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Interview with U.S. National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby; Interview with "Five Days at Memorial" Writer, Director and Executive Producer John Ridley; Interview with "Death of a Salesman" Actor Wendell Pierce. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired October 06, 2022 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. And welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what is coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KIRBY, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SPOKERPERSON: We've made it clear to Kim Jong-un, we won't just sit down with no clear conditions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: North Korea test fires missiles. Russia ups the ante in Ukraine. I get the latest few you from the White House from National Security
Council Spokesman John Kirby. Then.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: "Five Days at Memorial" with Ian still wreaking havoc in Florida, screenwriter John Ridley, takes us back to Hurricane Katrina with his
chilling series on a storm battered hospital. Plus.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WENDELL PIERCE, ACTOR, "DEATH OF THE SALESMAN": Of that disillusionment on what the American dream is and can be that Willy Lowman is on is the same
disillusionment that my father had.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: "Death of a Salesman", Wendell Pierce talks to Walter Isaacson about being the first black actor to star in Arthur Miller's signature play
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Washington is watching fast-moving development on two fronts, at least in North Korea and in Ukraine. The United States is bringing more firepower to
the Korean Peninsula after a string of missile tests from Pyongyang. Kim Jong-un fired two short-range missiles into North Korea's eastern waters,
just two days after sending a missile over Japan. That's 24 missile tests so far this year which is the highest number since Kim came to power 10
years ago. So, what is going on there?
And in Ukraine, officials say a number of Russian missiles have struck the southern city of Zaporizhzhia. Some leveling large parts of residential
buildings. This, while President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says that his forces continue to make important gains both in the east and in the south. It has
a lot to get to with my first guest. He is the U.S. National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby.
John Kirby, welcome back to the program.
JOHN KIRBY, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SPOKERPERSON: Thank you, Christiane. Good to be with you.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you because, you know, out of the blue, so to speak, at least for a while, we have not seen these missile tests from
Pyongyang. There is no contact between the White House or this administration and Kim Jong-un. What do you make -- how do you assess this
uptick in missile tests?
KIRBY: It is difficult to know for sure, exactly what Kim Jong-un is thinking here, and the -- what the motivations are. Clearly, he has
definitely upped the increase here in terms of this frequency of these launches.
What concerns us is that whatever happens in these launches, how far they go, or whether they succeed or fail, he learns. And he is able to improve
his ballistic missile capabilities evermore just with every subsequent launch.
So, that's what concerned us which is why we have -- we held a special session at the U.N. yesterday, condemning this. We've conducted a
trilateral exercises with our South Korean and Japanese counterparts and allies. We're just did some more yesterday. We're going to make sure that
whatever happens here, we've got the capabilities in place to defend our national security interests and those of our allies. I mean, five of our
seven treaty alliances are in the Pacific regions. So, we take those commitments very seriously.
AMANPOUR: And a strike aircraft carrier group is moving into those waters. Did you think it is a-for-tat situation again? In other words, the joint
exercises that have also been taking places, they do regularly between Japan, South Korea, and the United States. Do you think that triggered him
KIRBY: It's -- again, difficult to know what's inside his mind and how he makes his decisions. I mean, as you well know, Christiane, our ability to
divine intelligence out of Pyongyang is fairly limited. So, it's hard to know what's prompting this. But what we do know is his continuing to try to
improve his program and his capabilities.
And I would I say on the exercises, yes, some of this is done in response to his provocations. I won't walk away from that. That's true. The things
we've done over the last couple of days. But we have a robust training and exercise regimen with both Japan and South Korea in normal circumstances
just throughout the course of the year. So, a lot of what we're doing is also preplanned stuff that's been on the schedule for a while.
All of which is designed to make sure that not only our U.S. military capabilities improved and better to respond, but that the capabilities of
our allies are too. And one of the things we're trying really hard to do here is work on trilateral cooperation so that it's the United States, it's
Japan, and South Korea, together, improving these defensive capabilities.
AMANPOUR: When you said that you're watching him try to improve his capabilities, you know, the very well-known nuclear expert, jeffrey lewis
has told CNN, that it looks like Kim Jong-un will keep trying this until he actually perfects his nuclear capabilities. Is that what you're most
worried about or is it the ballistic missile range? What worries the U.S. most or is it everything?
KIRBY: It's both. It's -- in a word, it's everything. I mean, we know that he continues to try to perfect his nuclear capabilities. We know that he's
also is trying to perfect and improve his ballistic missile capabilities. And as you know, you can marry those two things up and now, you know,
potentially be able to deliver nuclear warheads at a great distance.
And that is deeply concerning us because again, we have such a vast presence in the Indo-Pacific region. Because we have these five treaty
alliances in the Pacific regions. We have significant national security interest at stake here. So, that's why we're taking this as seriously as we
AMANPOUR: So, the other thing, you mentioned the U.N. special session and your ambassador, the U.S. U.N. ambassador, essentially without naming names
called out to members of the security council for enabling North Korea, and presumably she meant China and Russia. And particularly, there were
questions now as to whether you may think that Russia may be providing technology transfer to North Korea because something about the trajectory
or the, you know, the way that the missile was launched resembles a Russian style Iskander missile. Is that correct?
