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Interview With Inflection AI And DeepMind Co-Founder Mustafa Suleyman; Interview With "American Fiction" Actor Jeffrey Wright; Interview With The Washington Post National Security Columnist Max Boot. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired February 01, 2024 - 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's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MUSTAFA SULEYMAN, CO-FOUNDER, INFLECTION AI: I can certainly imagine a time in, five years or 10 years, where these tools are just so, so powerful
that left unchecked they could cause enormous instability.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: The risks and rewards of artificial intelligence. As deep fakes of Taylor Swift flood the internet, I discussed with Mustafa Suleyman, co-
founder of the A.I. lab, DeepMind.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFFREY WRIGHT, ACTOR, "AMERICAN FICTION": If they want stereotypes, I'll give them one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is this?
WRIGHT: Deadbeat dads, rappers, crack, that's black, right?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: -- Oscar hopeful, Jeffrey Wright, on leading the charge for "American Fiction," a stinging satire about racial stereotypes.
Also, ahead --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAX BOOT, NATIONAL SECURITY COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: This war is actually the best investment we have made in our own national security
since the end of the Cold War.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: -- Washington Post national security columnist, Max Booth, tells Walter Isaacson why support the Ukraine's battle with Putin is in America's
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
The threat of Vladimir Putin looms large in Europe. And today, the E.U. showed the world that it is serious about stopping him by pledging to give
another 50 billion euros. That's $54 billion of aid to Ukraine. President Zelenskyy lost no time thanking Europe.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: Europe today sends a signal across the Atlantic and the world all over that the international rules-
based world order will withstand all challenges. Europe sets the tone for global affairs with its unity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Of course, across the Atlantic is the United States, which by comparison is still stuck in political gridlock over its support for Kyiv,
which two years after Russia's invasion is still fighting for its survival.
Pro-democracy American lawmakers are all too aware of the danger Putin poses on the battlefield and also in cyberspace. The State Department is
warning Russia will conduct "information operations" around western elections this year. It comes as the era of A.I. is upon us, misinformation
and deep fakes, the twisting of truth, everyone's struggling to distinguish what is actually real, truth or lies.
Mustafa Suleyman is an artificial intelligence pioneer. As co-founder of the A.I. lab, DeepMind, which Google bought for hundreds of millions of
dollars back in 2014. He was also in the room when President Biden announced new A.I safeguards last year.
Suleyman says it is an incredible time to be alive during this transition to A.I, and that the world still doesn't quite grasp how big a deal it
really is. He joined me here in the studio to discuss all the ups and downs, which he's written about in his book, "The Coming Wave."
Mustafa Suleyman, welcome to the program.
2023, let's say, has been the year of A.I. Everybody was focused on it. And by and large, it was the catastrophizing of A.I. People are worried about
the elections, first and foremost. People are worried about knowing what truth is.
What should we know right now after this year?
MUSTAFA SULEYMAN, CO-FOUNDER, INFLECTION AI: Look, I think naturally whenever we encounter a new technology, we initially feel anxious and we're
sort of afraid like, what are the benefits? How is this going to affect society? What does it mean for jobs and privacy and trust? And they're all
good questions to ask, but I think in the panic and the hype, perhaps, we're sort of losing sight of the very practical, real challenges we have
in just getting this to work, getting it to be useful, getting it widely available, making it cheap so that anybody can play with it and experiment.
And they're the things that I tend to focus on. My new companies called Inflection AI. We've been going for a couple of years now. We create a chat
bot called Pi, which stands for Personal Intelligence, P-I. And it's incredibly warm and kind and supportive. It has very high emotional
intelligence, and it's a great conversational partner.
AMANPOUR: Emotional intelligence? I thought that was the one thing we haven't got there yet? To emotions in A.I.?
SULEYMAN: I mean, it's a funny thing. A lot of people thought that emotions were going to be really difficult for A.I.s to replicate, but in
fact, they've actually been on the easier end of things.
If you really focus on creating an A.I. that is smooth, conversational, fluent, very even-handed, and balanced, it turns out it's possible to do
it. And our A.I. Pi is really, really good. I mean, people should check it out. It's very, very kind and balanced and friendly.
And I think that that demonstrates that we can actually control these A.I. systems. That we aren't at the mercy of them. This is not some technology
that is taking place beyond us or outside of us. This isn't, you know, an emergent effect of life. This is a tool. This is something that we make.
These are real products that we have control.
AMANPOUR: And that is precisely what people are worried about, that we actually eventually will not have control. That it is Frankenstein and the
monster and the whole cautionary tale of, you know, it turning on its own creator.
You have no worries about that right now, even for the -- let's say -- let's just say the American election. We've already seen a fake robocall
using a Biden voice, which wasn't his, I'm just going to play it. OK.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AI RENDERING OF JOE BIDEN'S VOICE: It's important that you save your vote for the November election. Voting this Tuesday only enables the Republicans
in their quest to elect Donald Trump again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I mean, that either is Biden's voice or patched together, or it's a really good facsimile and it was trying to tell Democrats in New
Hampshire during the primary, don't bother, wait until November. That's scary stuff. Nobody's controlling that.
SULEYMAN: Absolutely right. I mean --
AMANPOUR: Or the people in -- you know, who are being faked aren't controlling it.
SULEYMAN: Of course. Right. New technologies bring new threats. There's no question about it, and this is a new threat that we all have to grapple
with. What does it mean for an A.I. to participate in the electoral process? I mean, we clearly should not have that.
For all the weaknesses of the democratic process, democracy is for humans. You know, chatbots, A.I. generated tools, these should not be allowed to
participate in the elections.
