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Interview With "Patriots" Director Rupert Goold; Interview With "Patriots" Actor Michael Stuhlbarg; Interview With "Finally Bought Some Jordans" Author Michael Arceneaux; Interview With South African Anti- Apartheid Campaigner Andrew Mlangeni; Interview With Anti-Apartheid Campaigner Peter Hain. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired April 26, 2024 - 13:00   ET



BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR. Here's what's coming up.

Questions for the Pentagon as new evidence challenges its account of the deadly 2021 Kabul airport attack during America's withdrawal from

Afghanistan. We have that exclusive report.

Then --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Am I really being lectured on morality by a KGB hack?


GOLODRYGA: -- the rise and fall of Putin's kingmaker, history told on stage in the "Patriots." I speak to the play's star, Michael Stuhlbarg, and

director, Rupert Goold.

Plus --


MICHAEL ARCENEAUX, AUTHOR, "FINALLY BOUGHT SOME JORDANS": Coming from a working-class, poor background, being from the south, I think my

perspective is often like missing from the conversation.


GOLODRYGA: -- "I Finally Bought Some Jordan." Author Michael Arceneaux tells Michel Martin about his new essay collection, exploring race, class,

and grief from his unique perspective.

Also, ahead, South Africa marks 30 years of democracy. We look back at Christiane's conversation with anti-apartheid activists Andrew Malangeni

and Peter Hain.

Hello, everyone. Welcome to the program. I'm Bianna Golodryga in New York sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.

Well, there were scenes of utter desperation and chaos. Thousands of Afghans crowded outside Kabul's airport as American troops withdrew and the

Taliban swept the country. That was August 2021 when a congressional hearing last month, Former Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley blamed

the U.S. State Department for not ordering what's known as a noncombatant evacuation operation sooner.

Of course, it ended in tragedy for many at the airport when an ISIS-K suicide attack killed more than 180 people, including 13 U.S. servicemen.

For two years, the U.S. military has maintained that these deaths were all from that single explosion. But new video evidence shows that there was far

more gunfire than the Pentagon has ever admitted. As correspondent Nick Payton Walsh details in this special report.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you guys in the right center line?



NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): These are fragments of a video not fully seen in public before that revealed brutal facts long denied by the U.S. military. Let's go back to

the horrific dusk of August 26, 2021. An ISIS bomb outside Kabul airport tears through a packed crowd. 170 Afghans and 13 American military are

killed in the largest casualty event there in a decade, a moment of acute savagery at the end of America's longest war.

But it's been mired in dispute ever since. Two Pentagon investigations have insisted everyone was killed by the bomb and dismissed dozens of Afghans'

accounts to CNN two years ago that Afghan civilians were shot in the chaotic aftermath.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No definitive proof that anyone was ever hit or killed by gunfire.

WALSH (voice-over): But this new video, which begins outside the airport's Abbey Gate entrance, reveals much more shooting after the blast than the

Pentagon said. Combined with new accounts to CNN of Marines opening fire and gunshot injuries in Afghan civilians, it challenges the rigor and

reliability of the two Pentagon investigations that declared no Afghan civilians were shot dead in the chaotic aftermath.

The bomb detonates. The footage then stops and picks up three seconds later.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You good? You good?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right here, right here.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got that on film, dude.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're breaking through. Is that all right, guys? Hey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get out. We're doing security.

WALSH (voice-over): Many Marines here were young, some on their first deployment. The gunfire starts. They run for cover.

This long burst is about 17 shots, bringing us a total of 20. We're tallying shots fired and episodes of fire based on two forensic analyses on



You cannot see who is still firing here, and we never see Marines or anyone firing in this video.


WALSH (voice-over): Short, controlled bursts in isolation. A CS gas canister has exploded in the blast, its gas choking this Marine.

And in a moment, the total episodes of gunfire you've heard will start being more than the three the Pentagon has said happened.


WALSH (voice-over): The gunfire continues. We leap forward 27 seconds. As Afghans, arms raised, run into the airport.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just smoke and dirt, bro.

WALSH (voice-over): One burst, now another.


WALSH (voice-over): They wonder if the Taliban, the TB, is shooting. Two Marines told us they saw the Taliban just after the blast, looking as

shocked as they were.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh. Come here, come here, come here. You good?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm fine. Hey, where's (INAUDIBLE) I need accountability of -- we're pushing them back there. Any casualties? We're

pushing back.

WALSH (voice-over): More shots.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get down. Hey, you good?

WALSH (voice-over): Multiple Marines we spoke to who were there said they felt they were under fire. But the Pentagon has insisted for two years no

militant gunmen opened fire here. They've said the only shots fired here were two bursts by U.S. Marines and one from U.K. troops, once in a big

burst from a nearby tower, all bursts near simultaneous.

So, according to their investigations, we must be hearing Marines, all the British, firing here. More controlled shots. Jump forwards another 39

seconds and more shots.


WALSH (voice-over): They're still absorbing what happened.


WALSH (voice-over): 15 seconds later, more shooting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, you guys good? Hey, hey, look at me, look at me. Are you guys in the right center line? Let's go.

WALSH (voice-over): They head out into the chaos to help. You've just seen and heard at least 43 shots fired in at least 11 episodes of shooting. It

matters, as it is just short of four minutes of sporadic fire, most of which the Pentagon has said for two years did not happen, and that shows

their narrative of this horrific and disputed event is wrong.

