Return to Transcripts main page
John Waters' Memoir; The Adaptation of Little Women; Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, A Flagrant Human Rights Abuser; British Human Rights Organization's New Report on Egypt; Ibrahim Halawa, Former Prisoner in Egypt, and Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve, are Interviewed About Egypt; John Water's New Book, "Mr. Know-It-All"; John Waters, Author, "Mr. Know- It-All," is Interviewed About his New Book. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired June 7, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ABDEL FATTAH EL-SISI, EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT: My friend (INAUDIBLE).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Egypt's president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, is a stalwart ally of the United States and according to a new report, a flagrant human rights
abuser. I'll speak with the report's author and also a former prisoner.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN WATERS, Author, "Mr. Know-It-All": All my movies have said one thing, whatever society uses against you, exaggerate it, turn it into a style and
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Outrageous and unfiltered, movie maker, John Waters on his blockbuster film, "Hairspray" and imparting wisdom to his so-called filth
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATE HAMILL: It doesn't have to sort of live in this cold marble altar and be a dead thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Reclaiming classics of the theater for a modern age, our Alicia Menendez speaks with playwright, Kate Hamill, about her new production of
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
After a big week for President Trump with a royal visit here in the United Kingdom and commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, we
continue to look at President Trump's foreign policy.
Now, in his effort to remake a lot of this in his own liking, he staked an enormous amount of political capital on some well-worn alliances in the
Middle East with Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt. And it's in Egypt that president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has tried to leverage his friendship with
President Trump to cement his own hold on power.
He visited the White House in April just before the Egyptian parliament approved constitutional amendments that allow Sisi to remain in office
until 2030. He came to power after a military intervention that many called a coup against the first Democratically elected president, the
Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Morsi, back in 2013. Morsi, of course, had come to power after the 2011 Arab Spring protests against the strongman,
This week, the British human rights organization, Reprieve, is out with a new report on the harsh crackdown under Sisi's rule, featuring mass trials
and death sentences. And to find out more about it, I've been speaking with Reprieve's director, Maya Foa, and with Ibrahim Halawa, who himself
spent four years in detention after attending a 2013 protest in Cairo.
Maya Foa, welcome to the program. And over there in Ireland, Ibrahim Halawa, welcome to the program.
IBRAHIM HALAWA, FORMER PRISONER IN EGYPT: Thank you very much for having me.
AMANPOUR: Can I just first start by asking you, Maya, the intention and the focus of this latest report from Reprieve on the mass trials and the
judicial system in Egypt.
FOA: Yes. So, we really wanted to highlight the extraordinary and devastating state of affairs in Egypt right now. We've been tracking
executions and death sentences in these mass trials since president el-Sisi came to power and indeed before that, and what we've seen is this enormous
uptick and it's meant that lots and lots and lots of young people, of people who have been tortured, innocent people, are all being swept up in
this system of mass trials, this repressive system and they're being systematically sentenced to death by their hundreds and maybe of them being
AMANPOUR: When you say there's been a systematic uptick, you mean worse than under President Morsi.
FOA: Yes, it's certainly become more dramatic, the use of mass trials has increased, the use of the death penalty has increased and the number of
executions has increased.
AMANPOUR: And worse than under Mubarak, which was before the Arab Spring?
FOA: It's certainly getting worse. This is the most we've seen. It's unprecedented in terms of the scale, the numbers being tried and sentenced
to death en masse in these mass trials. So, we're talking 560-something sentenced to death in one mass trial in the Minya Province a couple years
back. So, it's really scales that we've not seen.
AMANPOUR: And what do you think the reason is? Is it a political weapon? What is it?
FOA: Yes, it's a tool to suppress dissent. We've got young people, we'll hear from Ibrahim Halawa, but other young people, lots of people who were
protesting, pro-democracy, they were trying to exercise their right to free assembly, their right to freedom of speech, and they were all gathered
together, sentenced to death, some of them sentenced to death in these very large groups, treated as adults, tortured, that is a sign. That is a
president trying to show that he's got an iron fist and that he will not suffer any kind of dissent. That's what we see.