And the good news is that we actually have many, many choke points around which we can focus these kinds of policies. All of the big tech companies
provide access to these services, right? And I think it should be an obligation on them, I think -- which I think they should embrace
proactively before regulation requires it, to prevent chat bots and other kinds of A.I.s from imitating a politician or even promoting or advocating
for a certain political party or an idea. A.I.s shouldn't be participating in our elections.
AMANPOUR: As you know, lies travel faster and stick more, you know, stickier than the truth often. People are just very susceptible to lies, to
conspiracy theories, to that kind of thing. And as you also know, and I wonder whether it worries you that you just said, you know, A.I. and I'm
just going to take the tech bros, you know, put them in that book. They have not regulated themselves. I mean, they just haven't.
Why should we trust anymore that you guys are going to regulate and figure it out before you get regulated? I mean, as you know, in this part of the
world, they regulate. They want to regulate because they know, you know, left up to the creators is the profit motive.
SULEYMAN: So, I think we need regulation. I just think that regulation is going to take a while, as it always does, and often miss the mark, as it
often does, unfortunately, right? It's -- it tends to be regulating the last wave of technology, and we need agile, technical, balanced regulators
that are deeply engaged at the cutting edge of A.I.
And, you know, we as a company have been very, very forward in trying to educate regulators, collaborate with them, and so on. The downside is
that's going to take some time. So, in practice, I think it is a sensible thing for Google and Facebook, TikTok, and the big tech companies to just
declare that they're going to do everything in their power, they're going to do every best effort they can imagine to try to prevent this kind of
imitation on the platform.
They've done it before. We've seen it before. After you know, there was real-time streaming of mass shootings, for example, in the Christchurch
massacre in New Zealand, for example. You know, the platforms got very good at detecting when that was about to happen. And within seconds, can now
shut it off and prevent it. So, this is the same story.
AMANPOUR: If they want to do it. You're right. The technology is there, as it always is, but it's, you know, do you want to do it? I mean, for
instance, the Taylor Swift stuff, you know, the deep fakes, which everybody's now talking about on X, I guess it was, Twitter, Elon Musk.
What worries you about that?
And plus, you know, these tech people being in front of Congress because parents are complaining that so much of this stuff is sending their
children into terrible mental health spirals up to the point of suicide.
SULEYMAN: I think that this is a moment when tech companies have to act proactively. I can only take responsibility for the tools that I put out in
the world. We've designed an A.I., Pi, our personal intelligence, which is genuinely warm and empathetic and balanced. It's really difficult to get Pi
to say something obnoxious or offensive or be really biased in one direction or another.
It's patient. It's non-judgmental. It'll talk to you about all kinds of things you could possibly imagine. That demonstrates that it's possible to
create the kinds of A.I.s that we would love to have in our world that make for a constructive and warm life. And so, I think that, you know, all we
can do is try and bring to bear more and more pressure on platforms that don't take those kinds of approaches.
AMANPOUR: Another thing that people are worried about, unions are worried about is the loss of jobs to A.I. So, you can be as empathetic, warm,
cuddly as you want, but the IMF Fund says the A.I. is set to affect nearly 40 percent of all jobs. And UPS, you know, axing 12,000 jobs. This is what
the CEO says. Technology has changed so much in the past year, when you think about the advent of generative A.I., and adding, she's really excited
about what the changes will mean.
So, they want to lay off 12,000 people and be very excited. How do you reassure people if it's possible, that it's not just going to be wholesale
layoffs? I mean, 40 percent according to the IMF. Where does that leave people?
SULEYMAN: I think more than two-thirds of CEOs interviewed at Davos just a few weeks ago came to the same conclusion that this is fundamentally a
labor replacing technology in the long-term.
In the medium-term, over the next decade, it's going to be labor augmenting. It will make people smarter, more productive, more efficient
with their time, more accurate with their engagements in working in an everyday office or organization. But in the very long-term, that same A.I.
is going to learn to do those tasks more effectively than a regular human. And that on its face should drive an enormous amount of value. That is good
We are going to see the most productive decade in the history of our species. We're able to do much, much more with less. The question is, how
does that value get redistributed? And that's the age-old challenge. If we leave that just to the market, to its own devices over the next two or
three or four decades, then we will see what we've seen in the last five decades, which is the returns to capital compound far more quickly than
labor's wages can grow.
In fact, we've actually seen a stagnation of wages over the last four decades, and we've seen massive growth and concentration in capital, and
this is a tool that shifts value from labor to capital, because an A.I. is essentially a capital form of labor. It's an intelligent, interactive,
dynamic interface that gets things done, just like a project manager or an assistant gets things done.
AMANPOUR: So, you basically said in the next 10 years it'll be very, very productive. There'll be a lot of new jobs created.
AMANPOUR: Right. So, A.I. will create new jobs. What happens to those people? What should those people expect if after that decade of
productivity, they are replaced by this, you know, A.I. becomes capital?
SULEYMAN: Well, one of the things that we have to start thinking about is how to ask employers to do job shares, for example, or to, you know, by
default, introduce A.I.s that are companions and aides, you know, supports to an existing role. Or how we might be able to create new tasks in the
workplace that actually augment, you know, an A.I., where you can actually use an A.I. as an addition to what you do rather than a replacement.
And those are going to be decisions that workers have to, you know, encourage, you know, owners of capital to make. And they're also going to
be decisions that regulators have to start thinking about.
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you about the authoritarian leaders, or actually anybody who wants to play a destructive role on -- in society and on the
world stage. So, if the last election was the -- you know, the Russian interference using social media and all sorts of other bots and this and
that and the election.
