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Cate Blanchett: Rohingya plight "deeply upsetting"; New Orleans' mayor on confronting the South's past. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired March 21, 2018 - 15:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST, AMANPOUR: Tonight, one of Hollywood's biggest stars warns of a race against time to protect Myanmar's desperate

Rohingya. Back from the refugee camps facing monsoon flooding, Cate Blanchett also tells me that she cannot understand the once-venerated Aung

San Suu Kyi's neglect of these people.

Plus, in the United States, a white southerner confronts history. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu on his new book about the decision to remove

four Confederate monuments from his city.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

Violent persecution force them to flee their homes and their country. Since Myanmar's military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims, almost 700,000 have

fled across the border to squalid camps in neighboring Bangladesh.

The US and the UN have both accused Myanmar of ethnic cleansing and the country's icon of democracy and human rights, Aung San Suu Kyi, is herself

vilified by her most ardent supporters around the world for failing to stand up for the rights of these people.

And now, the region's infamous monsoon season is bearing down, threatening to wash away the flimsy refugee shelters.

Into this emergency, this crisis steps the Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett. She's a special goodwill ambassador for the UN refugee agency

and she's giving us her first eyewitness account of the horrors that she's just witnessed there.

Cate Blanchett, welcome to the program.

CATE BLANCHETT, UNHCR GOODWILL AMBASSADOR: You've just come back from this real center of humanitarian crisis. What was the most urgent need that

you're bringing back?

BLANCHETT: I mean, the vastness of the crisis. But I don't think anything could have really prepared me for just the precarious nature of the

environment in which these refugees are living. Obviously, they've fled.

AMANPOUR: You were there with some of them in part of the camp there, yes.

BLANCHETT: And the thing that most struck is I've never seen so many unaccompanied children because over half the people in Kutupalong and the

surrounding settlements, children under the ages of 18.

AMANPOUR: And what does that do to you? I mean, you're a mother of four children.

BLANCHETT: Yes. I met so many women who were heads of household, so many children who didn't know where their parents were. It is deeply, deeply

upsetting. I mean, their lives are not only precarious because of what they've experienced and the oncoming monsoon, but also they're ripe for

exploitation because they don't have that family support in a very patriarchal society.

AMANPOUR: And, of course, you did manage to talk and see quite a few people. And also, I think you saw - you talk about the monsoons and

everybody is concerned because forget a refugee crisis, Bangladesh is prone to the worst kinds of flooding and monsoons.

BLANCHETT: Yes. It's not only one of the wettest countries on Earth, it's one of the poorest. And the Bangladesh government has kept the borders

open, which is profoundly generous. And I thought incredible generosity of the host communities that are living cheek by jaw with upwards of 1 million

people in Cox's Bazaar. It's unsustainable without more support from the international community.

AMANPOUR: I mean, you talk about them keeping the borders open. Well, Myanmar, the military, has in the last few days done exactly the opposite.

It's apparently fortifying the borders, barbed wire, berms, trenches, to try to stop these Rohingya going back, many of them to their own homes.

Did you get a sense of them wanting to go back, feeling they could ever go back?

BLANCHETT: I don't think I've ever experienced in my time with UNHCR a level of terror about returning home. Obviously, the Rohingya have been

generationally stateless. And since the citizenship law changes in 1982, their situation within Myanmar has become increasingly perilous. And so,

they've been able to be sustainably educated or have access to medical services. Their movement has been curtailed.

But what has happened is with villages burning and the mothers and the girls that I spoke to who had themselves experienced rape - there was one

girl in a community center I met, Jasmine, who had just very matter-of- factly said that she saw her three-year-old brother being thrown into a fire and her elder brother being dismembered and shot in front of her. As

a mother, I wouldn't want to return back to that.

Of course, the solution does rely - it takes place in Myanmar and the UN needs to be able to get unrestricted access to make sure that those

repatriations of the Rohingya people can happen in a humane and dignified way.

[15:05:11] AMANPOUR: You went to visit a school. We're going to play a little bit of video. There is still a little humanity and hope left in

them. Let's have a look.


AMANPOUR: So, you talked a little bit about the kids and the terror that they face on many occasions, but sometimes they are just happy to see an

outsider who brings them a little distraction, a little love.

BLANCHETT: Yes. I think through UNHCR and the partner organizations, those children that you just saw have been given access to learning to read

and write for the first time ever because a stateless Rohingya refugees says they have not had access to education at all.

