a wonderful interview I saw with Malcolm X where the news reporter, you know,
was asking him about young Cassius Clay before he became Muhammad Ali. And Malcolm X describe Cassius -- I remember it vividly -- as an all-American
And that really stuck with me, because when you really look at all four of these men, not only are they all-American boys. They're evidence -- they're
basically the American dream writ large.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Yes, Cassius Marcellus Clay is the new heavyweight champion of the world, boy.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Yes, he is.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: And I don't even have a scratch on my foot.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Oh, my goodness.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Cass.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: What's wrong, Cass?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: What -- Cass, what...
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Why am I so pretty? And I'm only 22 years old. There is no way I'm supposed to be this great.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
POWERS: But, because they happened to be black, all four of these men managed to be somewhat outlaws or outliers.
And I figured at the time that this was happening, we're still dealing with segregation. Almost no one in the world understands what it's like to be
one of them, except each other.
So what I really wanted to do was just show us black men as human beings. And I really wanted to tell this story about these four men and their
friendship and focus less on their achievements, on their superhuman accomplishments. I wanted to focus on their humanity, because I felt like
that was the thing that made me feel connected to each of them as heroes of mine.
AMANPOUR: Can you tell us how much of it is real? The reality is that they were in that room, right?
AMANPOUR: Why were they all in that room? And did they discuss, do you know, any of the transformative civil rights and personal issues and
professional issues, obviously, that are contained in this film?
POWERS: Well, I mean, certain facts leak out over the years.
I mean, I know that all they had to eat was vanilla ice cream. Certain fragments of conversations I have gotten wind of, I don't want to reveal to
people. But, ultimately, that wasn't really the point.
The point was that, like, who they were at that moment. I wanted to basically take everything that I was able to find in my research, and use
it to create a characterization of each of the men that was going to then have a conversation that was a conversation that black people -- black
people have been having since long before that night, and have been having up to today.
And that conversation is what if any social responsibility do we have as black people in the public eye. These men, in many ways, represent some of
the clearest of very different ideals of how we how we go about being successful when we're black in America.
AMANPOUR: And one of you said, in the early '60s to be a free, unapologetic black man was quite a rarity, of which all of these four were unapologetic,
strong, determined, talented, young, young black men.
And, you know, Regina, 50 years later, all these issues are playing out right now with George Floyd, with the movement that his killing has sparked
in the U.S. and around the world. And with all these attempts at social reckoning right now, that's an incredible place for your movie to land.
KING: It is. It is. And the thing that's interesting, I think that this was also one of the things that connected Kemp and I from the beginning is that
we were discussing that this story that he's written has is -- will always be relevant. And it's unfortunate that it's relevant. And then we shot the
And we still owed two more scenes that we needed to shoot in L.A., and then the pandemic hit, and then Ahmaud Arbery and then Breonna Taylor and then
George Floyd. And we, as producers, came together and talked about the film again and how relevant it is. And we're like, well, now it's urgent.
AMANPOUR: Where do you think the movement is? Where is society today? And again, we're right in the middle of literally an adjudication on that very
issue in a court of law.
POWERS: I mean, we're living through a crucible moment, no doubt. And you said it. We're right in the middle right now. I think that there are --
there have been volleys from both sides. I think right now watching what's going on with voting rights being under attack. No small irony considering
the Voting Rights Act, I believe was 1965.
So, the fact that we are now in the in the midst of a real battle that can determine the future of our nation, and I don't have a clear answer, I like
to be the glass half full optimist and hope that, you know, we will come out of this stronger and united and better. But, you know, ultimately, the
lesson I think we all need to be aware of is that it takes vigilance, constant vigilance, or else any gains that we make can be lost. You know,
this is a -- this really has proven to be a bit of a pendulum swing.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, because at this moment, while we're trying to grapple with history and have a reckoning, there's also this sort of toxic
cancel culture on the left and the right in different formats, being exhibited. And Regina, one of the things you said about trying to cost and
trying to direct this film is that the audience knows so much about these four men that they're ready to cancel you out if you get it wrong.
So, I want to ask you and Kemp to weigh in on the -- on cancel culture as its being exhibited on college campuses and just about everywhere right
KING: Kemp, do you want to go in first?
POWERS: Sure. I mean, that's a complex question. Because look at the end of the day, I feel like there are people out there who mean me harm. There are
people out there who if they had their way, I would not, not only not be where I am, I would not be around, period.
I've had very deep conversations with friends who have said that to them they think cancel culture is just a work but it's not real, that it doesn't
exist, that people aren't really being canceled. But then I know people who, from where I'm sitting, it seems like they are being treated
punitively based on nothing, based on -- even an accusation.