This year, it looks like President Putin, he fully understands what's at stake. In his end-of-year presser, he demonstrated the dangers and he was
asked -- or he asked himself a question, do you have a lot of doubles? Apparently, this thing said to him, to which the real Putin said, only one
person must be like me and speak with my voice and that will be me. So, he is basically laying down the law, right? He's saying, don't even think
about imitating me, folks. I mean, how does that sit with you?
SULEYMAN: Well, unfortunately for him, he's got no chance because these technologies, by default, proliferate. They spread far and wide because
they're useful and everybody demands them. And so, people reproduce them in open-source models. Software and code that can be reproduced for free,
copied and made widely available on the internet. Right.
And so, unchecked, that is the default trajectory of this technology. However, we have changed a similar course many times before in history.
Consider online music, for example.
SULEYMAN: For a while, torrenting, back in the '90s and early 2000s, was the default way that people accessed music and film. People would peer-to-
peer, share that kind of content. We have a similar kind of thing going on at the moment in open-source. And what we need to see is the arrival of
much more controlled systems that regulate the spread of this kind of value. It can't just happen completely unchecked.
And I don't think that we are in that moment right now, but I can certainly imagine a time in five years or 10 years where these tools are just so, so
powerful that left unchecked, they could cause enormous instability.
AMANPOUR: You read sort of headlines like the one about OpenAI changing its usage policies to remove its ban on using chat GPT for military and
warfare. That was reported in the Intercept. I mean, when we get to those kinds of life and death issues, what worries do you have and how can that
SULEYMAN: Personally, I've long campaigned against the use of A.I. for lethal autonomous weapons. When DeepMind was acquired, we made it a
condition of our acquisition back in 2014, that technologies that we develop at DeepMind couldn't be used by Google for state surveillance
purposes or for military, you know, or the lethal force purposes.
And, you know, I'm still a great believer in that. I mean, I think people will end up using these tools for those purposes. But we have to be really
careful because they're very, very powerful. And if they're widely available, and if militaries start integrating them into their, you know,
systems, it will reduce the cost of going to war and make conflict, I think much more likely.
AMANPOUR: What is your biggest hope and the thing that gives you the greatest sort of, you know, excitement for the positive use of A.I.? You've
said in the midterm, it'll create a lot, a lot of jobs. But where will we see it used to its maximum and positive advantage?
SULEYMAN: You know, we are reducing the barrier to entry to access perfect information. Everybody is going to have a perfect tutor in their pocket
that can talk to you about everything that is interesting and entertaining and informative to you, in your style, in your language. Everyone is going
to get much, much, much smarter because of this interactive interface.
Our A.I. Pi is really going to be like a chief of staff for your life. It'll be a scheduler, a planner. You know, who likes, you know, ordering
the groceries and planning your vacation and doing your administration. You're going to have a personal assistant in your pocket to help organize
AMANPOUR: And you don't think that'll make us dumber and lazier like the conversation around algorithms right now, just training us all to go into
ever less, you know, demanding thought patterns --
SULEYMAN: You know, I think --
AMANPOUR: -- and choices?
SULEYMAN: I actually think, in a way, if you compare us as a species to who we were, you know, before the Second World War or who we were in the
'70, you know, we are now a much more tolerant, a much more open-minded, in general, species. You look on every front, race and sexuality and gender,
we are forgiving, we are respectful. And I think that's because we've had mass access to information. We're aware of one another at huge scale. And
that's really changed our values. I think this is going to be no different.
We didn't get dumber because of the calculator, and I don't think that we're going to get dumber because of conversational A.I.s.
AMANPOUR: Mustafa Suleyman, thank you so much indeed for joining us.
SULEYMAN: Thanks so much. Great to see you.
AMANPOUR: And next from A.I. deep fakes to a different kind of fake, a good old-fashioned literary hoax that takes shape in the hit. New movie
"American Fiction." A biting satire about the flattening of black voices. It's become one of the darlings of this year's awards season, racking up
five Oscar nominations, including best picture, as well as best actor for Jeffrey Wright. Here's a clip from the trailer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They want a black book.
JEFFREY WRIGHT, ACTOR, "AMERICAN FICTION": They have one. I'm black and it's my book. Look at what they expect us to write.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you read an excerpt?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yo, Sharanda? Where you be going in a hurry like that? If in you got to know, I was going to the pharmacy.
WRIGHT: If they want stereotypes, I'll give them one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is this?
WRIGHT: Deadbeat dads, rappers, crack. That's black, right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody's going to publish this.
WRIGHT: I just want to rub their noses in it?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We love it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Jeffrey Wright joined me here in the studio to discuss the movie and his road to the role of a lifetime.
Jeffrey Wright, welcome to the program.
WRIGHT: Thank you so much. I'm so pleased to be here.
AMANPOUR: We are very pleased to have you, because this is the breakout film of the moment, and I know you're here promoting it for the U.K.
release, which is this weekend. Did you enjoy playing this role, Thelonious Ellison, known as Monk?
WRIGHT: I had the best time working on this film, maybe the most enjoyable time that I've had working on a film, simply because we made this with such
passion. We all felt very closely related to the issues of the story. And we also felt that this was a story that wanted to be told. That was a story
for the times. And so, we dove into this.
It was a small film. We shot in 26 days.
AMANPOUR: That I couldn't believe when I read that.
WRIGHT: But we invested a lot of ourselves into it.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, given that you all loved it so much, and you're talking about the issues and the story for our time. Just in your words, describe
it. Give a synopsis. We've been saying satirical, you know, this amazing sort of satire on the stereotypes of race.