And it was very distressing to hear them sing that old protest song that we learned singing in English. They sang "Twinkle, twinkle little star" to a

tune that I had never heard before, but then they began to sing, "I am not alone, deep in my heart, I know that I am not alone, I am not afraid."

And you want to think I want to make that true with the international - the support of the international community.

AMANPOUR: What do you think they need most right now?

BLANCHETT: They need incredible support to shore themselves up against the oncoming monsoons. I mean, they've been showing incredible resilience.

They themselves sandbagging the steps because, of course, the dwellings are in places where no dwelling should be.

There are landslides waiting to happen and their latrines are going to collapse and there is going to be dysentery and cholera. So, they need

financial support.

And the Bangladesh government and the host communities need to be supported by the international community to shore up against the monsoon.

AMANPOUR: It does really sound awful. And how awful is what's become of Aung San Suu Kyi? I don't know whether as a woman you identify or as a

human rights ambassador you identify, but this woman inspired the whole world.

She was given human rights prizes, but now one by one they're being taken away from her. The Holocaust Museum in Washington is the latest. Nobel

laureates have called on her just to stand up and speak up for these people.

BLANCHETT: It is bewildering, isn't it, that someone who has been such a champion for establishing even a fragile democracy in Myanmar and who

herself has suffered privations does not seem to be acknowledging in anyway the atrocities that have absolutely taken place.

They are very real. There is not a single refugee that I met who hadn't had experienced some profound level of trauma. But, I suppose, for me,

that is the political solution that needs to take place and I'm focused on the very real human need that these 670,000 -

AMANPOUR: She was in your country, Australia.

BLANCHETT: Yes, recently.

AMANPOUR: While you were in Bangladesh. And she was treated as a visiting dignitary as she should be, but she pulled out of a Q&A and a speech and

all that kind of stuff.

And, again, I want wonder as an Australian what you think about your own country's record on refugees, on immigrants, them being sort of shunted

into detention centers and offshore and all the rest of it.

It's a very difficult thing for you as a non-political actress, goodwill ambassador to be in the middle of it because it actually - there is a lot

of politics across this.

BLANCHETT: Respecting of basic human rights for the world's most vulnerable should not be a political decision. Turning back boats has not

worked. The policy of offshore mandatory ongoing detention is inhumane and must be stopped.

The Australia I grew up in was one that was, colonial invasion notwithstanding it, was incredibly supportive and welcoming of waves of

refugees, which have had - and those refugees have paid an enormous positive benefit to us economically and culturally and socially. So, I

don't understand it at all.

Australia has been incredibly generous in its financial support of, say, the Rohingya crisis and other crisis, but it really does have to do deal

with the offshore processing.

AMANPOUR: There's this anti sort of migrant feeling right now. And it comes up at the same time as there's this #MeToo movement, Time's Up, there

are a lot of real movements that are happening right now and you are one of the very prominent people who've signed up to Time's Up and, in fact, fund-

raise. What is the fundraising for?

BLANCHETT: I exist in a very high-profile industry, very pointy ended industry. And I think that there is many women in my position who feel

that we have a platform to not only examine the dirty laundry that needs to be washed in our own industry, but being exemplar for the way other

industries need to do to examine the inequalities and the unexamined abuses that have gone on for decade.

[15:10:19] AMANPOUR: Are you quite proud that it was Hollywood that actually opened the floodgates to this injustice that's happening to women?

BLANCHETT: I think as artists, we deal in nuance, we deal in gray areas and we deal in doubt. And so, I think that - and also, the job is -

without being too highfalutin, one's job is to be empathetic.

And as a woman, I think that, in a quite a male-dominated industry, we sort of tend to be compassionate and we welcome conversation and we've been

perhaps a little bit too patient.

And I think what I'm very proud of is that, in my industry, I think women have been siloed from one another, seeing as being competitors rather than

collaborators. And I really do feel that there is a profound level of change that's happening in my industry.

But look at the banking sector, look at farm workers, look at women in the automotive industry, it happens across industry.

AMANPOUR: And in ours.

BLANCHETT: Yes, exactly. And if our industry can be used as an exemplar and the positive changes that I think are really genuinely happening can be

rolled out into other industries. I think that that is something I'm proud of.