And again, we -- I think being as a black man and knowing our history in this country and when -- and there was a time not too long ago when even a
simple accusation could end up getting a strung up on a tree without proof, I'm a bit sensitive to the idea of going -- jumping to extreme conclusions
without evidence, you know, and also I feel very bad for young people and what this does to their desire to be engaged, because, thank God, I always
say like, thank God social media didn't exist when my generation was 16 and 17 years old, because I feel like every young person says and does dumb
things, that's actually part of the process of growth.
And we just came out of four very traumatic years, and instead of focusing on the gains that we've made, I feel like, at times, it feels like we are
feeding on one another, like allies are feeding -- people who should be allies are feeding on one another. I'm very glad that I don't share any
personal information on social media at all, because I'm sure, at some point, you come to offend somebody, you know. So, that's -- yes. That's as
much as I can say about it.
AMANPOUR: Finally, to you again, Kemp. Not shortchanging you on this because you are a double Oscar nominee and -- for "Soul." And you co-
directed that for Pixar, again, becoming the first black man to do that for Pixar.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sorry, I zoned out a little back there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: You tell a fairly interesting and somewhat funny story about being brought in to, you know, give it authenticity and to inject some
soul, literally, into this character that was seeming to be flailing around before you got there.
POWERS: Yes. Well, I think the process of making "Soul" I think was a learning process for every -- all of us, for me, and definitely for the
people at Disney Pixar, because I think that if you, again, look at how films that have a certain amount of cultural specificity has been made,
even up until very recently, I think it was very possible to just kind of bring in a person from that group you're trying to represent in some minor
capacity, add a bit of seasoning and then send it out into the world.
But I think, thankfully, what Pete Docter let the folks at Pixar were trying to do, they were trying to both go deeper with this character and
really get to the humanity of this black man. And also, they wanted to represent a truly authentic slice of New York.
So, what they quickly learned when I came on board was that this was in the type of thing where I'm just going to be able to sprinkle a couple of
culturally specific references and call it a day. And it started with me first being writer and then being made co-directed, but it didn't just fall
to me, there were contributions.
You know, we brought on board Kiri Hart, our executive producer was a black woman. We created not one, but two culture trusts. One was just a
collection of all the black Pixar employees that we would run every scene by and there was an external trust of notables from Dr. Geneta Coal (ph) to
Herbie Hancock, to Quincy Jones, and Quest Love.
So, it turned into this really kind of communal experience, and as proud of I am of what we did with "Soul," what I love is that Pixar now has
incorporated these culture trusts to all their films going forward. So, I love this -- you know, this spirit of actually getting it right not by
inviting token representation but by actually making the people you are trying to represent partners in the process, and I think that was a real
big difference in why, you know, "Soul" is really special to me as well.
AMANPOUR: Well, on both films, both of you have done such amazing jobs on that level of not just storytelling but authenticity and relevance to all
of us. So, Kemp Powers and Regina King, thank you both so much for joining us.
POWERS: Thanks for having me.
KING: Thank you, Christian.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: "Soul" and "One Night in Miami." two great films to watch over the holidays.
And for tonight's final conversation, we look at the fight for equality through a slightly different lens. Since the end of World War II, American
families have adopted half a million children from abroad, but at least 50 have been deported back to where they came from since 2000, that's
according to the Nonprofit Adoptees for Justice.
The new film, "Blue Bayou," written, directed and starring the former "Twilight" actor, Justin Chon, follows a Korean-born adoptee fighting for
the only life he's ever known.
Here he is talking to Hari Sreenivasan about the Asian-American experience and representation in Hollywood.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, thanks.
Justin Chon, thanks for joining us.
So, tell us a little bit about who this character is.
CHON: Well, the film is about Antonio LeBlanc. He's a Korean American adoptee. He was brought here when he was three. And he has a beautiful wife
play by Alicia Vikander and a beautiful stepdaughter who's Caucasian. And during an altercation with his stepdaughter's father, who is a cop, he gets
on ICE's radar, and tries to fight to stay to be with his family.
SREENIVASAN: What gave you this idea to do an entire film about Korean Americans or at least adoptees that face deportation?
CHON: I have quite a few adoptee friends. And I started hearing that -- through the community, that adoptees were being deported. They were brought
over here as children when they were very, very young. And they were finding out as adults, 20, 30 years later, that they never had citizenship.
These are kids that came over from other countries, brought here by U.S. citizens. And the adoptions were legally acknowledged by the government.
So, it was something that was absolutely shocking to me. And I felt a strong need to shine a light on this issue.
SREENIVASAN: You know, it's interesting, because, obviously, they were children at the time. They didn't know what paperwork was necessary. But I
guess their parents never officially filed for their citizenship? Is that the root cause here?
CHON: There's a myriad of reasons this happens. But, yes, one of the reasons is, they didn't fully go through the entire process or some sort of
paperwork was left out. I mean, also, mind you, this was -- when they were brought here, a lot of them were -- it was during the '70s and 80s. So, it
wasn't as stringent of immigration policy, and the adoption process wasn't as stringent as it is today.