AMANPOUR: So, Ibrahim, let me turn to you because Maya just mentioned you and I understand that you were classified as a child when all of this
happened to you. You were 17 years old. Just tell me what happened. You're an Irish citizen. What on earth were you doing in Egypt at a
HALAWA: Yes. So, I usually go to Egypt regularly because my parents are Egyptian and I go visit my aunties and uncles over there. And while I was
there, I've seen, you know, that it was kind of the start of Sisi's regime and the coup. And at that stage I had to kind of, you know, just be aware
of what was happening because it was kind of being -- it was becoming dangerous for me and my sisters. But then, two of my close friends were
shot dead that I knew personally.
And coming back from a democratic country, I knew that that was -- you know, that was a violation to any human right possible out there and I
straightaway said that, you know, the least thing I can do for my friends was give them my voice and help them. And I was imprisoned for it four
years unjustly and I was proven innocent after four years.
AMANPOUR: So, just walk me through how it happened. What, you went do this demonstration with your sisters and then what happened?
HALAWA: Yes. So, we went to the demonstration with my sisters and then the army was shooting heavily on to the people, live ammunition, and a lot
of people were falling like, you know, some people were falling from tear gas, some people were falling from bullets.
And for me, as a 17-year-old, this was something in video games, this didn't happen in reality. And we took refuge in a mosque and they closed
the mosque upon us for 24 hours without any food or water. Next day, they took us into the police station and no interrogation whatsoever for four
days. The first interrogation I received was after about 18 days.
AMANPOUR: And what happened to your sisters? Did they get jailed as well?
HALAWA: My sisters were abused. Like, until this day, I keep remembering what happened to them. Their clothes were ripped -- was ripped off and
they were abused, their hijab was ripped off, they were beaten by thugs and the police, the policemen around the mosque at the time. I was injured. I
received a bullet to the hand. So, I was bleeding and I couldn't help them because I was -- they kept the barrier between me and my sisters. And
again, that was very hurtful for my emotions that as a brother I could not do anything to help them.
AMANPOUR: So, I would like to play for both of you what the government says, in fact, what president el-Sisi says. He denies that there are any
political prisoners or others. But this is what he says about the process. This is what he said to American television just recently.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARRY REASONER, ANCHOR, 60 MINUTES: Do you have a good idea of how many political prisoners you're holding?
EL-SISI (through translator): We don't have political prisoners, nor prisoners of opinion. We are trying to stand against extremists who impose
their ideology on the people. Now, they are subject to a fair trial and it may take years but we have to follow the law.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: First and foremost, and I'm going to ask you, the word, extremist, you were accused of being part of the Muslim Brotherhood. Is
that correct? Did you go there to do this for them? Are you part of their group?
HALAWA: No. Of course, as a 17-year-old I was part of no group. I was just a normal teenager who seen, you know, abuse happening and that I
needed to stand up to the abuse. You know, Sisi denying 60,000 political prisoners, around that figure, he is denying 60,000 lives. So, that --
those 60,000 lives could go missing in one day and he would come out and say, "I told you I had no one." So, they are not safe and they can be
killed at any time at any stage.
AMANPOUR: So, Maya, he says they are subject to a fair trial. You just heard what President Sisi says, "It may take years but we have to follow
the law." Fair trials?
FOA: Nothing like a fair trial. I mean, at the very fact of having these mass trials, they are inherently unfair. You do not have your due process
rights, the normal rights you would expect to have as a defendant when you are being imagined (ph). Ibrahim's trial, 490 defendants.
AMANPOUR: Is that usual? Is that an Egyptian thing?
FOA: It's -- we've seen some of this in Egypt before but these increases, I was saying before, it's just, it's unprecedented and it's to deal with a
massive crackdown, you only need mass trials if you are arresting huge numbers of people at once. So, this is reflexive of an attitude by
government. And then you have the mass trial point and you also have the fact that many of these people were children. And if you --
AMANPOUR: When you say children, just to be clear --
FOA: Under 18 years old, teenagers. We've seen --
AMANPOUR: Like Ibrahim.