This is how terrifying it was for Afghans outside minutes after the blast. So, who was shooting and who were they firing at? For the first time, a

Marine eyewitness has come forward and told CNN the first big burst of gunfire at the start of the GoPro video you just saw came from where U.S.

Marines were standing near the blast site.

We're using a different voice to hide his identity as he fears reprisals for describing the gunfire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was multiple. There's no doubt about that. It wasn't onesies and twosies. It was a mass volume of gunfire.

WALSH: Down towards the Abbey Gate sniper tower from roughly an area not too far away from where the blast had gone off, that's where you heard the

shooting emanate from?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It would have been around that area, yes.

WALSH: And there were U.S. Marines, right? This was likely emanating from Marines on the ground.


WALSH: You think they fired into the crowd?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I couldn't tell you for certain.

WALSH: But they wouldn't have fired into the air, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, they would not have fired into the air.

WALSH: Because you had a specific no-warning-shots order, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It wasn't a direct order, but it was a common understanding. No warning shots. These are kids. They're young. And they've

only been taught what they've been taught. Some of these kids have been with the unit for quite literally two, three months prior to deployment.

WALSH: And when you see the investigations, plural, the conclusions they've made that say anybody who talks about gunfire or people being shot

or being shot are just the product of traumatic brain injury, misremembering, how do you feel about that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a pathetic excuse. To say that every Marine, every soldier, every Navy corpsman on the deck has a traumatic brain injury and

cannot remember gunfire is lunacy. It's outright disrespectful, and especially for it to come from somebody who wasn't there.


WALSH (voice-over): So, what did the other Marines who were there have to say? Ten other Marines who didn't go on camera told us they heard gunfire.

A couple even said they saw a gunman.

But two others stand out, who we were unable to reach ourselves. Romel Finley was injured, and in an interview with a former Marine turned barber,

said he didn't see shooting and his recollections are fuzzy, bar one moment he remembers vividly.

ROMEL FINLEY, BLAST SURVIVOR: As my squad leader's pulling me out, I remember -- as we're walking past -- he's, like, buddy-carrying me walking

past, I see my platoon sergeant walk past us, saying, get back on that wall and shoot back at those (INAUDIBLE). So, I'm like, oh, we're in a gunfight


WALSH (voice-over): Another survivor, Christian Sanchez, carried out here injured in his left arm, also told the barber he shot someone who he

thought was shooting at him.

CHRISTIAN SANCHEZ, BLAST SURVIVOR: Like, all I hear is ringing and (INAUDIBLE) flashes going on, and then I start hearing snaps. And I start

realizing that's a (INAUDIBLE) dude shooting at me. I just started shooting at the dude.

And while I was shooting, I remember, like, looking at the guy, and he's -- like, he's just there. And then he just -- he literally looks like he ate

(INAUDIBLE). Like, I'm looking at him, like, around him, I could see impact.

WALSH (voice-over): So, what of the Afghans themselves, 170 of whom died? The Pentagon has insisted all injuries and deaths were from the bomb and

its ball bearings. But CNN has wide-ranging evidence pointing to many Afghans being shot.

Two years ago, we heard 19 eyewitness accounts from Afghan survivors who saw people shot or were shot themselves, supported by 13 medical reports of

bullet wounds.

Afghan medical staff also told us they counted dozens of dead from gunfire. Key was Sayeed Ahmadi, head doctor at the Kabul hospital treating most of

the wounded, whose team assessed the injuries of the dead as they lay out in the parking lot that night.

WALSH: You still think back about that night, sometimes?


WALSH (voice-over): Back then, he was afraid to speak openly, but he now is safe with asylum in Finland and wanted to say on camera how he pulled

bullets out of patients, how his team counted over 50 dead from gunfire and how his many years treating combat injuries meant he can diagnose a bullet


AHMADI: Explosion injuries come with severe injuries. You know, there are lots of holes in the bodies, but the people who were shot at, they had just

one or two holes, exactly in the chest or in the head. 170 people were killed, totally. But the register, what we had, maybe 145.

WALSH: And by your estimation, about half?

AHMADI: More than half were killed by a gunshot.

WALSH (voice-over): Yet the night would get darker still. Ahmadi started getting phone calls in the local language diary, threatening him and his

staff to stop looking into who had been shot.

AHMADI: He told me, what are you doing, doctor? And do you love your life? Do you love your families?

This is not good. When you're collecting that data, it would make a dangerous situation for you. And you should stop that as soon as possible.

WALSH: So, when you hear the American investigation say that you're just wrong, you don't know what you're talking about.

AHMADI: I wonder. I hope one day they ask me, or they call me what you saw, like you come here and ask me, you came to Kabul and ask me about the

situation. They never asked me.

WALSH (voice-over): Even though we described the video and our findings in great detail to the Pentagon, they said they would need to examine any new

unseen video before they could assess it. They said their first investigation had thoroughly looked at allegations of outgoing fire from

U.S. and coalition forces following the blast. They said their review, released earlier this month, focused not on gunfire but the bomber and

events leading up to the blast, but found no new evidence of a complex attack and uncovered no new assertions of outgoing fire, having no

materialistic impact on the original investigation.

Investigators have also not interviewed any Afghans for their reports, the Pentagon said, leaving the question of how hungry for the truth are they?


GOLODRYGA: Our Nick Payton Walsh reporting there.

Well, everyone has an origin story, including Vladimir Putin. That's what actor Michael Stuhlbarg tells me. He's starring in the hit Broadway play

"Patriots," playing Boris Berezovsky, the oligarch kingmaker who launched Putin from apparatchik obscurity into the Kremlin.