KIRBY: I want to be careful here that I don't get into intelligence analysis of these launches. We are still working through the mathematics of
our -- on our own about what exactly they launched and what capabilities they represent. So, I want to be careful here.
But clearly, Russia and China have not exerted the kinds of pressure on North Korea that the rest of the International Community has been willing
to do. Clearly, they've been willing to not enforce the sanctions that the rest of the International Community is willing to enforce.
And so, just dent (ph) of that, they are helping enable Kin Jong-un's advancing program. And we know Beijing has influence in Pyongyang. It's
just not -- we're just not seeing them try to use that influence to any great degree.
AMANPOUR: And just finally on this issue, the Biden administration has had no contact with Kim Jong-un's administration or whatever you might want to
call it in the two years. And that contrast, quite significantly, with the amount of interaction the Trump administration had. Why do you think that
is? Is that for want of trying?
KIRBY: Again, difficult to know why Kim Jong-un is not willing to meet us. We have been very clear that we are willing to sit down with Kim Jong-un
without preconditions. Without preconditions. Just sit down and to try to find a diplomatic way forward here to denuclearize the peninsula.
Again, we've not put conditions on this. But he has not answered those invitations. We find that regrettable. And absent to the fact that we don't
have dialogue. We have to continue to do what we must do to make sure we have adequate defensive capabilities in place and ready to go in the
AMANPOUR: So, John Kirby, look, it is a little alarming to hear you say over and again that you don't really have eyes on. You don't really know
what's going on there. And that's a huge contrast of what you do know about what's happening in Russia. You've known it from the beginning. The U.S.
and the Brits basically said that Putin was going to do, what in fact he has done.
So, I want to ask you about the nuclear threat from there. Can you tell me whether you think, and I know there are discussions going on in the
administration that the Russians -- is the use of a tactical nuclear weapon something that could actually change the balance of operations in Ukraine?
Is it useful? Do you think that the Russians would actually resort to it?
KIRBY: Difficult to know, for sure. We take Mr. Putin's rhetoric very seriously. It will be irresponsible for us not to take that seriously. And
he has been talking about the potential use of a weapons of mass destruction since almost the beginning of this invasion back in February.
So, obviously, we're watching this as closely as we can. We monitor his nuclear capabilities as best as we can.
What I can tell you is that as you and I are talking today, Christiane, we've seen no indication that Mr. Putin has made such a decision. We have
communicated clearly, privately to Russian officials and, of course, publicly that the consequences would be catastrophic should Russia decide
to move down that path. But we see no indications that he has made that kind of decision. And likewise, we've seen nothing that would give us
reason to change our own strategic deterrent posture to defend our national interest, as well as those of our allies on the European continent.
So, again, we're taking this very seriously. We're watching it closely. Again, we've communicated, I think exceedingly clearly about what the
consequences could be here. And obviously, we don't want to see -- nobody wants to see this war go on another day much less escalate into the nuclear
AMANPOUR: So, what have you told them? What would you do? What is a catastrophic consequence and response from the U.S. or NATO?
KIRBY: I think those kinds of discussions are probably best left not in the public domain. I would just tell you that we've been very, very clear about
what the consequences would be.
AMANPOUR: I'll circle back in a moment, if I might. But first, I want to ask you about what you think. We heard from a really well-placed Russian
think tank source yesterday on this program, when I posed him the same question, he said that -- he's quite close to the foreign ministry. He said
that he didn't think that the Russians would go down this route.
And particularly, he said he thought that he would lose everything, including the support of the big countries he has right now, such as China
and India. Do you think that that has an effect on Putin's calculations?
KIRBY: Well, certainly, Mr. Putin is under more pressure externally. Not only internally, but externally. In just, you know, a couple of weeks ago,
in Kurdistan, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting, both President Xi and Prime Minister Modi publicly, in front of Mr. Putin, questioned what
he is doing inside of Ukraine.
That must have had some sort of impact. I mean, I can't imagine that it didn't have an impact on Mr. Putin because he has looked particularly to
China for at least moral support. We don't think he's gotten any material support from China, but he certainly has looked at Beijing for, at least,
moral support in what he's trying to do in Ukraine.
Now, whether that is going to be enough to prevent him from escalating this conflict beyond where he has already, it's difficult to know. I hope the
individual that you were talking to, I hope that he's right. I hope that it does have that effect and it dissuades him from any further escalation. But
we just don't know for sure that's why we're taking it seriously. That's why we're monitoring it every day.
AMANPOUR: So, meantime, what are you seeing and what are you monitoring in response to this incredible offensive, counteroffensive by the Ukrainians?
Liberating territory east and north. How long do you think that can continue? Where do you see the endgame?
KIRBY: Difficult to know for sure because of course in warfare the enemy gets a vote, and the Russians certainly will -- as they have, they'll
continue to respond and react to the Ukrainian counteroffensive. But without question, Christiane, the Ukrainians have been performing
skillfully and quite well on the battlefield. And not just in the northeast, but they are now making more progress in the south, in the
Oblast of Kherson in Zaporizhzhia. No question about that.