FOA: Like Ibrahim. We've seen quite a large number of teenagers. And part of the purpose of us doing this report is to really dig down into the
numbers to find the fact behind this rhetoric. So, we've identified lots of children, people who are under 18, including a young man, Ahmed
Saddouma, he was sentenced to death. He was 17 when the police came into his house without a warrant, they grabbed him from his bed, took him to a
He was then held in incommunicado detention and didn't have access to a lawyer or his family for nearly three months [13:10:00]. He was brutally
tortured. He was blindfolded the whole time. They beat him with metal rods, they electrocuted him, then they forced him to sign a so-called
confession, so again, fair trial, right, nowhere there. No access to a lawyer. Did not speak to his father, his parents. And then he was
sentenced to death largely on the basis of this forced confession. That's unlawful. Sentenced to death for a crime that took place while he was in
police custody. I mean, it's extraordinary. He's also in a mass trial.
AMANPOUR: Is he still on death row?
FOA: He's got another hearing on -- this Saturday coming up.
AMANPOUR: Were you sentenced to death, Ibrahim?
HALAWA: No, but my charges were, you know, charges of a death sentence. And it was kind of always scary for me, constantly that -- knowing that one
day I might walk to the death row but that wasn't the most thing that scared me. What -- the most thing that really scared me was actually being
executed in the unknown, in my imprisonment, in my cell, and that has happened with a lot of people in lack of education, you know, police
stations, people were killed, homeland security people were murdered. They don't give their real names, so I can never identify a person.
These are the officers who torture people and force them to sign allegations -- charges that they have not committed like Ahmed Saddouma,
who has signed a paper to charges that were committed after his imprisonment. So, it continuously happens in Egypt with these violations.
And for me that wasn't the scary part. The scary part was going to the unknown in the Egyptian system and I think that's why Reprieve's report is
very important because it follows on those people who are in the unknown, in the Egyptian system.
AMANPOUR: So, now let me put this to you. The Egyptian government, we asked for, on camera, response, we asked for officials, whoever they might
be, to come and be with us for this segment. They denied that but they did, in fact, send us quite a lengthy statement and we have to say
criticizing us and the rest of the press for the way we report these issues. But this is the substance of their response to you.
They say, among other things, the rule of law prevails in Egypt, rights and freedoms are guaranteed by the constitution and the law, the Egyptian
judiciary is independent. What they say is the Egyptian legislator regulated the death penalty with a number of substantive and procedural
guarantees that are in conformity with our international obligations and exclusively imposed on the most serious crimes.
So, is that the case? Are they in conformity with international law? What is international law on this issue?
FOA: They are neither in conformity with international law nor do we think in conformity with Egypt's own domestic law, which says that they don't
sentence children, people arrested under the age of 18, to death. And yet, our investigations have found that they have continued to do that since
Ibrahim, he faced a death sentence, there have been many, many others since him.
In terms of international law and the most serious crimes, there are a lot of people, large, large numbers and the report goes into detail, who are
sentenced to death or facing death sentences for nonlethal offenses. Now, we call them political prisoners. There are different -- the Egyptian
government is trying to use the language of terrorism but that's a smoke screen to suppress dissent. These are not high-level terrorists. What
we're seeing are children arrested at protests. That cannot be in line with international law and indeed, it is not in line with international
AMANPOUR: Ibrahim, just quickly, how did you get out of this conundrum? Why were you released?
HALAWA: I think, most importantly, I have to -- you know, I have to say that I'm very grateful for my sisters who have done a tremendous amount of
work but also, you know, NGOs like -- kind of like human rights organizations like Reprieve, Amnesty, I've got a lot of support from the
Irish people, also the Irish people have supported me enormously.
But for me, I think also from the inside part of it, I've done a few hunger strikes to show them I'm not in fear for my life. If you're going to kill
me, I might as well do it myself, at least I will know that I killed myself, not you killing me, and that was where they started to negotiate
Like for instance, I only spoke to a judge after three years of my trial. I was not presented in front of any judge. I was not allowed to say, you
know, that the charges against me were a bunch of allegations and I couldn't deny them until three years. Sisi says he has fair trials that
may take a long time. Four years of someone's life to -- you know, at the end to prove them innocent and acquit them of all charges, that's four
years of my life gone. No one will return these four years and there's many people like me. There's Abdrak Manegendi (ph), he was arrested as a
minor, there's Amon Animusa (ph), there's Mohamed Asaid (ph).