"Patriots" is written by "The Crown" creator Peter Morgan. It brings to life the Oedipal conflict between Berezovsky and Putin set against the

chaotic background of post-Soviet Russia. Here's a clip.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A country cannot be run by businessmen. Social policy cannot be determined by businessmen. Foreign policy cannot be determined by


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By whom then? Politicians? Don't make me laugh. When was the last time you saw a politician you truly respect anywhere?


GOLODRYGA: I spoke with Stuhlbarg and "Patriots" director Rupert Goold about capturing that history making moment on stage.


GOLODRYGA: Michael, Rupert, thank you so much for joining us. As you know, I'm a huge fan of this show. This is an area of immense interest to me, but

I think what's so successful and wonderful about this production is that you don't have to be from the Soviet Union, you don't have to be a Russia

watcher to really walk out with chills and get a sense of that time in history and the arc through present day Russia and obviously the tragedy of

this war. So, congratulations.

Why did you decide to build this show based around that era and this man.

RUPERT GOOLD, DIRECTOR, "PATRIOTS": I think in the West, certainly in my lifetime. I think about Russian, it was a huge focus through the '80s.

Anyone living in the West, particularly in Great Britain or America, would have been super aware of the Cold War.

And then, of course, in the last 10 years, particularly in the last few years, we've become also grimly fixated with what's going on in Russia and

the former Soviet republics. But there was this period in the '90s where, to some extent, we in the West maybe slightly took our eye off the ball. I

mean, we knew that the Cold War had fallen. I think I was leaving school around the time the Berlin Wall came down.

And that period, which people talk about now, the '90s and the West, is this period of peace, you know, between the Berlin Wall and 9/11, when

everything was great. But of course, in Russia, it wasn't, it was a time of huge chaos, this massive political and economic system had collapsed, and

into this anarchy, and this sort of gangster like anarchy, arose these extraordinary, opportunistic, very brilliant, sometimes corrupt, sometimes

principled, sometimes super ambitious, interestingly predominantly brilliant Jewish men, a lot of them were who became the central oligarchs

who, to some extent, rebuilt the Russian state in the '90s.

And Berezovsky, who Michael plays, was -- in Peter's play and probably in history, the sort of -- the ur oligarch, as it were, the person who was

there at the coalface at the beginning.

GOLODRYGA: And, Michael, how familiar were you before your approach for this role with Boris Berezovsky?

MICHAEL STUHLBARG, ACTOR, "PATRIOTS": Not at all, unfortunately.

GOLODRYGA: Was that a benefit for you, in hindsight, as you researched this man?

STUHLBARG: Absolutely. Every element of Peter's script was a surprise. Every element was new. Every element gave me a rabbit hole to dive down.

There's so much information packed in there. Which initially I was very intimidated by, but at the same time it doesn't preclude anybody from

enjoying the evening and the thrust of the events that happened during the course of the show. But it was a great challenge in this. I kind of thrive

on those kinds of things.

GOLODRYGA: Well, you captured Berezovsky brilliantly. A very complicated man, as you said, brilliant, mathematician, Jewish, opportunist, viewed the

'90s as an opportunity for him not to only enrich himself, but also control the country and the future path that the country was headed down. And the

fact that he was able, in a sense, to pluck Vladimir Putin as the guy who he could control, who he could mold into that leader, who could work with

him towards his vision, let's say the better part of his vision, which is a democratic, free Russia with free press. But also, one that would enrich


Did that surprise you, the connection between these two men?

STUHLBARG: Everyone has an origin story. Everyone starts somewhere, and it makes complete sense to me during the chaos of that time that people did

favors for each other.

And as Rupert mentioned earlier, he was a deputy mayor when they first met, and they became very friendly. And I think to Berezovsky, Putin was a

unique figure simply in the fact that he didn't ask for anything in exchange for the help he gave him in the office that he was occupying as

deputy mayor. And I think that struck Berezovsky as being unique, because people were always asking for favors.

GOLODRYGA: Because he couldn't be bought?

STUHLBARG: Indeed. But they became friendly. And they even vacationed together. Their families knew each other. As Berezovsky said in one of his

interviews, they weren't close friends, but they were friends. And then, you do favors for each other, and in this new climate of business, that was

Putin's job, really, to try to encourage that kind of growth in the country. And it kind of took off from there.


GOLODRYGA: The play is called "Patriots" and you have two main characters, Vladimir Putin, the autocrat who dreams of restoring power, who can't be

bought, right? And then you have Boris Berezovsky, who dreams of power and wealth, and making a fortune for himself and, as we mentioned, a vision

that he foresaw for the country.

Who do you view as the real patriot in this show?

STUHLBARG: I think there are several, honestly. I mean, the idea of the word to me, at least how it seems to resonate in the play, is about love of

country, really, and people express that very differently. In fact, I think each individual has their own strong idea of love of country, and to have

to leave, but to desperately want to come back is something, I think, everybody can relate to.

GOLODRYGA: But he always viewed his life being in Russia.


GOLODRYGA: And perhaps at the control as close as he got to the top at one point under Yeltsin. What you've really done effectively is capture some of

the main themes of Russia then and I would argue Russia today, and that are the elements of greed, power, and loyalty.


GOLODRYGA: And these three characters, really, I think, encompassed a lot of that. For Vladimir Putin, loyalty was everything.