AMANPOUR: You're about to lead the jury at the Cannes Film Festival, which will pronounce on the latest best films. And, obviously, I have to ask you

this question because you won an Oscar for "Blue Jasmine" that Woody Allen made and everybody wants to ask you and probably has asked you, how do

twin, how do you juxtapose being a #MeToo proponent, a Time's Up proponent and staying silent or having worked with Woody Allen. Would you work with

him again given the allegations?

BLANCHETT: I don't think I've stayed silent at all. At the time that I worked with Woody Allen, I knew nothing of the allegations and they came

out during the - at the time that the film was released. And at the time, I said it's a very painful and complicated situation for the family, which

I hope they have the ability to resolve.

And if these allegations need to be reexamined which, in my understanding, they've been through court, then I'm a big believer in the justice system

and setting legal precedents - if the case needs to be reopened, I'm absolutely wholeheartedly in support of that because I think that there is

one thing about - social media is fantastic about raising awareness about issues, but it's not the judge and jury.

And so, I feel that if these things need to go into court so that if these abuses have happened that the person is prosecuted. And so, someone who is

not in the shiny industry that I am can use that legal precedent to protect themselves because always people, in my industry, any other industry,

they're preyed on because they are vulnerable.

And I've just come from seeing some of the world's most vulnerable women. So -

AMANPOUR: And I want to finish with another piece of video that you brought back. Again, it's an attempt to find the joy in these incredibly

sad and dispossessed places. And we're going to show you with some refugees who're actually turning any number of household objects into

musical instruments. What was that?

BLANCHETT: Oh. Mohamed was - he is a professional singer back in Myanmar. He sang for a group of us, a song about the oncoming monsoon and the

terrifying fear that all of the houses are going to collapse.

AMANPOUR: Let's just play it.


AMANPOUR: He is using what looks like a kitchen bowl as a musical instrument.

BLANCHETT: Yes. He's the man who was the master of the mandolin - not actually sure what the instrument is called. We had to wait for half an

hour. He said I'm waiting for one more instrument and then out came this metal pot. So, I think that that in itself speaks a level of invention and

ingenuity that the refugees continually show.

AMANPOUR: Cate Blanchett, thank you so much for shining the spotlight on them.

BLANCHETT: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Now, our next guest knows what it's like to try to turn a dark past into a brighter future. Mitch Landrieu is the mayor of New Orleans.

He is a Democrat and he's the first white person to hold that office since his father in the late 1970s.

Last year, he took a controversial step towards reconciliation by ordering the removal of four statues honoring Confederate history in the city and

Mayor Landrieu gave a powerful speech about why he thought they should come down.


MITCH LANDRIEU, NEW ORLEANS MAYOR: Another friend asked me to consider these four monuments from the perspective of an African-American mother or

father trying to explain to their fifth grade daughter why Robert E. Lee sat atop of our city.

Can you do it? Can you do it? Can you look into the eyes of this young girl and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her? Do

you think that she feels inspired and hopeful by that story?

Do these monuments help her see her future with limitless potential? Have you ever thought? Have you ever thought that if her potential is limited,

yours and my potential - might limit his potential as well?


AMANPOUR: Powerful stuff. And now, Mayor Landrieu's book about his journey to this decision has been published this week. It's called "In the

Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History," and the mayor joins me live from New York.

Welcome to the program.

LANDRIEU: Christiane, thank you so much. That piece that you just did was so powerful and it brought back so many memories.

AMANPOUR: Well, it's quite amazing to see you standing there. And just remind us then of the context in which you made that speech because there

was an enormous national crisis around that.

LANDRIEU: Well, the context was that, as you know, Katrina destroyed the City of New Orleans. And the people of New Orleans were strewn across the

United States of America and so many people were so kind to take us in.

And we had to rebuild New Orleans. And as we were rebuilding New Orleans and preparing for 300th anniversary, we had to do some real soul-searching

about what the city was, what it really meant, what our history meant and how we prepared for the future.

And those confederate monuments stood there. And as we were preparing for our 300th anniversary, my friend, Wynton Marsalis, who I grew up with,

confronted me and said, look, I'll help you, but have you thought about taking those statues down because they are not a reflection of who the City

of New Orleans is, and have you thought about those monuments from my perspective and what they say to me as an African-American man. And, oh,

by the way, did you know that Louis Armstrong left the city because that and didn't come back.