So, there's a lot of people but you know, you told us to kind of clear the term of under 18 of what children mean, it's -- you know, it's [13:15:00]
not shocking to see a child who -- with me actually was arrested and he was only 12. There was other children brought to courts who were sentenced to
25 years and they weren't even alive at the time that they've committed crimes.
So, the Egyptian judicial system proves itself over again -- over and over again that it is oppressive and that it's -- you know, and that the people
in Egypt do not have a voice to speak and say that they're own -- what they want as their rights.
It's 2019 now. There is the internet and there's, you know, smartphones. People can compare democracy here in the European countries and democracy
in Egypt and the countries like it. But yet again, the most shocking thing for me is our governments. Our governments are going out, bluntly,
supporting Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's regime and not denying or condemning any of his illegal actions against his own citizens. You know, I refuse to
call him a president.
AMANPOUR: But to follow up on what you said about Western governments, it's absolutely correct that they have chosen president Sisi and Egypt as a
key Middle East ally, as Egypt has been for a long, long time. And we've just seen Sisi being received to great pomp and circumstance at the White
House. They view this as counterterrorism. That is what the West looks at them for, to hold the line against terrorism in that region.
I wonder whether you can talk about, both of you, the political moment in Egypt right now. Because it is true that there's a lot of dissent against
the regime. However, in certain socioeconomic and demographic areas in Egypt, people are very keen on Sisi. They believe that he is standing
there against terrorism, against Islamic fundamentalism. And as we all remember, President Morsi himself would like to have pushed through some
constitutional amendments that benefitted him and the Muslim Brotherhood who were behind him. So, those are the facts.
How difficult is it for you, for instance, Maya, and for Reprieve to know that there's a significant portion of Egyptians who actually agree with
FOA: Well, I don't know that I could say that supporting el-Sisi means they agree with the tactics. And I think also, it's very important to look
at terrorism, this idea of counterterrorism. I said it before, but it is - - they are calling it counterterrorism. To me, this looks like a form of domestic terrorism. What he's doing is he is terrorizing large groups of
people by using these tactics, these quasi-judicial tactics, the mass trials, torture, mass death sentences.
That in itself is creating a climate of fear, which is intentional. That is not to say that counterterrorism isn't important and that somebody who
is looking at finding measures to effectively protect against the rise in terrorism, of course that's important. You do not do that by rounding up
large groups of people, forcing them to sign fake confessions, torturing them, held them incommunicado, putting them in detention four years, years
of their lives and sentencing them en masse to death and executing a number of them.
That is not the way we achieve stability and security. That's clear. Actually, human rights is key in achieving stability and security. So, I
think the people who support el-Sisi may be buying into a rhetoric that he's using whereby he claims to be protecting people when he's not doing
that. So, what we need to see is Western governments changing their stance on these specific issues and calling him out when he uses terms and then he
AMANPOUR: I was going to ask you what you want this report to do. And let's just finish the Egyptian government's response, that they are utmost
-- they have utmost keenness to respect human rights and all legally binding international and domestic frameworks at all time and circumstances
especially while countering terrorism. You've already responded to that in what you just said.
I just want to know from your point of view, Ibrahim, what do you hope that your case and this report does? What effect could it have that would help
HALAWA: I think it's very important for people to, you know, become aware of what's happening in Egypt. For instance, the Irish people, they've
become so aware with my case that they actually helped me when I was in need of help. So, I think for the people we need to be aware. But I think
it's very crucial for the governments to actually take a stop and look at the report and realize that there's a lot of people who are facing death
penalties and there's a lot of people who are facing abuses.
And I'm sorry, but like, you know, terrorizing innocent people will create only one thing for Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and it will create terrorists. I
always speak about this, that I've seen a lot of people in prison go from innocent -- being imprisoned for absolutely nothing to the extreme side of
terrorism because they face nothing but torture, their families face nothing but torture and they go missing for a long period of time.
So, you know, I do not justify this support or, you know, the -- what Abdel Fattah el-Sisi [13:20:00] -- his crimes, he is doing against the people and
the support of the European Union and European parliament towards it and the support of the judicial system because it is clearly abused a European
citizen who is sitting right in front of you now.
AMANPOUR: Ibrahim halawa, thank you very much indeed, and Maya Foa, thank you for being with us.