GOOLD: Yes. Yes, it's interesting. I think -- the other thing I think that resonates in the play outside of Russia is this idea of how do we feel

about businessmen, or women running the country. One of the things I felt when I spoke to Russians, particularly people associated with oligarchs, is

they kept pressing on me that the rule of law was not and has never really been a thing in Russia, you know, in the way it has been. It's central,

obviously, to America and to Great Britain.

And so, you know, business relationships, indeed all relationships. And one of the central ideas in the play is this idea of a creature, a sort of

godfather figure who can put their arm around you both --

GOLODRYGA: Protect you.

GOOLD: To protect you, exactly. Like a -- yes, exactly like a godfather. And that in social interactions, personal interactions, political

interactions in Russia often have that color and that patina, as it were. And the play explores why that is so important, particularly to Putin, who

believes in this sort of code of loyalty, which is ironic because he's not himself been entirely loyal to everybody.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, yes.

GOOLD: But it's obviously a very big thing and his sense of patriotism and also probably his KGB background.

GOLODRYGA: We see a sense of what Russia could have been, I mean, there was a pivotal moment in between acts where Vladimir Putin early on, I think

it was in the summer of 2000, he called all of the Russian oligarchs in to meet with him and basically gave him an ultimatum, keep your money if you

stay out of politics, you stay in politics though, and you'll be prosecuted.

I'm so glad that that was included in the play because Berezovsky, at this point, I think was already on the outs with Vladimir Putin. He wasn't in

that meeting, but it tells you about, A, maybe he could have been sympathetic to Putin at the time that he restored order or was attempting

to. But you also saw the path that the country, sadly, has gone down.

GOOLD: Yes, absolutely. And people say about Moscow, you know, it was extremely dangerous in the '90s and, you know, for most of this century

it's been much safer, you know. But they say that about Mussolini.


GOOLD: You know, that's the nature of authoritarianism. And also, once you put all the power in the hands of one person and the leader of a state, and

they can use it autocratically, then things can change very, very quickly, and whole economic systems, let alone businessmen, can be co-opted or even

worse, assassinated.

So, yes, that was an important moment in the story of Putin and the ultimate rise and then fall, probably, of all of that power.

GOLODRYGA: Tom Hollander played the role of Boris Berezovsky in London. Not to take anything away from Tom, he's a brilliant actor. I can't imagine

anyone else in this role. Now, I didn't see him, but I can't -- I mean, when I see you, I saw Berezovsky.

STUHLBARG: Great to know.

GOLODRYGA: And I say that with the utmost respect and compliment, because I studied this man for many years, the rise and fall, his denouement, and

you brought humility and humanity to the character of somebody who you can't describe as your idea of just a hero, but you also sense that therein

lies a person, therein lies someone who, for whatever point in his life, thought that he was doing something good as well.


GOLODRYGA: Controlled the largest television network, independent television network at one point where you look at Russia is today. And

then, you see the sad decline of a man who, as we noted, was exiled.

I mean, from your initial research into him and to how you feel about him today, can you just talk to us a little bit about what, if anything, has

changed? Are you more sympathetic to him?


STUHLBARG: I learn about him every day, honestly, and I've surrounded myself with a collage of photographs of him from different points in his

life. When he was feeling different things, when he was experiencing, going through a number of different things in his youth, when he was so vigorous,

and those towards the end of his life as well, and all these things kind of -- as Will has -- Will Keen, who plays Putin in our show, who's

extraordinary, who I love, he mentions occasionally in the conversations that we've had about finding his way into Putin's face.

And there's something about surrounding myself with images and the sound of his voice and the things that Boris did and lived through that I find

happening in the doing of it, which is wonderful. It's sort of a gift in some ways of, you know, we are who we are, we look like what we look like,

but if you observe someone long enough and you make a point of trying to walk in their shoes, it is a blessing when it -- when there are moments

that feel like that might have been how that individual felt, and that's just one of the kind of miracles of what it is that I get to do, when I get

to do it, which is, feeling what it feels like to be someone else for a little while.

GOLODRYGA: I'm glad you brought Will up. I mean, it was just brilliant to watch the physicality that he embraced and really became towards the end of

the show, Vladimir Putin. I mean, there -- you have it on set where he looks at himself in the mirror and whether it's his walk, the well-tailored

suit at the end, I mean, he was really a nobody, but he went from someone who was rather obscure and insecure to the man that we see now, invading a

sovereign neighbor, killing thousands of people.

Does that give you chills when you see it? When you watch the show yourself?

GOOLD: Yes, absolutely. I mean, I think there are two schools of thought on Putin. One was that he was almost sociopathic from the beginning and

corrupt from the start and the other is that he sort of has gone through three phases, a sort of KGB, like you say, apparatchik in, first, Dresden

and then St. Petersburg. Then somebody who genuinely, tentatively, uncertainly, but might have been reaching out into the West, and you see

all those extraordinary pictures of him sort of in the late '90s, early aughts, you know, the queen and, you know, in the West meeting major


GOLODRYGA: The first world leader to call U.S. President Bush after 9/11, right?

GOOLD: Yes. Very -- quite uncomfortable though, quite uneasy in his clothes. And then, now, the -- you know, the bare-chested horseback riding

sort of strong man, I guess. And I think Peter's approach and -- Will and Peter's approach leans more to the latter, that he has changed and gone

from someone, you know, almost like a Stalin-like journey from a sort of small nobody, a backwater nobody to this huge authoritarian figure.