And they're doing it through their own bravery and skill, but they're also doing it with the aid and assistance of the United States and so many other
countries that are continuing to provide security assistance. We just announced another $625 million worth more of equipment just in the last
couple of days. And I think you're going to see more coming forward.
So, what we're going to do is make sure that we can continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes, that's what president Biden said. We want
to make sure that they can continue to succeed on the battlefield so that when this war gets to the negotiating table, and that's what we all want to
see, that the Ukrainians can be successful at that table as well.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you then what you make of the OPEC plus decision to cut production. You have all said that President Putin is waging energy
blackmail, holding the world hostage over energy, et cetera. Now, the OPEC nations are -- I mean, are they doing the same thing? Why would they do
something like that right after President Biden went and had precisely the kind of meeting with, you know, somebody who's declared an international
pariah in Saudi Arabia and for them to come back and do this? How do you read that?
KIRBY: It's very disappointing. And frankly, unnecessary. Particularly when you look at how important supply is on the global market and matching
supply to demand. So, we're obviously very disappointed by this decision.
And it's clear, whatever their motivations are, I think we'll let them speak to this. But it's clear that they are definitely taking the side of
Russia here because this decision benefits Mr. Putin. And there's no question about that. It allows them to keep the price high and to try to
continue to profiteer off of oil revenues so that he can continue to fight this war in Ukraine.
You know who it disadvantages mostly are low and middle income countries. They're going to be the ones that suffer from this decision.
Now, we're going to have to see what the effect is over time on the price. Right now, we haven't seen a dramatic change in the price of crude. It's
still hovering around $90 a barrel. We'll see where that goes over time.
Here at home, President Biden's laser focused on making sure that we can continue to reduce our reliance on foreign sources, of fossil fuels, and to
keep the price down at the pump. Prices down $1.20 over the course of the summer. Obviously, it's still too high. We're going to continue to work on
leverage that are -- that president's disposal to try to reduce that pain at the pump for Americans.
AMANPOUR: And very quickly, my last question to you is, despite all the protests and the heroic actions by Iranian women and young people there.
Does the United States still believe that it's possible to have a nuclear deal with Iran?
KIRBY: We still believe that diplomacy is the best path forward here, Christiane, to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapon. The president
has been clear, we're not going to allow that to -- that outcome to occur. We prefer to do it through diplomacy.
But to be honest with you, we are not close to having a deal right now. In fact, we're further away now as you are speaking today, Christiane, than we
were just about a month and a half ago. And that's unfortunate, but that is just where we are. So, I would not be thinking that there's sanctions
relief in the offing anytime soon for the Iranians right now.
What we are going to do is continue to hold the Iranian regime accountable for the way they're treating these protesters. Now, we have already
sanctioned the Morality Police. We've sanctioned other intelligence officials in Iran. And I think in coming days, you'll continue to see the
United States taking some more additional economic measures and to hold the Iranian regime accountable for the way they're treating their citizens.
AMANPOUR: John Kirby, thank you so much. Spokesman for the National Security Council, thank you very much indeed.
KIRBY: Good to be with you. Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And now, the sun may be shining again in Fort Myers Beach, West Florida after Hurricane Ian. But for many business owners and employees,
life is far from normal. Boris Sanchez visited one devastated marina and found a deep determination to rebuild. Here is his report.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It used to be a really nice place to watch sunsets.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR (voiceover): It's the used to bes --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You try to tell them how bad it is and you just can't believe it till you see it.
SANCHEZ (voiceover): -- that are left in heaps of debris all along the Southwest Florida Coast. Also lost, a lot of businesses and a lot of jobs.
This is Parrot Key Caribbean Grill at a Salty Sam's Marina before Hurricane Ian. This is the restaurant and marina now.
DARRELL HANSON, OWNER, SALTY SAM'S MARINA: In the parking lot, we must have had about 12 feet of water. And so, everything on the first floor was
totally destroyed. So, all our gift stores and restaurants and everything, they've lost all their inventory. It's hundreds of thousands of dollars
that each business lost.
SANCHEZ (voiceover): Darrell Hanson has owned Salty Sam's for more than 20 years, a labor of love, and now, a labor of restoration.
HANSON: So, we're down here 12 hours a better day trying to piece it back together.
SANCHEZ (voiceover): The work, though, is not lonely.
HANSON: The employees have all come together and they're -- excuse me -- they're all out there working their butt off. I've got waitresses that are
shelved in mud and, you know, service techs that are shelved in mud. And we're cleaning up garbage and moving pieces of aluminum and wood. Moving
everything we can to try to get back to business. People are just working their butts off. I can't say enough about my employees.
SANCHEZ (voiceover): Employees like Ty Landers (ph).
TY LANDERS (PH), EMPLOYEE: Most of us lost our homes and this is our home away from home. So, we're clinging on to what we have.
HANSON: Everybody's got a story. We don't expect them to come in. But sometimes they still come in. And I think that sometimes it's just to get
away from it and have hugs.