FOA: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And now, the Egyptian government would not respond to our requests for comment on either of those two specific cases.
We go though from the serious to the seriously subversive next. John Waters is no ordinary filmmaker. The Baltimore born auteur revels in camp
and delights in matters of poor taste. He started off so many years ago as fringe, making his mark with "Pink Flamingos" and the trash trilogy of the
1970s. But he kept getting more and more popular. And to his own enormous surprise, he found himself in the mainstream.
His 1988 film, "Hairspray" became a cult classic and it was later turned into a Tony winning Broadway musical. After "Hairspray" came "Cry Baby",
starring a very young Johnny Depp and then there was "Pecker," "Cecil B. Demented" and so much more.
He's latest project is a new book called "Mr. Know-It-All." And John Waters join me to talk about the book and his incredible career from New
John waters, welcome to the program.
WATERS: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
AMANPOUR: So, here's your latest book with a big long title, "Mr. Know-It- All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder." So, first, I have to ask you, what is a filth elder as far as you're concerned?
WATERS: Well, a filth elder, I guess, is somebody that has been around for 70-some years, has learned lessons and feels that he should pass it on to
filth followers everywhere in the world. His -- what he has learned from getting through Hollywood, getting through the art world, getting through
Baltimore, getting through all the different spoken word shows I do and everything, all the different aspects of being able to tell stories and
somehow avoid respectability.
AMANPOUR: So, what filth are you passing on? And do you really mean to, you know, pass on filth?
WATERS: Well, the word filth, I just use that word. It's sort of a punk rock word. It's -- you know, first there was camp, then there was trash
and then there was filth, which was kind of punk rock. So, I think even filth's a little used up. But it's just shows humor with an edge, I think,
which has become American humor, really.
AMANPOUR: It really is. I mean, I wonder if you ever imagined that it would become sort of standard American humor so quickly and whether you
feel you're constantly looking for another edge.
WATERS: Well, I'm always trying to make you laugh, that's the main thing, and I always just make fun of things that I really like, and that's why I
think I've been able to get away with it for 50 years. My dreams all came true. I know that would make people puke to hear that. Oh, my God. But
they really did and I never had to get a real job.
So, that and I'm never around idiots either. That's the hardest thing to negotiate, to get to the point in your life when you're never around
AMANPOUR: OK. Tell me how you negotiate that then.
WATERS: Well, you solve each way that you work your way into every bit of the -- of your world and you have passed the idiots, you have somehow
avoided them. And in the beginning, you have to only deal with idiots, usually, but then you learn how to weed them out and to fail upwards, which
is something I've done my whole life.
AMANPOUR: So, does this book have a little bit of a farewell tone to it? I mean, you know, you are putting all your, as you say, tarnished wisdom,
to the benefit of the filth followers and all of us. But so, are you saying -- what are you saying?
WATERS: I'm not saying good-bye because I'm busier than I've ever been in my entire life, really, these days but I haven't made a movie in a while
but the books do better than the movies. And what I'm saying is I always have to have a way to tell stories and I don't think that I have used up
all my stories, no, because I signed a two-book deal, I'm writing a novel now about a woman that steals suitcases at airports.
So, I'm always inspired by new things that are going on in the press and the media and everything. So, it's not a farewell, even though at the end
of the book I do tell you how to beat death and I do tell you how to tell someone you love them without risk of emotional trauma.
AMANPOUR: Well, I think that's really important, actually, because you've gone through your share of trauma, although you came from a very, very
loving, embracing family who really believed in you, despite all your, as your mom, I think, said, your peculiarities or, you know, "Our john's a
little bit of an odd ball."
WATERS: Well, they believed in it. They were amazed that I could make these movies. They prayed I would make a different kind of movie. I mean,
what father would be proud their son made "Pink Flamingos," really? But at the same time, they were amazed that somehow I got them made. So, they
respected that, even though they certainly wished I made another kind of movie. [13:25:00]
AMANPOUR: I was actually really interested to read that part of the pitch to the publishers for this current book, "The Tarnishes Wisdom," is John
Waters at 70-plus on an acid trip, taking LSD. I mean, really?