But, you know, I'd say that one of the amazing things about Boris is he's very porous. And the more you read about Boris, he runs towards you. You

find all these extraordinary things about him, and he's expressive and lives this very, almost theatrical life.

Putin, you know, we've been -- Peter and I have been working on this play for you know, several years now, and he remains pretty unreadable. I mean,

you -- there are glimpses. And, you know, what's wonderful about theatre and an actor is those glimpses may be physical, a little like they say, the

strange sort of gangster walk, you know, why does he hold his arm in that position? Why is his face so still? And they become legible in some way.

But yes, he's -- unfortunately, in many ways, he's an ongoingly complex and fascinating figure even.

GOLODRYGA: I counted, I think there at the time, were 18 Russian-Jewish oligarchs. And the role of antisemitism is brought up here in the play as

well, despite this immense wealth that these men have been able to capture. That didn't take away what they largely knew was the antisemitism that

remained prevalent in Russia up to the highest echelons. What was that like for you to portray? On the one hand, you have someone that has access to

the president, on the other hand, you know, you see antisemitism everywhere.

STUHLBARG: Sure, I think it was probably, for Boris, something he just grew to accept. I mean, he spoke in one of his interviews about just the

general fact that politics wasn't available for Jews in the Soviet Union, even though he grew to have ambitions in that arena. And then eventually,

well, it became a member of parliament.

So, it was a -- he was a unique individual in that sense, and that he -- because of his position, because of the immense wealth that he amassed and

he was invited to participate, which is an interesting point in and of itself.



STUHLBARG: But he seemed wily about the whole thing. And I think as he said, you know, I didn't like it. But he lived through it and he thrived as

a mathematician in the field of science as well for years before he made these fortunes.

GOOLD: I think Peter wanted to make Russians feel seen when they come to see the show and that they are -- yes, they are victims or recipients of

actions by powerful and sometimes over ambitious, you know, men, but there is also a part of Russia that is something else. And the play is called

"Patriots" because it does want to recognize that there is a national spirit to Russia that exists outside brutal power politics and, you know,

that we would want to kind of hold on to and keep seeing in this political moment.

GOLODRYGA: Thank you so much, both of you. It's a real joy to meet you in person. And, as I said, I'm still thinking about this play and having seen

it a week ago, almost every day since.

STUHLBARG: Thank you.

GOOLD: Thank you so much.


GOLODRYGA: It is indeed a wonderful play. Well, we turn now to an intimate exploration of race and class in America. As a black working-class gay man,

cultural critic Michael Arceneaux has encountered many barriers in life and is an expert at using humor to highlight important but sometimes

uncomfortable subjects.

Well, now, the bestselling author is out with new collections of essays, "I Finally Bought Some Jordans," reflecting on his journey, overcoming

societal barriers from debt to hetero normality. He joined Michel Martin to discuss.


MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: Michael Arceneaux. Thank you so much for joining us.

MICHAEL ARCENEAUX, AUTHOR, "FINALLY BOUGHT SOME JORDANS": Thank you so much for having me. I'm really happy to be here.

MARTIN: "I Finally Bought Some Jordans." Why Jordans?

ARCENEAUX: Well, initially the book had a different title. I kind of -- in my mind, but I would -- I don't say victory lab, but I thought I'd be like

in a much happier space. But if you read the book, I talk about the play, which is how I referred to pandemic. I talk about a lot of grief.

So, when my second book, "I Don't Want to Die Poor," a lot of people were interviewing me, essentially asking me, are you still poor? I didn't know

how to quite answer that question, but in the book -- that's my way of saying, essentially, like. I'm not exactly where I want to be, but I'm much

further along than where I started and what way can I signify that in like a small but meaningful way?

It kind of just happened to me, like, I need to buy some J's. And that ended up becoming the book title and I think it ultimately kind of speaks

to the spirit of the book, me trying to find like what I consider a little bright spots.

MARTIN: You were kind of the voice of a lot of people, I would say, in your essays and your cultural critique. I mean, you articulate a lot of

people's realities. How would you describe your writing for people who aren't familiar with it?

ARCENEAUX: I really appreciate that. When I initially tried to sell "I Can't Date Jesus," my first book, because you have to kind of usually give

people some kind of point of reference, I said, it's like David Sedaris that had (INAUDIBLE). I think I write from a perspective that you don't

typically usually hear in this space.

There are plenty of black writers, there are queer writers, but I think coming from a working-class, poor background, being from the south, I think

my perspective is often like missing from the conversation, particularly about a lot of the topics that I write about.

So, for me, I do, in some ways, try to at least bring perspectives of people who -- whose voices I feel aren't typically heard, that includes my

own, but I do appreciate that because I do try to feel like lend voice to a lot of people that I don't think get to exist in these spaces.

MARTIN: It seems to me that, in a way, yes, you're writing from this perspective of who you are, you are black, you are queer, you are a

millennial, you know, but you're also a person who's kind of like, what's the bottom line here? What is this kind of really about? So, in that sense,

for this third book, is there like a through line with your other two books?

ARCENEAUX: Yes, I think in terms of family, there is that through line. I write about loving your parents, but sometimes having complicated

relationships, particularly due to faith or whatever issue there might be. I write about how important it is to kind of meet someone halfway who's

trying as best they can with the tools they have to reach out for me, that's in terms of healing. And in hindsight, I didn't realize I was

foreshadowing that.