AMANPOUR: Honestly, it really sends chills, doesn't it? I mean, you're talking about Louis Armstrong, the greatest jazz player practically ever in

the United States who came from your region, and Wynton Marsalis, of course, is the current great jazz player. He had a big influence on you.

LANDRIEU: And, of course, what he was saying to me lovingly was do you understand how damaged we are because 5 million African-Americans left the

south and brought their intellect and talent to the rest of the country and didn't stay in the south.

And, of course, this speech talked about that young girl to say, well, when she is limited and her potential, don't you understand that it limits our

potential as well. And it really was a cry to the country to understand that our diversity is our strength.

It's not a weakness, that together we're better, that when we all come together and don't separate because of race, of creed, of color, of

religion, of national origin, that's really who we are as Americans and New Orleans should reflect that ethos about what's the best of America and not

the worst.

AMANPOUR: So, describe, though, because you're the mayor. You took this decision. And there was a lot of controversy and a lot of criticism. And

people thought that - some people anyway thought that that was a step too far and why should you do that and it was all wrapped up in their view of

history as well.

So, tell me about how difficult it was even though you had potentially law on your side? How difficult it was to actually physically to get them

taken down?

LANDRIEU: Well, that's a great question because, as you know, we asked the city to talk about it which we did. We had public hearings. We went

through the democratic process. I, as the mayor, signed the order.

They then challenged us in court. We won the court decisions. Seven court decisions with 13 judges. But even after all of that, even after it became

the law of the land, the mayor of the City of New Orleans who had cranes all over the place rebuilding airports, rebuilding riverfront, couldn't

find anybody to give me a crane to take the monuments down.

And it occurred to me that this is what institutional racism is, that even if you have the law on your side, if you don't control the mechanism, the

money, the machines, then you're in real trouble.

We eventually found somebody to give us a crane. But before we did that, the first person who was supposed to do it had his car firebombed.

So, my mind went right back to the bombings in Birmingham so many years ago. My goodness. We've come a far way, but how much further do we have

to go. So, it was really important to give the speech, so that we could lay out why it was important, why we did what we did and what we should

aspire to as a nation?

AMANPOUR: Well, let's talk about it from your own family's perspective. I mean, you talk about systemic racism, institutionalized racism and how

history has failed because the south grew up learning a version of history of the Civil War and slavery and all of that, which wasn't exactly the

right history to correct the truth of the matter. Tell us about that.

LANDRIEU: Well, I'll say this in a very personal way. My mom. when she read the book, said to me very painfully, I didn't know that that was our

real history. They didn't teach me that in school.

And, of course, the history that was taught was that the Confederacy was a noble cause, that it was fought for economic reasons, not that it was

fought against humanity, not that it was against what the ideals of the United States were, not that it was fought to tear the country apart for

the cause of slavery, which I speak very painfully about.

Slavery separated families. People were killed. People were hung. Women were raped. People were tortured. And we have to hear that because the

United States of America, in my opinion, has not really dealt with it in that way.

Germany with the Holocaust in a much better way. There were attempts in South Africa to do that. But, Christiane, you know this better than I do.

Some of the greatest atrocities in the history of the world have occurred over race or class or religion and, in some instances, geography.

And slavery, it should not be hard for us to say in the second decade of 21st century was one of our nation's great original sins that has affected

us through today. And to have statues up that basically were put up as political messages to tell African-Americans that they were not welcome

here is not something that's consistent with the history of New Orleans or who we have ever been, which is in my opinion a great multicultural Mecca

that have given us really wonderful things in the country.

AMANPOUR: I mean, you make a very powerful point about what Germany did after World War II and what South Africa did with its truth and

reconciliation. None of them are the same in scale or whatever, but they are crimes against humanity that took place.

There are still people in the United States who disagree with bringing down those statues. I mean, what is it about even the current education - you

talk about the education in your mother's day.

LANDRIEU: Correct. Well, I write about this in the book and I really want grandparents to talk to their kids about this. It's not a judgment. It's

an invitation for people to actually reconsider the history that they knew and to think about it from the perspective of African-Americans.

Now, in the City of New Orleans, which is now 60 percent African-American, to have a young 12-year-old girl walk by a statute that is on a piece of

land that she owns as a taxpayer that actually is revering as opposed to just remembering an individual who thought that she should still be a slave

seems to me to be just not necessary.