Another thing is, adoption is always talked about through rose-colored glasses. And we don't talk about how, sometimes, these parents, they bring
these children over. And they don't want them. So, they are put for, you know, adoption again or put to the foster care system. And, you know, if
that's the case, there's no chance in hell that the parents, you know, proceeded with the whole naturalization process. It's -- you know, if
you've ever been through that, it's a very long process. There's a lot of paperwork involved. And, you know, oftentimes, a lawyer is also involved as
So, if you've been put up and given up again, you know, a lot of times, that's not going to happen.
SREENIVASAN: There's a clip in the lawyer's office and really just the -- your character's wife is talking about how American you are.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He has two kids. I mean, listen to him. Look at him. He's American.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn't matter what he looks like. It's immigration policy.
CHON: I was brought here when I was three. I've been here over 30 years.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, sometimes with these international adoptions in the '80s, the proper paperwork.
CHON: Yes. But like I said, I've been here for over 30 years. Can't you just tell them that I was adopted by white people?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I understand your frustration. I really do. But it's not how it works. Now, here are your options. You can depart voluntarily and
have a chance of receiving status or you can stay, and appeal. But if you do that, and the judge doesn't rule in your favor, you forfeit any
opportunity to return to this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SREENIVASAN: It was one of the sort of obvious yet strange scenes that you're having to prove yourself American.
CHON: Yes. You know, that's one of the questions that films ask is what is an American? Is it legality or is it birth or is it choice? You know, and
it is quite peculiar because, you know, he's as American as American can be. You know, all of his tattoos are American traditional tattoos. You
know, he has a very, you know, Louisiana distinct accent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHON: He told me I got a letter from my real mom. At first, I didn't believe him because why would she send me a letter after all that time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHON: But his face is Asian. And I think that this is happening across the country and it's been happening since the Clinton administration. So, it's
a bipartisan issue. And, you know, it's a side of immigration policy that were -- we haven't been seeing. You know, a lot of people don't know this
is happening. Most of the time, immigration is about the border and illegal crossings but, you know, nobody thinks to imagine that it would affect
adoptees brought here by U.S. citizens.
SREENIVASAN: There's definitely a very strong kind of fatherhood, parenting connection kind of storyline that goes through this as well. I mean, we
find out a little bit more about your character's background and how difficult it was. Why did you write the character in such a way where, by
all means, this guy looks like a pretty good dad to his stepdaughter?
CHON: He's human. You know, you can -- you know, dualities exist in all of us. You know, it's also a question of, do we deserve second chances? You
know, he has a -- he's a flawed human and I did that on purpose because I didn't want this to be some sort of propaganda piece.
You know, I don't tell anybody what to think and what to believe in this film. I don't want to say what's right and wrong. I just present a man's
life and, you know, just show one person's experience with this process, which means that, you know, he cannot be a perfect person. He does have a
criminal record. But he's trying to mend the past and also become a good father and a good husband.
You know, and me, personally, just on a personal level, I have a daughter and, you know, fatherhood is very important to me. And I don't see why an
adoptee couldn't be a great father. You know, I also think that Antonio, the character, dealing with what he's dealt with and, you know, having gone
through the foster care system, I think he would want to do everything he can to give everything he hasn't had to his children.
SREENIVASAN: There's another clip in the film which is early and you're sitting down for a job interview and you get asked a question that I think
almost every immigrant to America has gotten asked at some point. It's that, where are you from question?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Antonio LeBlanc. How do you get a last name like that?
CHON: I was adopted.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where you from?
CHON: I'm from (INAUDIBLE) North of Baton Rouge. You know, a small town called St. Francis Villa.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where are you from, like born?
CHON: I see what you mean. I was born in Korea.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: LeBlanc?
CHON: Yes, sir. Yes. I mean --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It says you have two felonies.
CHON: Yes, but they were for non-violent crimes. You know, I wouldn't hurt nobody.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you steal?
CHON: You know, I could fix just about anything. You know, I could fix motorcycles, you know, car. Hell, I could fix --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you steal?
CHON: Motorcycles, you know. But that was a long time ago. You know, if you give me a chance, you know, I could be a real asset to your workplace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SREENIVASAN: How often have you, Justin Chon, gotten that question?
CHON: You know, it's happened like throughout my life. But, you know, growing up, yes. Yes, I heard it quite a bit. And you know, it's always
quite interesting to hear that question because I was born in the United States. I was born in California. And, you know, you say, it's always a
common thing of like, it goes down the line of, you tell where you're from, what city you're from. And then, they finally ask, no, no, no. Where are
your parents from?
But what I do know is, it's not the question that bugs me. It's usually depends on the intent. The intention. If it's meant to alienate, then yes,
it's quite destructive, but if it's really out of curiosity, then, you know, I do think it's harmless.