WRIGHT: It is that. It's satirical. It's social commentary. Lot of laughs, but there's a through line of emotion, I think, that's surprising for
audiences. It's a film about a man who's a writer, also a professor of English. But he tends to write from a perspective that's not necessarily
marketable, at least in his case.
He writes books that are a bit esoteric, you know, reworkings of Greek mythology and things like this. And the publishing world says to him,
that's not quite black enough. Why are you writing about this? It has nothing to do with black experience. So, out of frustration, he writes a
novel that he thinks will meet their satisfaction.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, I want to just take this moment to express your frustration as the character when you go to a bookstore --
AMANPOUR: -- and you see where your book has been stacked in the bookstore.
WRIGHT: Sure. Sure.
AMANPOUR: Here we go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
WRIGHT: Wait a minute. Why are these books here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not sure. I would imagine that this author, Ellison, is black.
WRIGHT: That's me. Ellison.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
WRIGHT: He is me, and he and I are black.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, bingo.
WRIGHT: No, bingo, Ned. These books have nothing to do with African- American studies. They're just literature. The blackest thing about this one is the ink.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't decide what sections the books go in and no one here does. That's how chain stores work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, it's constantly this, right? It's not my fault. It's not my fault. But there you are -- and this is the first stereotype you're
confronting in this film.
WRIGHT: Yes. Yes. And out of frustration, he decides to write a book that he thinks will appeal to the publisher's tastes. A book for the masses. He
writes it under it an assumed name Stagg R. Leigh. This character caricature that he creates in his head. And he's forced now to lead a dual
life because that book becomes the bestselling of his career.
AMANPOUR: So, let's go back to the beginning because your frustration starts -- Monk's frustration starts with an incident in the English
literature class. I think it's an English class.
AMANPOUR: You're teaching.
AMANPOUR: And a white student gets all bent out of shape.
WRIGHT: Yes. Yes, A Southern literature class. And there's a word on the blackboard behind him that this young woman finds to be offensive. She's a
bit overly sensitive. And so --
AMANPOUR: I can remember the word. Can we say it? Oh, it's the N word.
WRIGHT: It's the N word.
AMANPOUR: Oh, yes.
WRIGHT: It's from an a book called The Artificial (INAUDIBLE)," by Flannery. O'Connor.
AMANPOUR: OK. We're going to have to bleep you. You know that.
WRIGHT: Of course. But that's the name of the book. It's -- it -- you know, American Southern Gothic. It's -- so within the context of that
history, he's teaching this book and the words on the board behind him. That was the first scene, obviously, that I read. It's the first scene in
the script, and I was hooked immediately. Because it was such a fluent conversation that the film is having about a difficult conversation around
race, context, language, and history.
A conversation that's happening in classrooms across America, across the country, it's really at the center of the national discourse in many ways,
the political discourse. But it's not a conversation that we have very well.
AMANPOUR: No. In fact, we have just had this conversation, which goes to the heart of the actual issue, because I can't use the word that you just
used. So, I have also got to bleep it out to avoid, you know, sensitivities by audiences and people around. Even though it is the name of that actual
book that was written all those many years ago.
WRIGHT: Well, there was a line in the -- that we considered in the movie that -- a little secret we forgot to put in, well, don't take it up with
me. Take it up with Flannery O'Connor. I'll get you a Ouija board. That was -- yes.
I mean, this is the history. And these are the things that we fear talking about now. There's a segment of our society that doesn't want to -- that
wants to pretend that certain part of our history that never existed. There's another part of our society that's traumatized by these
And so, how do we come together with all of these strange dynamics happening to have productive discourse and problem solve around race and
representation and identity if we are afraid of these things.
And so, our film is not afraid we dive into it. And we do it with a good sense of humor about ourselves as well. And so, it provides, you know,
maybe a little relief, maybe a better space, a more productive space to consider these things.
AMANPOUR: So, after that classroom experience, you essentially get sidelined, put on sabbatical or leave of absence or whatever it is.
AMANPOUR: They tell you --
AMANPOUR: -- goodbye. Canceled. Then you turn up at an interview, an onstage interview about the latest, very, very popular black writer.
AMANPOUR: A woman.
AMANPOUR: Who has written a book.
WRIGHT: "We's Lives in Da Ghetto."
AMANPOUR: "We's Lives in Da Ghetto." OK. So --
WRIGHT: We's lives.
AMANPOUR: -- all your radars are alert because you see what's happening, that there is a book about a black experience that is apparently
vernacular, but it isn't representative, you don't think.
WRIGHT: Right. I --
AMANPOUR: Or entirely representative.
WRIGHT: It's not representative of the whole, it's a kind of narrowing of the black experience that is palatable to a certain audience. And out of
frustration with that, my character decides to write a book of his own to kind of shine a light on the hypocrisy of the publishing world and
misperceptions and all of that. And again, that's the book that becomes his bestseller.
But, you know, the --
WRIGHT: Called -- his book is called "My Pafology."
AMANPOUR: My Pafology."
WRIGHT: And then, he has a second title that he comes up with a little bit later.
AMANPOUR: Again, we're not really allowed to say either.
WRIGHT: We're not allowed to say.
AMANPOUR: The F-word.
WRIGHT: But, yes. So, that aspect of the film is about a guy who's not able to be his authentic self or not received for his authentic self. He
wants to be individual -- an individual who's creative, creatively free and intellectually free. And the exterior world is kind of stunting him.
But it's not simply limited to the black experience. I think all of us want to be seen. All of us want to be free. All of us want to be seen as our
authentic selves, and there's resistance to that.