And the City of New Orleans, as she prepares herself for the next 300 years, should have public displays that reflect what our real history and

our soul is.

And, of course, the story that you did before demonstrates that hatred based on religion and other things continues to course across the world and

the United States is supposed to be a beacon of hope and freedom. We're not supposed to be reaching back into our past and telling people just deal

with it and we can't rethink where we were, especially if we made a mistake.

AMANPOUR: Sorry. I just want to ask you about current demonization, if you like. I mean, you famously - the president of the US Conference on

Mayors and you actually on behalf of the other mayors declined an invitation this year to go to the White House. And you basically said

that, unfortunately, the Trump administration's decision to threaten mayors and demonize immigrants yet again and use cities as political props in the

process has made this meeting untenable.

I mean, history is in a way, not exactly the same, keeps repeating itself, the politics of hate and fear.

LANDRIEU: Well, I will say this. We have, obviously, made great progress. One of my great heroes, John Lewis, reminds us that a lot of the people

made a lot of sacrifice to move us far, but it's clear that we're not where we need to be. And it's clear that, in the moment, we are actually

retrenching a bit.

There has been tremendous rhetoric in the last year about judging people based on race and creed or color or national origin, saying that immigrants

are criminals, that all Muslims are terrorists, that black people are criminals.

That is not the ethos of the United States of America. We judge people, as you know, not based on who you are born to, not what you look like, but

basically on your merit. That's what we are supposed to be doing. And, of course, when that occurs, we have to call that out.

And finally, when there are false equivocations between people on two sides of an issue, one that are working hard to fulfill the Constitution and

other that are white supremacists, that, in my opinion, is a line that should never be crossed in the United States of America.

And when it is, it needs to be confronted, it needs to be called out and it needs to be dealt with.

AMANPOUR: Mayor, you are a Democrat. Your term expires in a few months. And as the Democrats look around to see who might be their standard bearer

for the next presidential election in 2020, your name often comes up.

And I was wondering whether you had national plans and what you make of the current environment where, in fact, some of these special elections, we've

just seen in Pennsylvania and before that in Alabama, Democrats won against the odds.

LANDRIEU: Well, I'll make a couple of points. I make a comment in the book when I talked about when David Duke actually got elected to the

legislature that there's nothing happening on the national level that has not happened in the City of New Orleans and in Louisiana.

We've seen this before. We've heard the dog whistles. And the way that you have to deal with it is to confront hatred and bigotry straight on or

it will get out of the way and it will take you over, and that's not who we are.

[15:25:08] Secondly, people get tired of chaos. They get tired of insecurity. They get tired of feeling like the country is not moving in

the right direction.

And so, I think that that's why you, especially the midterm elections, the country moving in a different direction.

As it relates to me, I have 48 days left in office. I'm trying to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the City of New Orleans. I really don't

have any plans going forward.

I hear the noise. Of course, everybody's talking about everybody because people are desperate to have a new leader in the United States of America,

so that America can really find her strength and her beauty again. But I don't have any intentions of doing that at the time.

AMANPOUR: All right. Well, at the time is the caveat. But let me ask you again about the memorialization of what you're talking about.

In Alabama, the National Memorial for Peace and Reconciliation will open up at the end of next month and it's to remember the victims of lynching, but

it will feature hanging pillars engraved with the names of 4,000 victims. And it's really stark. It's really punch in the gut.

What do you think of that? And do you think that its message will be to listened to by the people who need to listen to it?

LANDRIEU: I am so thankful for that. Bryan Stevenson has been leading that effort and I am so proud of him and his heroism.

One of the things that I did that I thought was tough language in the book was to call out all the people that professed to be the protectors of

history who said we shouldn't take these monuments down because they reflect history.

And I said, if that's what you think, then you are guilty of historic malfeasance because you never ever told the rest of the story. There are

no monuments to slave ships. There is no place to commemorate where all of the lynchings took place in the South. There is no place where we show

people where slaves were sold.

And I said that if you're going to tell the history of who we are, have faith in the people to reflect on what the totality of it is. And Bryan is

starting to move the nation in that category and I'm really looking forward to being there to see.

And very thankful to him for his work and all the people that have supported that effort.

AMANPOUR: It is an amazing reckoning. Mayor Mitch Landrieu, thank you so much for joining us.

And that is it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast at any time and see us online at and follow me on

Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.