SANCHEZ (on camera): Another painful aspect of the recovery in southwest Florida is the uncertainty. A lot of business owners still don't know if
they will be able to reopen or restart operations. And for many employees, like roughly 200 here at Parrot Key, a lot of them lost everything. And
many don't know when they're going to get their next paycheck.
HANSON: My employees want us to open up a grill outside and start selling food so they can get back to doing what they do.
SANCHEZ (voiceover): But here for Darrell and his team, as well as for thousands across the storm battered region, it is going to be a long time
before things return to normal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Boris Sanchez reporting there on the human heart and the human spirit. For many though, the horrors of Hurricane Ian bringing back vivid
memories of another catastrophic hurricane and that was Katrina.
Some 17 years later, the city of New Orleans and indeed, the country are still grappling with what happened there during and after that historic
storm. Writer, director, John Ridley, took a close look at one hospital and the doctors and caregivers who were forced to make unimaginable decisions
amid the chaos.
The new series is called "Five Days at Memorial." Here's a clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you were given the choice between comforting patient, has to be quickening his death, or abandoning patients to suffer a slow
death? What would you choose to do?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All I did was try to help people. That is all I did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And John Ridley is joining us now from New York. Welcome to the program.
JOHN RIDLEY, WRITER, DIRECTOR AND EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL": Thank you very much. An honor to be here. Deeply appreciate it.
AMANPOUR: Well, your series is very, very powerful. And it obviously deals with the hurricane and certain aspects, we're going to get into that. But I
wondered, you know, what you thought as it's airing and yet another hurricane happens. And, you know, it's not past history.
RIDLEY: It's not past history. And it is very challenging. I never personally been in a hurricane. I've never personally been in a hurricane.
I've never personally -- I live in Los Angeles. I was there during the Northridge earthquake. It is the closest I've come to being involved in a
But when you're on set and you're trying to replicate a real human tragedy, and you realize everything that goes into replicating what happens safely,
and that's the approximation of what people went through, what they dealt with, what they continue to deal with. You know, this many years later,
there are many parts of New Orleans that have never recovered.
And I think that's what's humbling when you're involved in a controlled circumstance, trying to replicate history. And it is difficult, it is
challenging. But it is a fraction of a fraction of what people had to endure and continue to endure. And we have to be realistic, it's only going
to become more challenging as these extreme weather circumstances become more and more of the norm.
AMANPOUR: So, that is a really good way to start talking about your series, "Five Days at Memorial." Because what people had to endure. And it's not
just about basic survival out of the water. It's much, much profound in the instance that you profile.
So, tell us a little bit about what made you choose the Memorial Hospital and why did you focus on this particular set of ethical issues. And tell us
a little bit about what they are.
RIDLEY: So, I was approached by the other producer on the show, a gentleman by the name of Carlton Cuse, and he had the rights to an incredibly
powerful piece of reporting by Sheri Fink that was called "Five Days at Memorial." It was a Pulitzer prize-winning article that she made into a
book which is one of the most incredible pieces of reporting that I've ever read.
But when Carlton approached me with the original article, I sent it to my father. My father is a doctor, he no longer practices, but he served in the
United States Air Force. He's honestly, probably, the most admiral person that I've ever met, other than my mother. But I asked him what he thought
of the article. What he thought of the circumstances.
And by the way, I should explain a little bit about the circumstances. So, give me just a moment for people who don't know. This is about a hospital
post-Katrina. When the levees fell, it was surrounded by water. It was cut off. They had no power. In sweltering heat. The doctors had none of the
electronics that we take for granted that become part of life-saving in caregiving. They had no communication with the outside world.
So, for five days these doctors had no idea what was going on. What was going to happen to them. When rescue would come. No food, no water, none of
the basic necessities of life, let alone the ability to care for long-term critical care patients.
And there were post this event, when help finally arrived 40 bodies that were found at the hospital with questions, as you saw on the clip, about
what happened. And were these deaths part of the natural course of events or were they hastened because doctors didn't know when help would come at
all. And were -- was it better to put these patients, so to speak, out of their suffering as opposed to let them suffer for who knows how long.
All of that information in this article I sent to my father, and I asked him what he would have done. And what I expected was a very demonstrative
answer in terms of what was right, what was wrong, what he would've done under the circumstances. And his response to me was, just thank God I
wasn't there and I didn't have to make those decisions.
AMANPOUR: Wow. That is --
RIDLEY: And based on that --
AMANPOUR: Yes, it's really powerful. So, just to lead into the scenes that you're talking about. We're just going to play a clip to start with, just
showing some of the atmosphere and the deep distress at the hospital during those five days.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's going on?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was with the patient. What's happening?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hannah (ph)?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, just watching that, you get a sense -- even though I've watched it already of -- on the edge of your seat, it's like a thriller.
It's like you constructed this as a thriller, both physical and emotional and ethical.
RIDLEY: Very much so. We really wanted to take the size and scope and scale of the story and put it in front of people. And in some ways, entice
people. I mean, look, unfortunately we took these large-scale disasters for granted, but it's way to get people to watch and understand the magnitude
of everything that happened.