So, for that reason, I've had many people who've seen the film now who related to that story, who weren't black men, but said, yes, I get that. I
get the pressures from the outside that want to force me to be something that I'm not. That kind of limit, you know, the scale and scope of who I
am. So, there's a universality to it that I think is welcoming to audiences.
AMANPOUR: So, "My Pafology," which then turned into the F-word book. Your agent, who is hilarious, I mean, those scenes between you and your agent's
WRIGHT: He's such --
AMANPOUR: -- and the publishers, it is just, you know, crying funny. And I am going to play part of an excerpt of the publisher who decides to take
your book and want to publish it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're both very excited to discuss Thompson Watt's offer.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Well first of all, let me just say that all of us here at Thompson Watt are thrilled with "My Pafology." It is about as
perfect a book as I have seen in a long, long while. Just raw and real.
Mr. Leigh, is this based on your actual life?
WRIGHT: Yes. You think some (INAUDIBLE) ass college boy can come up with that (INAUDIBLE)?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. No, no. I don't.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I mean, and then it goes on and on and on.
AMANPOUR: So, you as a -- I guess a middle class, you are having --
WRIGHT: Professional class.
AMANPOUR: Professional class.
AMANPOUR: Having to take on this role, and it's really interesting because then you talk to actually this author, Sintara, who did write this other
WRIGHT: Played by Issa Rae. Yes.
AMANPOUR: And she pushes back on you eventually in the film.
AMANPOUR: Why are you being so, you know, against this kind of writing?
WRIGHT: Well, that's a central scene for our film. It kind of represents a type of thesis argument in the film. One of the things that Cord Jefferson
and I talked about, who directed our film and adapted the screenplay from a novel by Percival Everett called "Erasure," we -- you know, Cord and I
talked a lot about not making a film that was some classist dismissing of, you know, work that was beneath us, but rather talking about the broadening
of representation --
WRIGHT: -- in film, in literature, and generally. So, we were careful to make sure that Monk, my character, may not be the most reliable narrator.
He may not be spouting the absolute gospel. And Sintara's character, in that scene that you're talking about, checks him.
AMANPOUR: Yes, yes.
WRIGHT: And he finds out, gradually through the course of the film, despite his objection to her work, he begins to realize that she's as
clever as he is. She's as savvy as he is. And in that scene, we're left with a thesis argument, but it exists somewhere between their perspectives.
Somewhere on the table there, maybe in a synthesis of the two ideas is something that approaches the -- something closer to the truth.
And so, it's a wonderful moment for him, because he's not the same man at the end of the film that he is at the beginning.
WRIGHT: He's gone through this process of being self-reflective, of being challenged. And all of the forces that are -- forces around him have caused
him to actually take on board these things, process them, and transform to some extent. He goes through a healthy, you know, kind of period of
evolution over the course of the film, which is hopeful, I think.
AMANPOUR: It really is. And we're not going to do spoiler alerts about the end, but the end is really fascinating. Very unexpected, really
interesting. But in the middle of all of this, the reason your character, Monk, writes this book is because you have to -- you're not earning much
AMANPOUR: And you have to pay for your mother's, in the film, her care, because she's getting increasingly into dementia.
AMANPOUR: And so, it really -- that part is really so full of pathos. That's really the sad part. The dysfunctional family. The loving family.
How you have done all this that you're doing like, you know, a fake, you, really, in order to be able to pay for her care.
WRIGHT: Yes. He's not entirely cynical. He's not entirely hypocritical or a sellout. His mother is ailing. And he finds himself after, really, a
series of crises within the family, having to be the adult in the room and take on the responsibility of being caretaker to the woman who was his
caretaker. That for me was the thing that really hooked me into this story when I read it.
That was the thing that I felt most closely aligned, kind of psychologically and emotionally, because I understood that. That's -- I had
been living that reality. When I received this script from Cord, my mother passed away about a year or so before I got the script. She passed of
cancer. It was very quick. But I had the good fortune of being raised by two women. My mother and her eldest sister, my aunt, who's now 94, who came
to live with us in New York.
And so, I had been caretaker to my mom and then having to be caretaker to my aunt. I have two children. The pandemic set in all of those pressures.
So, it was a really very challenging time. And it kind of disabused me of the youthful idea that life gets easier as you get older, that's where our
character finds himself.
And again, that side of the film is -- as you say, it's filled with emotion.
AMANPOUR: Filled with emotion. It's really sad.
WRIGHT: And there's a wonderful simple humanness to it. And again, a universality to it, because there are many of us who know that period in
our lives, and many of us who will. And so, again, it's an invitation to members of the audience across backgrounds to find themselves within the
story. And it also provides, in some ways, the answer, if you will, to the absurdity of the satirical side. And, you know, the kind of tragic
absurdity of this perception of this man, when, really, all along, he's just leading this ordinary life inside an ordinary mad family like everyone
AMANPOUR: Like everybody else.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Can I just ask you, because you have been in many really well-received films and series and Broadway play, "Angels in America." You
know, you've got "The Hunger Games," "James Bond," but this is your first Oscar nomination.
AMANPOUR: And some people say, oh, it took so long. It's about time. Do you feel that? How do you feel?
WRIGHT: Well, my aunt felt that. I called her. Her eyesight's not so great anymore. So, she has difficulty dialing the phone. And I called her that
morning. I said, hey, hadn't heard from you. Did you take in any news this morning? She said, yes, I heard that. Yes, yes, yes. Congratulations. But
you know, you should have been nominated a long time ago. You should have been nominated for "Basquiat," she said,.
AMANPOUR: And "Basquiat."
WRIGHT: She speaks plainly. How do I feel about it? I feel really gratified.