You know, I've traveled the entire country and I've met a lot of people from all over and what I have found is most people are very kind in this
country. Most people -- and when ignorant things are said sometimes, it's truly because they're curious and they just want to know you and they don't
have a common ground.
SREENIVASAN: There's also an incident that I don't know if most of the audience would recognize it now, in this particular case, the interaction
between the police and your central character, there's a personal connection there, but how Asian Americans or how Asians in the United
States are treated by police, the excessive use of force in the film is not that surprising to some Asian Americans that have lived in this country.
CHON: My dad had a business in Compton. You know, I spent a lot of time there. You know, I was born in Garden Grove. I lived mostly, you know, very
nice life, an (INAUDIBLE), middle class life but, you know, a lot of my friends are from Garden Grove, which is, you know, not the best
neighborhoods with -- also near Anaheim.
But, you know, I've definitely experienced, you know, police, you know, force and whatnot. But the biggest thing is, is, you know, my family was
rooted during the L.A. riots in '92 and that was, you know, obviously spurred by the Rodney King beating.
You know, some people have been asking, how did you time this film so well, you know, because it's coming right off the heels of, you know, everything
that's happened in the last two years with George Floyd and -- there was no timing. It's always been happening. It's just that, you know, in 2020,
2021, we have camera phones now that can document these things. Before, you had to be there at the exact perfect time right place and right time with a
video camera. But this -- you know, the police brutality has been happening for decades.
But I'm not saying all cops -- as you saw in the film, I'm not saying all cops are bad. You know, Ace, he has a reason for what he does. He really,
you know, just wants to be part of his daughter's life and also, my brother-in-law is a cop. So, you know, it's just -- I'm just reporting on
what my, what I see and what my surroundings are and what I find truthful.
SREENIVASAN: Do you think in the time since you've started to make the film until now, has the landscape in Hollywood changed much or how so? I mean,
because on the one hand, we've had kind of the #MeToo movement bring out some of the inequities. On the other hand, we've had, you know, some
successful films with Asian characters in it that are not just the sort of side role or kind of a supporting actor, buddy comedy kind of things. But
I'm curious to see like as an actor and a director, what are you seeing?
CHON: It has changed. You know, there's still a long way to go, there's still a lot of work to be done. But, you know, since when I started in the
year 2000, it's definitely -- you know, in the last 21 years, it definitely has changed. You know, I've been here to witness it.
But there's a sort of chicken and the egg or, you know, sort of a dilemma here because one of the biggest criteria to getting a film financed is
having a movie star, a financeable movie star, which means that you can bring in foreign sales and, you know, this whole archaic financial model of
filmmaking, I don't think that applies anymore.
You know, I don't think that applies anymore, but they still hold onto that and it's -- I don't know. At times, I feel like it can be a systemically
racist model because, well, you're saying that, you know, we cannot cast an Asian as a lead because he's not financially, you know, viable, but we
cannot become financially viable unless we have the opportunities to play the leads.
So, I don't know how to fix that problem. You know, so, it's slowly happening. And needs to take a miracle. So, you know, like, you get like a
Henry Golding that he's not famous when he's the lead of a "Crazy Rich Asians." And then, now, he's had a certain amount of Box Office success
that he is financeable to a certain degree. But you know, that's not happening very often compared to our white counterparts, and I still think
there's a long way to go because it's still very, very difficult to have an Asian-led film.
SREENIVASAN: At the end of the film, in the credits, you've got images of adoptees that have either been deported or on the verge of being deported.
What can be done about this?
CHON: You know, I'm not a politician, obviously. And I'm not -- and when it comes to politics, I'm a dummy. I couldn't tell you how all the primaries
and, you know, everything works to getting the president elected. But, you know, I am an artist and made this film to shine a light on this issue and
that's my super power, you know, bringing it to the masses and, you know, hopefully, the right people see it. I've partnered with some groups like
adoptees for advocacy.
And, you know, hopefully, I can -- you know, if the right groups approach and right legislators can see the film or it can be presented to them. You
know, and what I do know is legislation is about exposure. You know, we need to know there's a problem for it to be fixed and it needs -- there's
so many issues in this country that, you know, which one first? You know, so like the more attention I can draw to it, the more likelihood we can
have first some action to take place.
That's what my hope is, is that I just bring enough awareness and then, the experts in D.C. and people who do this type of work can take it from there
and I can lend my voice anytime on the emotional level whenever they need me.
SREENIVASAN: The film is called "Blue Bayou." Justin Chon, thanks so much for joining us.
CHON: Thank you, appreciate it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Highlighting an issue there that is so often overlooked. And that is it for now. You can always catch online, on our podcast and across
social media. Thanks for watching this special edition of Amanpour. Good- bye from London.