But at the same time, we really wanted to make this a very human story about doctors making critical decisions. About patients who rely on a
system and what happens when that system fails. You know, it's hard to believe that so much of this happened -- this was 2005. But as we were
going through production, as we were presenting this, there were so many people saying, oh my gosh. You know, did you do this in response to the
pandemic? Response to many things that are happening now?
And the reality is, no. We started this production well before the pandemic. The fact that people related to the pandemic. The fact that
people related to Ian. The fact that people five years from now are going to relate it to something else.
To me, I've been around a lot of stories that are both timely and timeless in the sense that it's happening now, but it's also going to happen again
in the future. For me, as a storyteller, in some ways, I feel very humbled to be able to tell stories in these spaces. But I have to be honest, there
are a lot of times where it's very tiring telling stories that it's not about looking at something in the past and saying, wow. Look at the ways
we've grown. Look at the lessons that we've learned. In some ways these remain cautionary tales and that's somewhat painful.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, given that, you -- I think went into it not necessarily taking sides. Not wanting to take sides. And in terms, particularly of the
ethical conundrum of what you say was doctors who decided to give comfort in the form of injections to these patients. So, you went into this without
taking a side?
RIDLEY: Yes, it -- we were not here to exonerate. We were not here to indict. I don't want to give away certain things about the story. I want
people to watch. But there were decisions that were made in the legal case that they navigated in a very gray space.
And a lot of times in television, there are what we call procedurals where there is a crime committed, the police, the lawyers, the system, they try
to root out the evil after 42 minutes, which is your broadcasts television run time. Good prevails. Evil is vanquished. A moral is presented to the
audience and things are wrapped up.
And I understand that kind of storytelling. We looked for that as an audience because sometimes life, it's so unpredictable. We like things that
are predictable. But for Carlton and myself, we went into this not wanting to take sides. We didn't want to root for a particular outcome. We wanted
to embrace that gray, because unfortunately, that's reality. And we wanted to be honorific to a very real set of circumstances.
AMANPOUR: And Dr. Anna Pou, who is the doctor in question, along with two other nurses, who actually they did get arrested because of this activity.
She also, you know, kind of summed up the whole dilemma about what to do. And obviously, kept saying that it was never her intention to do anything
other than comfort them. And the grand jury were never able to indict, correct?
RIDLEY: They chose not to. So, Dr. Pou was an amazing surgeon. By all accounts she was a dedicated, passionate physician and surgeon. But there
were questions about what happened to these individuals.
And when does this care shift from being reducing pain and providing comfort to ending all pain and ending all discomfort.
And again, as my father said to me, he was very thankful he didn't have to make those decisions. If my father, who again, to me, is one of the most
honorable people I ever met could not make judgment, it was certainly not my place when a jury, a grand jury could not pass judgment, for us to
arrive with any kind of prescribed set of visions or thoughts about what really happened in those circumstances. We weren't there. We don't know. We
wanted to stick with that element of fact.
RIDLEY: Nobody knew what happened.
AMANPOUR: And it comes across so powerfully. And just in terms of the racial aspect of all of this, we're now hearing, CNN has been reporting
that black residents in two of the Florida neighborhoods that were hit by Ian. They say that they've been left out of hurricane relief efforts. And
we know that the governor of Florida, previously, you know, voted against hurricane relief efforts for the state of New York and others during Sandy,
et cetera, when he was in Congress.
AMANPOUR: And obviously in New Orleans, it was the poorest and, you know, black residents who got the worst of the worst. How do you get your head
around that still today?
RIDLEY: You know, I don't know that you and I have the hours or the real estate in television to talk about that. Whether it's following a disaster
like Katrina, like Ian. Whether it's -- what's going on in Jackson, Mississippi right now where their water supply and the infrastructure in
the poorest of neighborhoods have been ignored for decades. Whether its Flint, Michigan.
And people don't accept that there is systemic bias. If people aren't willing to accept that the poorest of the poor, individuals with very
little recourse are being ignored. And that there is in that disregard for these individuals a real human impact, a real human toll. What is there
left to be said?
The evidence is there. The reality is there. On top of it in Mississippi, you see the fraud that is going on with the programs that were set up for
the most-needy individuals. This money being squandered, wasted, embezzled. A lot of people literally do not have drinking water and have not had this
water for weeks and months. What else is there to say?
I don't know. You know, can you plead with these politicians to be reasonable? To stop the politics? To stop using people as human theater?
Whether it's what's going on in terms of their votes, whether it's taking immigrants and moving them across the country to make a political point.
It's painful because I've looked in the eyes of individuals who shared their stories and shared their remembrances. And you are a reporter, you
have been there time and time again, unless you've looked in their eyes, unless you've heard the quiver in people's voices years removed from the
incident. If you're not moved as a human being, they'll just say, OK. Enough with the politics. Let's just do what's right. And they get a room
and figure out the politics later, I don't know what to say to people anymore.