WRIGHT: Because it's a film that I'm proud of. Proud of the work that we all did. The film was recognized in multiple categories. And it's coming
from our peers who are saying, hey, well done. And that's a wonderful thing.
AMANPOUR: It is. It's a wonderful feeling. And I just want a last question. Do you choose certain roles? Some of these are sort of are in the
modern history realm, if you like.
AMANPOUR: Some of these roles, whether it's "Basquiat" in art, whether it's "Angels in America," on the AIDS, you know, crisis. This one now, with
the racial stereotypes. Do you feel that you want to be relevant in conversations and parts of history that are happening right now or not?
WRIGHT: Yes. What -- well, I thought that was the point. To tell stories that --
AMANPOUR: I mean, "Hunger Games" isn't, is it?
WRIGHT: It is as well.
AMANPOUR: Is it? OK.
WRIGHT: Yes. I think a lot of people found their ways inside that -- those stories, from a political perspective.
WRIGHT: About, you know, their relationship to power, to government. And in many respects, a young woman, you know, kind of emerging as a hero that
had like a real significance to many young women.
But yes, I think the best -- maybe the best period of filmmaking in America was the '70s when these gritty films made by Sidney Lumet and Alan Pakula
and Francis Ford Coppola that were relevant to the times.
WRIGHT: Were story driven, but relevant character driven films that -- you know, that talked about things that people are talking about in ways that
added to the discourse. And I'm hoping that our film maybe, you know, throws back to that era in some ways and does so too.
We -- I saw Mel Brooks honored at an event the other day. He said, yes, all my stuff was satire. We all -- we throw some winks at that type of satire.
He said, yes. But satire doesn't work if it's not talking about the times. If it's not political. If it's not socially relevant. What's the point?
I mean, escapism is good. But yes, I like to have conversations that that are meaningful to people and maybe provide a little bit of comfort, a
little bit of relief, a little bit of validation. And I think our film may do that.
AMANPOUR: Well, everybody's talking about it, that's for sure. Congratulations, Jeffrey Wright.
WRIGHT: Thank you so much.
AMANPOUR: Thank you very much.
WRIGHT: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: "American Fiction" out here in London this weekend.
And next to Ukraine. As we've mentioned, a much-needed lifeline for the beleaguered nation came from the E.U. today, but no such help from
Washington, where congressional Republicans under pressure from Donald Trump are holding up a bipartisan deal on the southern border that's linked
to Ukraine Aid.
Our next guest warns this is a dangerous miscalculation. The Washington Post National Security columnist, Max Boot, telling Walter Isaacson that
protecting Ukraine also protects the United States and its allies.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER ISAACSON, CO-HOST, AMANPOUR AND CO.: Thank you, Christiane. and Max Boot. Welcome back to the show.
MAX BOOT, NATIONAL SECURITY COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Good to be back.
ISAACSON: You know, the Ukraine counteroffensive against Russia this past year seems, to me at least, to be a disappointment. It gathered some
territory, but then it was offset. It seems too that this means it could go on for five, 10 more years back and forth like this. Why should Americans
continue to pay for this war if it's not going to be resolved?
BOOT: Well, Walter, I think this war is actually the best investment we have made in our own national security since the end of the Cold War. We're
spending less than 5 percent of our defense budget. And in return, the Ukrainian armed forces are decimating the Russian armed forces.
The Russians have lost about two-thirds of their pre-war tank inventory. They have suffered more than 300,000 casualties. So, this is directly
decreasing the threat to our NATO allies and to the United States. And it's also upholding the principles of liberalism, democracy, and the rule of law
that we have stood for since World War II.
It would set a horrible precedent for the world if Russia were to get away with its unprovoked aggression, that would be a green light for China to
attack Taiwan, for North Korea to attack South Korea. We don't want to live in that kind of world. The Ukrainians are fighting for our values with a
small amount of aid. We are helping them to keep their nation intact.
And even though their counteroffensive failed, Russia has also failed in its attempt to destroy Ukraine. 80 percent of Ukrainian territory remains
in Ukrainian hands. The country continues to function. It's a liberal democracy. It is very much in our moral and strategic interest to continue
helping Ukraine to defend itself without risking a single American soldier.
ISAACSON: And you said, the Russians haven't been able to capture much territory, the Ukrainians haven't. We seem almost to be frozen in place
within a hundred kilometers of the line we have now. Why can't we get to a truce or a ceasefire in place?
BOOT: Well, Putin has shown no interest in genuine peace negotiations and a widespread speculation as he is waiting to see if Donald Trump wins the
November election. Because Trump is very hostile to Ukraine. Very friendly to Putin. He actually just recently said that he was the apple of Putin's
eye. This is the Republican presidential nominee, soon to be.
So, Putin has no incentive to negotiate as long as he thinks that Trump will come along and cut off Ukraine. And in fact, right now -- even though
it's Joe Biden in office and not Trump, right now, the Republicans in the House are, in fact, cutting off Ukraine. And so, that takes away any
incentive for Putin to make any kind of concessions because he thinks that if he just holds on, he can win this war. And you know, unless there is a
change of course in Washington, he may well be proven correct.
ISAACSON: And so, what happens if the Republicans in the House of Representatives don't approve this mixed aid package? You said at one point
that it would -- I think you said something like it would make you ashamed to be an American.
BOOT: It would make me ashamed to be American. Cutting off Ukraine right now would be the exact equivalent of cutting off Great Britain from
American aid in 1940, when the British were standing alone against the Nazis. And remember, a lot of people wanted to do that, including the
Republican Party. They were actually adhering to an America first foreign policy before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Unfortunately, that America first
foreign policy is back, and I don't think that exemplifies the best of America.