WATERS: What you have to do these days to get a book published. Well, I did a stunt in my last book, too. I hitchhiked from Baltimore to San
Francisco by myself when I was 67 years old. So, each time I'm trying to challenge myself.
So, yes, I never was a drug addict. I never had a problem with drugs. But when I was young, I did take LSD a lot and I loved it, actually. I never
had a bad experience. And so, I thought, "What would it be like to take it 70 years old?" Who does that? Nobody. I haven't done it in 50 years.
And I did it with my friend, Mink Stole, but we sort of did it to celebrate our 50 years of friendship and we worked together in all the movies and
everything, and I had another friend, Townny (ph), good artist that joined us for the trip.
And if I had known how strong it was, I really would have been nervous. But I spent eight months getting it. The provenance of this acid was very
pure and it was great. You know, my mother always used to say, "Don't tell young people to take drugs." I'm not. Young people shouldn't take acid.
If they didn't do it when they were young, but if you're my age and you look back on it and you took LSD when you were young and had good
experiences, take it one more time. It gets those cobwebs out. It was really fun. Really fun.
AMANPOUR: Well, I'm very glad you had a good trip, so to speak. But what about the other trip, the hitchhiking across the nation at 67. I mean,
that must be -- have been a slog.
WATERS: Well, it was fun except I didn't realize how long you would sometimes stand there for 11 hours without anybody picking you up. That's
what I didn't fear as much as what really did happen. I was never scared. The people that picked me up were lovely. They were wonderful and nice.
But it took, I think, 11 days and I'm still friends with some of the people that picked me up hitchhiking. I remain -- I was in one of their weddings
last year. I'm still in touch with one of the families that picked me up.
So, I also think you should hitchhike. I think -- I did that a lot when I was young. But nowadays, they don't even know what hitchhikers are. I
didn't see one, the whole time, one person, I saw, hitchhiking and it was like a homeless guy, I think, when I was -- when I hitchhiked across
America. So, people don't even know what hitchhiking is anymore
AMANPOUR: But, John, did they know who you were immediately? Because it's not easy for a flamboyant man, whether you're a young man or an old man, to
-- you know, to be picked up by who knows who in a fairly homophobic parts of the country or just --
WATERS: Well, but you know, America isn't like that anymore. It has changed. There's no easy rider anymore. And the people were great that
picked me up. They sometimes recognized me once I got in. But no, why would they think it was me standing on an exit ramp on Route 70 with a hat
on, weather beaten. Hitchhiking is not a beauty treatment, I tell you, you look pretty bad at the end of the day.
So, a few of them recognized me once I got in the car and started flipping out and everything. But -- and some didn't and some I told and they had
heard of the movies. But all the people were great, all the -- not one gay person picked me up hitchhiking and all the heterosexual men talked about
how great their wives were. So, if you're looking for a good, straight man as a woman, go hitchhike in mid America.
AMANPOUR: Let me go back to your sort of -- you know, you've become respectable. You're getting all sorts of honors. You know, you started as
a subversive. And I want to play a little bit of the commencement address you gave at the Rhode Island School of Design a few years ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WATERS: You need to prepare sneak attacks on society. "Hairspray" is the only really devious movie I ever made. The musical based on it is now
being performed in practically every high school in America and nobody seems to notice it's a show with two men singing a love song to each other
that also encourages White teen girls to date Black guys. "Pink Flamingos" was preach to the converted but "Hairspray" is a trojan horse, it snuck
into middle America and never got caught. You can do the same thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Well, they got a good appreciative laugh and it's a great lesson actually, to sneak there, be subversive, you know, throw off sort of
convention. Did you intend "Hairspray" to be a trojan horse or is that just how it turned out?
WATERS: Well, it's a little bit -- I was amazed when it got a PG rating. I thought it was just like all my movies, really, at the same time. I
think it was lucky I made a movie about one of my obsessions, teen dance shows that was -- didn't threaten or scare people. But at the same time, I
always knew that if you want to change people's opinion, you make them laugh. Getting up there and preaching is the worst thing you can possibly
do. Nobody's going to want to listen.
But if you make them laugh, you disarm them. And I'd even say even racists like "Hairspray." It's really weird to see that it seems to go through it
and all the people that would rise up against many of the things in it, they either don't notice or things have really changed in America. And not
just America, all over the world.