But I am grateful for making sure I maintain contact with both my parents and really tried to engage and meet them have halfway because last year,

I'm finishing the book and I'm revising it. My mother was diagnosed with cancer, and she died six months later, and some of what I write about going

back to Texas after I left New York, not to move back, but to end up having extended stages, just really be present, that's not that I'm never going to

get back in my life. So, there's the through line there.


I think in terms of even, "I Finally Bought Some Jordans," that has defined so much of my life and the shame attached to that. I write a lot about

class and how poor people, but explicitly black poor people are taught not to treat themselves or to have shame, particularly me growing up in the

'90s, even if I didn't have the means, I definitely heard, instead of spending money on Jordans, you need to do this.

But yes, there are through lines through the book. I just really, again, want to be honest about my life and kind of take what things that have

impacted me to kind of make sense of like the broader world around me. I wish, again, more people like me were given the space to do that.

MARTIN: And to really make kind of a hard pivot here, so, why did Toni Braxton block you?

ARCENEAUX: I am still trying to figure that out. And thank you for asking, because we got to get a campaign going. Like, I'm blocking Toni Braxton. I

love you. How could an angel break my heart?

Well, I think it's a miscommunication. I was on Twitter, as one used to be, at least, I don't tweet as much anymore. Some of the viewers understand

why. And I think maybe some of my jokes might have not curled all the way over. I think compliments that I -- like when I said she was the Sugar

Avery of R&B, from the bottom of my heart, I meant that as a compliment. Her social media manager or Toni herself did not feel that way.

MARTIN: I should probably explain that that is the first essay in your latest collection and it's titled, "Please Unblock Me, Toni Braxton."

ARCENEAUX: Please unblock me, Ms. Toni Braxton.

MARTIN: But the essay just sort of goes on to kind of describe your sometimes fraught, shall we say, interactions with other black celebrities,

and you kind of go time after time, these celebrities who, you know, you have expressed yourself about, and perhaps they got appreciated as much as

you thought they might. So, how did this essay come about?

ARCENEAUX: Well, I was warned years ago that some of my biting as a scribe commentary might rope some people the wrong way, or as one person put it,

you're going to be in rooms with these people and probably sooner than you think you need to tone it down or watch what you say.

And I always had that in the back of my mind, like, I'm aware people can see things on the internet and people even used to pick at me from the blog

era. So, I got it. But I -- that's my way of -- that was my realization writing that chapter is like, oh, no, I'm not as toned down as I think. And

even if I am also being measured in criticism, we just kind of live in a climate now where criticism is very increasingly not well received,

particularly smile on the lawn, different headlines, all these things.

So, I'm acknowledging my commentary. But, you know, and some instances that I recount, you know, people that wanted to adapt my book, I'm like, that's

so exciting. You can change my life. You can help me get this other leg out of the hood. You can help me get some braces, whatever, all these things.

But oh, wait, I talked about you and you might actually feel the way about it.

But I would like it to my credit. If I'm given the opportunity, I will tell you directly what I said, and we can talk about it. I'm usually respectful.

My mom raised me right. I got a slick mouth, but I'm mannerable. But yes, hopefully, someday I get to tell Toni Braxton, I am sorry.

MARTIN: You know, this -- is this exchange kind of -- in a way, kind of unlocks the Michael Arceneaux approach, which is, you know, you can have

fun with people and you do kind of play with people a little bit, but you generally do have kind of a deeper message, even when you are kind of

having fun and messing with people? And I wonder what you think that might be.

ARCENEAUX: You know, me even going to Howard, love Howard, most diverse place I've ever been. It was an adjustment because I was like, oh, I'm

around TV black people. Like, I've never met black people this rich who might have attitudes, who grew up around white people primarily. I wouldn't

know about that. What is that like?

When I went to New York and worked in media, media and entertainment just in general, most people cannot afford the sacrifices necessary to exist and

thrive within those spaces. So, most people are either up or middle-class or rich, or if you're even black and what we consider middle-class, that's

very much a privilege most people don't have either.

I write about the realities of social mobility. And for the most part, unless you already have it, it's hard to actually have access to many of

these spaces.

MARTIN: Well, give an example of that. Give an example. Why do you say that?

ARCENEAUX: If I didn't take out a six-figure private student loan debt, I would have loved to funded it differently. But had I not taken on that debt

to go to Howard, I probably would not be speaking to you today because my through line is that I met a lot of people who have helped me along the way

that I otherwise wouldn't have met from where I'm from in Houston.

Most people like me, I feel like, don't have the opportunity to speak back to people who often speak down to them.


So, if I'm able to be in these spaces, if I'm able to actually be around all of these people and maybe influence them, or at least humanize what

they assume about certain types of people, then for me, I've done my part.

MARTIN: I wanted to talk about a couple of the chapters of the book, one of them titled "Empty Symbols." You express frustration at how the

disillusionment felt by many millennials regarding our political system gets framed as misinformed, right. You write, "People have very real

reasons to be disenchanted with the voting process, and they go far beyond, they don't know any better. Apathy and cynicism are not innate qualities,

they are byproducts of the conditions that place them there."

Could you just say more about that? Like what are some of the conditions that you're talking about?

ARCENEAUX: Well, for me, I -- there are a lot of reasons people feel like the government has failed them. And a lot of that was my frustration with

the 2020 election and 2016. But going into 2024, I knew that what will happen in the fall is that a lot of people, particularly black people,

particularly young people, will be lectured to and to be told, get up and vote, tell Pookie to vote. If you don't vote, then this is all your fault.