The best of America is standing for our allies and helping to protect them from unprovoked aggression. And we need to continue doing that. If we don't
do that, Ukraine could very well lose the war. Probably not this year, but certainly within a few years from now. And I think that will leave us
ashamed to be Americans and it will -- if the Republicans are responsible for cutting off aid to Ukraine, they're going to have ownership of this
ISAACSON: At the moment, the Senate is pretty close to negotiating a deal, Senator Lankford of Oklahoma, many Republican as well as the Democrats,
that would tie this aid to border security, to a much stricter southern border with Mexico's security plan.
You wrote, whatever genius in the congressional Republican caucus decided to condition aid to Ukraine on the passage of a comprehensive immigration
overhaul deserves a medal, from the Kremlin. Why is it so bad to say, hey, we want to secure our border if we're going to be paying for a continuation
of this war in Ukraine?
BOOT: Well, there's nothing wrong with wanting to secure our border, but the two situations are not linked. We are not being invaded by the Mexican
army. We're dealing with a lot of migrants at our southern border. That is completely different from the situation that Ukraine is facing with the
Russian invasion. And I don't mind linking the two if it's possible to get agreement on a border deal.
But remember, Walter, there has not been a comprehensive immigration bill passed through Congress since Ronald Reagan's presidency in the 1980s. And
now, we're seeing why it's so hard to do that because even though Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have made a lot of progress on a
compromised bill, Trump is saying that it needs to fail, because essentially, Trump cares more about holding onto the border as an election
issue than he cares about actually controlling the issue.
And so, the odds are that the House Republican caucus will tank the immigration compromise in the Senate. The question then becomes, what
happens to aid to Ukraine? And also, by the way, aid to Israel and Taiwan, is that going to get a separate up or down vote or not? And it's imperative
that Congress delink these two issues so that even if there is gridlock and immigration, Ukraine can't wait for us to settle our differences.
They need aid right now. They are under attack right now. Ukrainians are dying every single day. They need our help desperately.
ISAACSON: You said that Trump looks upon Putin, talks about the apple of my eye. Tell me what you think would happen if Trump is restored to the
BOOT: I think it would be a catastrophe for America and the world. I think this would really be a return to the pre-Pearl Harbor foreign policy of
isolationism that we eschewed after World War II.
Every single American president from FDR on has believed that America has to exercise global leadership. The only exception is Donald Trump, who
adopts the slogan of America first. That was also used by the isolationist of the pre-Pearl Harbor period.
So, it's very hard to predict exactly what Trump will do because he is mercurial and unpredictable and capable of going off in multiple different,
often contradictory directions. But he has been pretty clear about that he is a big fan of Vladimir Putin. He is not a big fan of Zelenskyy or
Ukraine. He's constantly talked about destroying NATO. About taking America out of NATO. He's even said that he may not defend Taiwan.
So, I think all of those things put together should be a very loud alarm bell, that if voters care about exercising American global leadership, if
voters care about trying to safeguard the American led global order that is -- has existed since 1945, they need to vote for Biden rather than Trump,
because Trump has nothing but hostility to the Pax Americana.
ISAACSON: You say that as somebody who I always identified as being, I would say center right, and probably more Republican in your sympathies.
So, you now think people should vote for Biden?
BOOT: Of course. I mean, I -- you know, to talk about my own history, Walter, I mean, I was a lifelong Republican, foreign policy adviser to John
McCain, Mitt Romney, and Marco Rubio. The very first time I ever voted for a Democrat was in 2016 when I voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.
But the day after Trump won the election, I re-registered as an independent, because I was not comfortable with where the Republican Party
was going, and I'm far less comfortable today than I was in 2016. It's very alarming to see what was once a conservative party turning into this ethno
nationalist populist party of grievance and xenophobia and isolationism.
I think for a Trump-led party to come to power would be a catastrophe. Whereas on the other hand, if it was Nikki Haley, I would sleep completely
soundly at night, because even though I disagree with Haley on a bunch of things, I don't think she wants to destroy U.S. democracy. I don't think
she wants to destroy U. S. foreign policy, but Trump, I fear, does.
ISAACSON: You have a biography of Ronald Reagan coming out later this year, partly biography and partly an analysis of all of his policies. And
he was, in your book, a very conservative leader. How did the party get diverted or changed by Trump to -- from being a conservative party to, I
think, you called it ethno nationalist?
BOOT: Right. Ethno nationalist party. I mean, that's a long story that really dates back to the 1960s. And I think -- you know, to sum it up very
briefly, I think the Republican Party has always had conservative elements, but it's also had these ethno nationalist, populist elements, which were a
lot of the grassroots.
And, you know, up until recently, Republican leaders did not cater to that far-right base. They sometimes threw red meat to them during the course of
political campaigns, as Ronald Reagan and many others did, but they tended to govern in a much more centrist and responsible fashion, making deals
with Democrats and basically upholding U.S. international leadership. Trump is the exception.
ISAACSON: Well, wait. Let's talk about Reagan then, because what would Reagan be doing in this situation, do you think?
BOOT: I mean, you know, Ronald Reagan was the guy who believed in funding freedom fighters to fight against the evil empire. I mean, it would be a no
brainer for him, I think, to support the people of Ukraine in their resistance against Russia. That's a traditional Republican foreign policy.
What Trump is advocating is something very, very different.
ISAACSON: President Biden just cut off new liquefied natural gas, LNG exports from the United States, or new facilities that would do it, or he
put it on pause. It seems to me that's a gift, in some ways, to Putin and a blow to our European allies. What do you make of that?