AMANPOUR: Yes, I --
RIDLEY: And it's painful. It's really, really painful.
AMANPOUR: I agree with you and I feel it when I report on those things as well. So, I wonder whether your other work, for instance, you were dabbling
in comic work and other such things. I mean, you're a well-known writer, obviously, "12 Years of Slave", many other things. But you're also into the
-- I believe it's the Marvel or the DC Comics, right?
AMANPOUR: Both. And you've just done "Batman: One Bad Day: Penguin." I mean --
AMANPOUR: -- does that help, sort of -- is it a respite from writing all of these really painful things that you do as well?
RIDLEY: In some ways, yes. I mean, look, writing in the graphic novel space, writing things that are fantastic, it allows you to reach a
different audience in different ways. For me, I don't know what it is. And, again, I don't want to necessarily bring it all back to my parents. But at
the same time, it does come back to my parents in the things that they taught me about race, about representation, about taking opportunities and
making the most of them. About never shying away from the stories that you want to tell and the urgent need to tell those stories.
So, I'm very thankful that I can take stories about human tragedy, like what happened in Katrina, and tell them on a large scale and do it with a
content provider like Apple. I'm very happy that I can take stories like "Batman", like "Black Panther" that speaks to other audiences, and speak
frankly to my kids. You know, they're more excited about those stories, as proud as they are, about things like "Five Days at Memorial." Let's be
honest, they're excited about "Black Panther", they're excited about "Batman."
But for me, for whatever reason, to have the opportunity to tell all of these stories, in all of these spaces, as long as I can, as long as I can
execute, I will.
I take all of this real estate. I understand how precious it all is. Even having the opportunity to speak to you with everything that's going on in
the world. I saw what you were talking about, missiles in North Korea. It blows my mind that you find whatever I do to have enough value to sit in
some equivalent space.
So, it's incumbent upon me to take all of that space and to maximize it with the storytelling. And to do it with pride and to do it as the young
man that my parents raised me to be.
AMANPOUR: Well, John Ridley, we do it because --
RIDLEY: Well, I have to say I'm not quite a young man anymore. But in spirit.
AMANPOUR: In spirit --
RIDLEY: In spirit, I would say.
AMANPOUR: -- you're a young man.
RIDLEY: Yes, yes.
AMANPOUR: And you do the most authentic and important kind of writing. So, for sure. Thank you so much indeed, John Ridley. Thanks a lot. Great
RIDLEY: Thank you. Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And my next guest knows all too well the devastation unleashed by Hurricane Katrina. The actor, Wendell Pierce, lost his childhood home to
that disaster back in 2005. He's been a vocal advocate of rebuilding efforts ever since, especially for the mostly black neighborhoods that
we've just been discussing in New Orleans.
Now, in his professional role, the actor is taking on a timeless American classic. He's starring as Willy Loman in a Broadway revival of Arthur
Miller's, "Death of a Salesman." Head of the first ever black Loman family on stage. He spoke to our Walter Isaacson about the personal and political
meaning of the play's key them which is the American dream.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Thank you, Christiane. And Wendell Pierce, welcome back to the show.
WENDELL PIERCE, ACTOR, "DEATH OF THE SALESMAN": Thank you very much. It's great to be here.
ISAACSON: And congratulations. I mean, but you, Sharon de Klerk playing Linda, you're playing Willy Loman in "Death of the Salesman." It's gotten
great previews. It is on Broadway. I'm sitting here within an easy walk at the WYS Studios to Ponchartrain Park, the historic neighborhood where you
And I -- it reminded me, the play is about that aspiration that came from places like Ponchartrain Park. Tell me about growing up there.
PIERCE: Ponchartrain Park is this great bucolic neighborhood that is really a part of everybody's dream of what it would be like to be in a small town
but actually in a city. And the result of the civil rights advocacy of A. P. Tureaud, the great civil rights leaders in New Orleans. And out of
something ugly, we built something great. It came about access to green space movement during the segregated times in New Orleans. Black folks
weren't allowed to vote.
And with this advocacy to have access to green space, the compromise was the ugly separate but equal, adjacent to a white neighborhood, we'll set
aside these 200 acres for this black community. And out of that ugly idea of separate body, where we've made it the incubator of black towns. Because
there were lawyers, and doctors, and my parents are teachers, and maintenance men, and postal workers, and domestics, all coming together to
show that they can share in this American dream of home ownership and building a life for their families. And that's what Ponchartrain Park was
ISAACSON: Well, you talk about it being part of the American dream and that's what this play, "Death of a Salesman" is about. And when Arthur
Miller wrote this, his father had been success but gone bankrupt in the Great Depression. Your dad came back from the war around the time this play
debuted in 1949. And he had that struggle for the American dream as well. Tell me about your father. Do you see him in Willy Loman?
PIERCE: I think of my father constantly and incessantly when it comes to this play. Because apart of the American dream is the fight of the American
nightmare, which is the paradox of what it really is. He loves this dream, it's paradoxical and his behavior. He loves his family but does things to
be self-destructive to himself and his family. And that's what the American dream is about. We're constantly fighting this paradox. The American
paradox is what I consider it. We believe in equality and justice for all in than we do things that belie, that go against the whole ideology of
ISAACSON: When you talk about that, all of those things, the headwinds that come when you're pursuing the American dream are amplified if you're black.