Well, a lot of people voted in the last two elections, and with all due respect, I understand the progress President Biden has made, but, you know,

voting rights was supposed to be top priority. Was that passed? No. Was more pressure exerted on that as there were for other issues? No. But who

will get blamed for that if they're going to have trouble getting to the polls when they're already probably barely motivated?

Was anything done about police reform? That was the largest protest in the history of the country. What did it yield? The George Floyd bill was not

passed. It left and died. More black people are being shot and harassed. What is the deal about that? And while I understand that the economy is

relatively better compared to other nations, even the interest rate hikes, that comes at the expense of a lot of people already struggling to make

due. So -- and instead of just addressing those issues, people are told, oh, well, you should just be happy it's not worse.

People have a right to feel like just necessarily and voting a black mayor and it's not going to do them any good. Because with all due respect, look

at the New York mayor. A lot of black people did not vote for him to see more police on the street, to see the return of stop and frisk, and to see

less access to libraries under the crop rise of budget cuts.

So, there are just so many different examples I could think of. But fundamentally, I think a lot of people have been failed.

MARTIN: So, what I think I hear you saying, though, as the sort of the second part of this, is that, you know, representation is not enough.


MARTIN: You know, representation is not enough from the standpoint of, you know, a Barack Obama or maybe, you know, a Pete Buttigieg who would have

been, you know, the first, you know, LGBTQ president that we know of, right. So, you're saying that's just not enough.

ARCENEAUX: No. And I think, frankly, the Democratic Party thinks just necessarily having representation or having someone that looks like more of

the public is enough. It's not. You need actual policies that speak to working-class people who are drowning under this, and you need to be more

frank and direct about when those needs aren't being met.

A lot of people are apathetic and feel left out and are tuning out. Not everybody is wrong, and not everything can be blamed on the fault of the

voter. There are so many people who don't participate in that process because they feel like it doesn't speak to them. At what point do you

either change your tone to reach them, or do you just feel like wagging your finger is going to do something? You're going to wag your finger under

a loft.

And also, in terms of representation, the Republican Party has just as many, if not more, more variety. It's just they all stick to a very

specific ideology. So, there's representation over there too. That's why a lot of people are finding themselves being, you know, to me, conned into

right-wing ideology, but at least they directly target them online.

It's -- I'm not the first to make these types of complaints, but I hope more people actually listen because we could find ourselves in a much

different country in a year. But I or other people, particularly the low -- the most marginalized among us should not bear greater brunt of whatever


MARTIN: So, let's -- let me loop back to where we started, which is the Jordans. You finally bought some. What? Which ones? What do they look like?

ARCENEAUX: I bought the Jordan 13s. They were black and purple. Actually, as a gift to myself because I just had a birthday. I'm finally trying to

buy, like, I think the Jordan 11s, the padded leather ones, the ones that I couldn't get that I mentioned in the book.

MARTIN: Those are fly.


MARTIN: But I wanted to -- but dig in a little bit more about why that is not just about the shoes. Could you talk a little bit about that? What does

it represent to you?

ARCENEAUX: You know, I can remember being teased initially about some of the clothes that I had or wanting certain things that other people couldn't

afford and we just couldn't have it. Don't -- I'm grateful for everything my mom and dad got me. And even then, I understood it.


But, you know, when I started to dress myself and I was working, you feel a little bit more confident being able to, like, not feel priced out of

things. And I think, for me, a lot of life I felt priced out of stuff, and that's a really hard feeling.

I -- my mom didn't never wanted me to be materialistic, and I understand that. But I do think just in terms of how the culture works, even how,

honestly, part of my own business works, how you present really does matter. You can be priced out of a lot of things.

And even if you shouldn't necessarily internalize the shame of having money problems or debt, for some of us, it seeps in no matter what. And for me, a

lot of my books are trying to remove the pressure on myself because I can be so self-critical, and that's just not from me, it's what's around me.

And so, I try to encourage people to essentially not be as silly as I am because, ultimately, I find a lot of these things that we find shame or

guilt about to be relatively silly, even if I can understand them on an intellectual level. I just think we should all be a little bit kind to

ourselves and ignore that outside noise.

MARTIN: But the other thing too that you write about is how the debt, what an anchor it can be around your neck and how you're sort of constantly in

this dialogue with yourself about what do I deserve and am I allowed to have this while I still have this debt hanging around my neck?

Do you think you have finally released yourself from that, or do you think that you have?

ARCENEAUX: Maybe not finally released, but I am -- I have let go of a lot of that and I am actively continuing to work to let go. I understand bills

are high. Inflation is real. Things are happening. But even an instance of like, I don't have a house yet. That's not my fault. And sometimes I think,

do I even want a house now, given if I buy in a black neighborhood, it'll be underwritten, or depending on what city I'm in, climate change might

impact it. Is that really the investment I think it is? Like, I probably will change my mind.

But, you know, just the way things are set up. I try to tell my friends, however, that -- not friends, but readers, friends, you know, some things

in life we're not made with designed with you in mind. So, you are pressured to feel married by a certain age, but look at the dating pool,

look what's happening, or you should have a house by a certain age. Well, interest rates. And I'm not the Fed chair. I don't control that. I'm trying

not to be priced out of L.A. like a lot of people, even if I like my apartment.

So, I just think, you know, a lot of these things are harder than they should be. So, why am I holding on to this arbitrary standard where I'm not

even being given the tools properly to achieve that? And I don't necessarily -- I will -- I know for a fact now, there's no such thing as

good that -- particularly not with student loans, because, ultimately, people are not being paid enough to keep up with the cost of living,

tuition is rising, and social mobility is harder than ever.