BOOT: Well, I mean, I think we're still, you know, pumping more oil and gas today than we ever have in our history and more than any other country
ever has, I believe in U.S. history. So, you know, I think Biden needs to find the balancing act between preserving our short-term economic security
and doing something about the long-term threat of global warming, and I think that's the balance he's trying to seek, but I don't think this is
going to be a huge benefit to Russia because we're already pumping a lot of oil and the price of oil is already pretty low in the world market. And our
sanctions are biting Russia, although not as much as we would like.
ISAACSON: Our sanctions are biting Russia, you say, but Russia's economy seems to be doing just fine. How come our sanctions aren't working?
BOOT: Well, it's -- the Russian economy continues to function, but they have very high inflation, much higher than ours. And they've basically gone
to a military wartime flooding where they're devoting most of their economy or increasing the large share of their economy.
And certainly, most of -- you know, most of their government budget to defense production and the military. And you could certainly keep that up -
ISAACSON: But by doing so, they're being able to produce more munitions than we are. In other words, their ammunition flow and production is higher
than what we're doing for Ukraine. Isn't this going to be not a pretty sight if this thing keeps going on?
BOOT: Well, they are -- I mean, they are certainly managing to rev up their ammunition production, but they're not able to produce what they need
either. I mean, they're having to buy from Iran and North Korea, the only rogue states that are willing to sell weapons to them.
And between the United States and Europe, we are also ramping up our ammunition production, artillery production, all kinds of weapons
production. I think we certainly have the -- I mean, the U.S. and Europe are many, many times larger than Russia in terms of economies, in terms of
population. We certainly have the potential to outproduce the Russian economy. And, I think, certainly keep Ukraine able to defend itself as long
as the United States continues to provide the aid that we've been providing.
ISAACSON: You've also written a book on proxy wars, small wars. And we're seeing this play out in the Middle East now, just in the past week, three
American soldiers killed by, I think -- I guess I would say they're proxy forces in Syria that are somewhat proxies of Iran, and even with Hamas,
Hezbollah, and others, they're partly supported, at least, by Iran, and it seems like a proxy war there.
Should we retaliate, we, meaning the United States? Should the U.S. retaliate against Iran or is that something you really don't do in this
type of situations?
BOOT: Well, I think President Biden has to walk a very fine line. I think he does need to retaliate because, you know, I think the Iranian-backed
militias crossed a red line by killing three American soldiers, and this is just one of about 160 attacks on U.S. bases in the region since the Hamas
attack on Israel on October 7th.
So, I think President Biden does need to retaliate. But at the same time, I think he's very cognizant that he doesn't want to get into a war with Iran.
That would not be in anybody's interest. And so, I don't think he's going to pay attention to these uber hawks, like Lindsey Graham and John Cornyn,
who are saying, you know, bomb Tehran. I think that would be a little bit unhinged and very, very dangerous.
But clearly, we need to also send a strong message to Iran that they can't attack us forces or their proxies can attack U.S. forces with impunity. And
so, I'm sure that President Biden and his military and foreign policy advisers are looking at target sets that they can after to send that
message to Iran without getting into an escalatory spiral that would produce a massive war that nobody wants.
ISAACSON: Yes, I always think of you as very much a realist in foreign policy, and it seems that these days were violating the grand principle of
realism, which is not to fight on too many fronts and not to have our adversaries end up joining together against us. And yet, we're doing that
when we're pushing against Russia, pushing against China, and now pushing against Iran. And they're all becoming closer to each other.
Do you think we're making a major strategic error in foreign policy? And if so, should we be opening up to China or Iran, and try to not have our
adversaries all grouped against us?
BOOT: Well, you know, I would not actually say that all of our adversaries are grouped against us. There are some overlapping interests between Iran,
China, and Russia, but they're not close allies. And in fact, I think the Biden administration has done a pretty good job over the last year of
improving relations with China.
And as you can see, China is not providing weapons to Russia in Ukraine. I think that's hugely important. And China seems to have adopted a somewhat
more conciliatory approach to the U.S. and the West, and I think that's a positive thing.
So, I think we should certainly try to ratchet down tensions where we can. It's hard. You know, there's no way to ratchet down tensions with Russia as
long as they continue to invade an innocent country next door. It's very hard to ratchet down tensions with Iran as long as their proxies are
attacking U.S. forces. Certainly, we should try to avoid getting embroiled in multiple conflicts.
But remember, I mean, this is kind of the historic foreign policy of the United States, going back to 1945, is to try to preserve the peace in the
key centers of global power, in Europe and East Asia and the Middle East. And so, I think we still have a vital role and indispensable role, as
Madeline Albright said, in trying to uphold global order, and that's not always easy and sometimes dangerous. But I think the far greater danger
would be to abandon our internationalist role and retreat into the kind of pre-Pearl Harbor isolationism that Donald Trump seems to advocate.
ISAACSON: Max Boot, thank you so much for joining us.
BOOT: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And finally, a napkin for when things get messy, Lionel Messi that is. A paper napkin containing the agreement to sign this famed
Argentinian football legend to FC Barcelona will go on auction, starting price, $380,000.
The deal was sealed in 2000 when Messi was just 13 years old. It was the beginning, of course, of a breathtaking career, as he became one of the
greatest players in the history of the game.
And since joining the American club, Inter Miami last year, he's had a massive impact on the profile and popularity of the sport in the United
States. That napkin contract, a deal certainly worth more than the paper it was written on.
That's it for now. If you ever miss our show, you can find the latest episode shortly after it airs on our podcast. And remember, you can always
catch us online, on our website, and all-over social media.
Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.