And this is the first time you got five black characters in this play.
PIERCE: Absolutely. This is -- and so I think of my father and Pontchartrain Park how they didn't have access to purchase a home in New
Orleans. You could not even walk into the park if you were black expect for one day of the week, Wednesday, Negro Day.
You could not even access a -- the money that would be needed to get a loan, to get a home loan. You couldn't even walk onto the French Quarter.
(INAUDIBLE) French Quarter.
When he came back from World War II, there was the double V campaign that all black folks understood in 1942. Victory brought against fascism and
victory at home against fascism and segregation. And they won the battle abroad and came back home and still were decades away from winning any of
the battles home in New Orleans.
So, that connection of that disillusionment of what the American dream is and can be, that Willy Loman is on is the same disillusionment that my
father had that actually he gave to us. You know, you can't get lost in America is something my father would always say.
And it was a literal thing because we would travel on some summer vacation but he would say it euphemistically too, that in America, you can find your
way. But with that instilled us with the knowledge that there those who will not have our best interest at heart. They are racist, violent,
segregationists, that you will have to battle and contend with to achieve this American dream. In the meantime, you will have to fight the American
The mistake that Willy makes -- that Willy Loman makes that my father didn't is understanding that simultaneously, embrace the wealth that you
already have, the wealth of family and love.
Today is all cut and dry. There's no chance of bringing friendship to me. All personalities, you see what I mean. They don't know me anymore.
BLAKE DELONG, ACTOR, "DEATH OF THE SALESMAN": That's just a thing though.
PIERCE: If I have $40, that's all I need, Howard, $40.
DELONG: I can't take blood from a stone.
PIERCE: Howard, in the year Al Smith (ph) was nominated, your father came - -
DELONG: I got to see some people.
PIERCE: I'm talking about your father. There were promises made across this desk, you mustn't tell me you have people to see. I put 34 years into this
firm, Howard. And now, I can't pay my insurance. You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away. A man is not a piece of fruit.
And that's why this is a love play. In the hubris, that tragic flaw that Willy Loman has is while he had blinders on, searching for the material
wealth, he lost sight of the wealth of love that he had around him and his family that would've helped him contend with all of the obstacles placed in
front of him, especially were a black man in 1949 America.
ISAACSON: You talked about the obstacles placed in front of Willy Loman. If I walk out of this studio to Ponchartrain Park, I go through city park. And
I remember the little signs when I was growing up, where water fountains would say, white only. There were different aggressions that the black
would have to face.
In this play, "Death of a Salesman", there are lines like that that I think would have more resonance played by a black player like yourself. Lines
where they say, oh, Mr. Loman, wouldn't you feel more comfortable sitting in the back or something? How is it like in the play to have those lines?
PIERCE: It is -- it just shows you that our interpretation, our depiction of a black Loman family just heightens all of those insults and
aggressions. Like, as you said, when the boys go into the restaurant, they're segregated, and put in the back. I actually have the infidelity
with a white woman. And everyone always questions the line that I have. I say, go in the bathroom here. When there's a knock on the door, there may
be a law. I think there's a law in Massachusetts about it. About us being together.
And everyone assumes that we put that in. I said, no. That was the play -- that was part of the play. It is heightened because you realized the
miscegenation laws of interracial marriage and interracial coupling what it was like in 1949. So, those are heightened.
And then the one that I always point out is, people always say, did you change anything? I said, if we changed anything, it was the reduction of
one word. When Leejay Coach, played the role, someone insulted him by calling him a walrus. When Dustin Hoffman played the role, someone insulted
him calling him a shrimp. When I play the role, someone insults me by calling me -- and I don't have to say it. The audience hears the racial --
in the silence.
And so, that just shows you the power of interpretation of having an African American family. And there's -- I expect pushback. There has been
some. But Arthur Miller answered that himself. In 1972, when I asked him about the first time that there was a portrayal of a black Willy Loman, he
says, especially with this play.
It's been so successful in cultures around the world and countries around the world, I totally expect a black guy to demonstrate his humanity and our
shared humanity and his artistry in playing this role. So, for all of those who are accustomed to a certain way of interpretations being -- of the
play, I would say, why don't we take the word of the author himself to embrace the interpretation that we're putting on today.
ISAACSON: One of the things about Arthur Miller's play that Willy Loman lacked that's tragic is that he faces all of these headwinds not only does
he not have the love that comes from thanking the family and all of that's more important, but there's actually no art, no culture to help sort of
mitigate the wounds that he is feeling. You play in "Treme," by far my favorite TV series ever, you played Antoine Batiste, and it's the same sort
of headwinds but it's connected to culture and art. How do you compare those two roles you played?