So, if you do go to school, I encourage more education, but if you do it out of disservice to yourself, we won't even be able to enjoy the fruits of

your labor ever. You got to reevaluate however that works on your terms. But I really do think letting go of these ideas, like, I should have this

or that by whatever age or whatever metric, we should free ourselves more of that until everybody's paid more.

MARTIN: Michael Arceneaux, thank you so much for talking with us.

ARCENEAUX: Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure.


GOLODRYGA: And finally, 30 years ago on Saturday, South Africa held its first fully democratic election, ending years of racist apartheid rule in

the country. Nelson Mandela and his party coming out on top just four years after his release from prison where he had spent almost three decades

alongside many fellow activists, including Andrew Mlangeni, imprisoned on Robben Island with him.

In 2018, Christian spoke with Mlangeni and lifelong anti-apartheid activist Peter Hain about their memory of Mandela and his extraordinary legacy.



Andrew, I want to read something that you said at the Rivonia trial. In Rivonia, you were convicted alongside Mandela and they had accused you of,

you know, conspiracy and sabotage. And the judge likened this to high crimes and treason.

And you said in 2013 in a speech that, at the time, I thought of life imprisonment and what it meant. Did it mean that I would spend the rest of

my life in prison only to be released as a corpse? Was there a chance that I might be released sooner? Would I maybe end up serving only 15 years?

These were just the thoughts of a young Andrew Mlangeni.

How did you feel when you were convicted and when you knew that you were going to Robben Island to spend who knew how many years there?


ANDREW MLANGENI, SOUTH AFRICAN ANTI-APARTHEID CAMPAIGNER: We were very happy to be sentenced even to life imprisonment. We were happy because we

escaped the death penalty. The fact that we escaped the death penalty, we all felt very, very happy indeed.

We said, well, life imprisonment, we can serve. We don't know of anybody who has died in prison who had been sentenced to life imprisonment. People

do something like 15 years, 20 years, et cetera, et cetera. We know that ultimately, we will come out. As I said, we were very, very excited and

happy that we were not sentenced to death.

AMANPOUR: Let me first play what Nelson Mandela said as he was released back in 1990. I just want to see a little bit of him. He was at Desmond

Tutu's house giving a presser.


NELSON MANDELA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF SOUTH AFRICA: I must confess I'm unable to describe my emotions. I was completely overwhelmed by the

enthusiasm. It's something I did not expect.


AMANPOUR: Peter, I want to ask you. He was always very humble. And he says there that he had no idea that he would be remembered as that and also the

incredible emotions that poured out.

But one of the most remarkable things about Mandela, you say, was his ability to let go of resentment. And in your book, you say, as he walked

out of prison, he said, yes, I was angry and I was a little afraid. After all, I had not been free in so long. But when I felt that anger well up

inside of me, I realized that if I hated them after I got outside that gate, then they would still have me. I wanted to be free, so I let it go.

That's pretty remarkable.

PETER HAIN, ANTI-APARTHEID CAMPAIGNER: It's a very deep insight, isn't it, and a remarkable one that he came out determined not to show any vengeance,

not to show any hatred because, as he says in that quote, that very revealing quote, that if he did, then he'd still be trapped.

After all, the white minority is a very privileged minority. Perhaps the most privileged in the world in recent times. And it was persuaded to give

up its power and its place in government, its absolute control, by negotiation.

AMANPOUR: Andrew, do you remember that moment when the whole world was watching the release? What emotion did you feel when you saw that?

MLANGENI: Well, I was quite happy, I mean, to see him come out. I mean, I said to myself that the government at last has kept their promise, that

after a few months, after we were released, he will follow.

AMANPOUR: So, I would like to play another soundbite from way back then, when Mandela was first released and he gave an interview to CNN. And this

is what he said about his vision and since sticking to it.


MANDELA: People may say to spend 27 years of your life, you have wasted your life. But the greatest thing for a politician is whether the ideas to

which you've committed your life are still alive, whether these ideas are likely to triumph in the end. And everything that happened showed that we

had not sacrificed in vain.


AMANPOUR: Again, it's a remarkable thing to hear today. And, particularly, I want to ask you both to put Mandela and his vision and his nature as a

politician in context with the leadership struggles, we see today all over the world.

We have really partisan political poison in our bloodstreams today. How do you feel when you listen to this kind of thing, given what's happening in

our own parliaments and congresses and governments around the world, Peter?

HAIN: I think the world is crying out for Nelson Mandela's vision. You compare him with President Trump, with President Putin, with President Xi,

with President Erdogan and the rest of them, they're only in it for themselves. He was in it for others. Ruling with absolute integrity, social

justice, equality, human rights, democracy. I think we could do in the world with strong leadership. Mandela was very strong, but compassionate

leadership for everybody, not just for a select few.

MLANGENI: The whole world, I think, is missing Mandela's leadership.

AMANPOUR: Well, I appreciate that.


AMANPOUR: Andrew Mlangeni, thank you for being with us.

MLANGENI: Thank you. Thank you very much.

AMANPOUR: And, Peter Hain, thank you very much.

HAIN: Pleasure.


GOLODRYGA: Fantastic look back. So fascinating. Well, it was a powerful message shared by those who stood by Mandela through his struggle for

freedom and justice and also a legacy. Not only reshaped a nation, but it continues to inspire change around the globe today.


Well, that is 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.

Thank you so much for watching, and goodbye from New York.