PIERCE: You know, that's a very good question, Walter. You being in New Orleans, you understand the role of culture in our lives in New Orleans
especially, and that it's emblematic of that role of culture in the world and in humanity. What thoughts (ph) selected the individual, when we
reflect on who we are, we decide what our values are, our triumphs, our failures, when we reflect on ourselves, that is what the form of art does
for us as a community, a place where we reflect on who we are, where we've been, where we hope to go.
Decide what our values are, and then go out and act on them. That is a mantra of mine. Those who have read interviews and have seen me, I say that
all of the time. And it's very interesting that you said that Willy Loman doesn't have a connection to that culture, to culture itself. Well, art may
have been the place where he can -- would have find some solace, find some understanding of the ineptitudes that he was going through and the
obstacles that were placed in front of him, giving him some sort of steeled tools to work through or work around them.
ISAACSON: That's a solace that this play offers us. That's what Arthur Miller did.
PIERCE: Right, right. And actually, that's the play as a piece of art offers then as a cautionary tale to those who view it, you know. And
hopefully, offers Willy as everybody, the grace of God (INAUDIBLE) do not make this mistake.
With Antoine Batiste, who had nothing, had lost everything in Katrina, who had lost his way, he's not the most -- he's a ne'er-do-well, not the most
focused and driven man, it was his art that sustained him. And it was something that we tried to do in "Treme" about New Orleans. It was the art
that brought us back. First of all, reminded is us what our journey was about and why our sitting (ph) is so special. And I dare say that we came
back and rebuilt our city with that reminder of that clarion call in our culture, that intersection of love and life itself and how we do it. That
intersection was created in our cuisine, in our architecture, and especially our music.
ISAACSON: I got my favorite line from this play, and maybe you can say it and reflect on it. But it's a part about, I've got to get some seeds. I've
got to get some seeds right away.
ISAACSON: Nothing planted. I don't have a thing in the ground.
PIERCE: Right. That is it. I have to get some seeds. I have to get some seeds right away. Nothing planted, nothing in the ground. I have -- I'm
leaving nothing. I -- seeds are hope. Seeds are visceral and real and life itself. And while I don't have anything material, I haven't left anything
that visceral to my family and to my sons, specifically to Biff. And that line is so reflective of the hope that he has within the tragic
interpretation of that, where he actually goes and he gets the seeds, and he is planting them and it is in that moment of giving hope to the future
that he makes, I believe, his ultimate tragic mistake.
We know the end of the play by the title, I guess. And it is iconic enough that I don't think I'm ruining it for your listeners. But when he makes
that choice to take his life, the hurt and pain and destructiveness that it causes cannot compare. They overwhelm his idea that that act is also a
legacy that he is giving something to his son by having his life insurance policy that is not going to pay off. He -- the disillusionment of that, if
he had only known that the true seed that he could have left is what Biff asked him to do, ultimately, at the end of the play, just let me be me and
I will find my way. You have given me enough. Let me be me. Let go of that phony dream.
And that is the nexus of the pain and the catharsis that we all feel in the play. If he had only done this one thing, or if he had only not done this
one thing, then it would've all worked out.
ISAACSON: Let me ask you one personal question, you're about the most successful person I know who has come out of our neighborhood, you've done,
I don't know, 30 movies, 50 TV shows, but do you still sometimes feel that pain that Willy Loman felt?
PIERCE: Oh, yes. I -- if I am to be honest, the successes of mine have been -- I always see myself as a journeyman. And maybe I haven't left a mark or
left a legacy. That I have nothing planted. That I haven't created enough from the body of work that deserve some significance. And a man can't go
out the way he came in. He's got to add up to something. And I say --
ISAACSON: A great line in the play.
PIERCE: And that is something that I share with Willy. I think about this play has forced me to think of my own mortality. And the actor, Jennifer
Lewis, says that I have 20 summers left. And I think about what I've done, what I hope to do, and this moment has given me an opportunity to mark my
passing and we leave some legacy. A great piece of art and this great play, and the great role that I get to share with a small fraternity of men who
have done it on Broadway, and more importantly, only night (ph), my father, 97 years old, will be sitting in the audience watching his legacy on stage,
center stage on Broadway in this iconic American play. That is a divine gift. And for that, I am humbly grateful.
ISAACSON: Thank you, Wendell. Attention must be paid.
PIERCE: Attention must be paid. Attention must finally be paid.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And that is an eternal truth. And finally, tonight, as protests across Iran continue in the wake of Mahsa Amini's death, trailblazing Nobel
laureate and human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi spoke to me with a message for Iran's supreme leader.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHIRIN EBADI, NOBEL LAUREATE AND IRANIAN HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER (through translator): The message that I can give to Khamenei and those around him
is, learn a lesson from Mohammed Riza Shah Pahlavi. When he heard that the people no longer want him, he got on the plane and left. Why can't you
learn the lesson from that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: She was, of course, referring to the Shah who did leave under the Islamic Revolution that came to power in 1979. That was a powerful and
And you can catch my full interview with Shirin Ebadi on tomorrow's show. That's it for now. Remember, you can always catch us online, Facebook,
Twitter, and Instagram, plus, of course, on our podcast. Thank you for watching, and goodbye from London.