AMANPOUR: As part of that speech, you also told the youngsters to go out and make trouble, it's their turn to go out and make trouble now. How did
they react? Because it does seem to be just a lot of conformity around today.
WATERS: Well, there is. And I thought the high school students in America were going to say this last year when they all walked out for gun control
and everything, but they stopped.
You know, I think if you're studying, what's the matter with you? You should be out in the street demonstrating with what's going on these days.
So, I'm for activism and I'm for activism of using humor to humiliate the enemy like the YIPs used to do in the '60s like Abbey Hoffman did. And I
think it's a ripe time for that.
AMANPOUR: Obviously, the young people are still marching when it comes to climate and they're making a huge, huge impact. One of the film professors
in Washington says about characters in your movies, "Instead of pushing a hero from society's gutter up to the top of the world, Waters pulls the
society down to the outcast gutter." He sort of says, "We're all outcasts, we're all trash, get over it." Do you agree with that?
WATERS: Well, I don't think we're all trash. I think that we all have a weakness and that we all have things that we're uptight about with
ourselves. And all my movies have said one thing, whatever society uses against you, exaggerate it, turn it into a style, and you'll win.
And I think that's true and that's what "Hairspray" was about anyway. So, I think in the same way that I'm interested in people's problems, I can't
understand. I like subject matters that there's no fair answer to.
That's why I taught in prison for a while. That's why I'd be, I think, a good shrink. I'd be a good parole officer.
AMANPOUR: Well, I wonder because I was going to ask you, you have said that you were raised pretty much upper middle class, raised to be a preppy,
but you kept wanting to see "the underclass". I mean you yearned to meet a whole different category of people than those you were brought up around.
WATERS: Yes, I did. I wanted to -- I still like to be around the opposite of me. I'm -- I exhaust myself.
Sometimes I like to be around people that aren't one thing like me. It's much more interesting to hear other people's stories about a way of life
that I don't know at all.
That's much more exciting to me than surrounding myself with people that are just like me, that we all have the same high-class problems. So I'm
still like that.
And I get along with people that are -- my core audience is minorities that can't even fit in with their own minority. They're my people.
AMANPOUR: Oh, you know, you have always been very, very, as everybody says, on the edge, and you have done a whole load of work. Once you did
get -- most people love your work but there was once a rather --
WATERS: Oh, I promise you, not all.
AMANPOUR: No, no. Most, most. But I'm about to get to the other part of most, the opposite of most. The "New York Post" critic who wrote that after
seeing one of your films, if you ever see Waters' name on the marquee, walk on the other side of the street and hold your nose. Now, there's a bad
WATERS: Well, he inspired me. Was it a bad review? He inspired me to make a movie called "Polyester" that had scratch and sniff smells in it so I
made a movie that really did stink.
So that review is what inspired me to go on to make a movie that's one of the most popular movies I've ever made and it's still out there and comes
with a scratch and sniff card where you scratch and sniff the number when it flashes on the screen.
So yes, I answered that critic by making a movie that really did stink.
AMANPOUR: You also said in the book that, look, elected leaders need to remember how to be afraid. And then you write this hilarious story about
how you were sitting in the airplane next to somebody who you should have recognized and maybe put the fear of God into that person. Tell us that
WATERS: Well, I'm sitting on the airplane, in first class, and I'm looking at the guy next to me, an African-American man, I thought, who is this guy?
I know who he is. He never talked to me the whole way.
He wasn't rude but I don't like to talk to people on airplanes either. So we're sitting there, the plane finally lands, I'm thinking who is it, who
We get up and everybody else in first-class says, I don't believe you were sitting next to Clarence Thomas the whole time. I thought I was sitting
next to him?
I -- maybe, maybe I would have said to the flight attendant, can I have a Coca-Cola and say, there's a [13:35:00] pubic hair on my Coke because
that's supposedly what he said to Anita Hill.
AMANPOUR: Well, let us just remind everybody who Clarence Thomas is. He is the associate justice of the Supreme Court and all of this was going on
during his confirmation hearings all those years ago where Anita Hill was really put through the wringer in a despicable way.
WATERS: Yes. And I was always amazed that people didn't believe her. I mean, how would she know those things? She couldn't have made that stuff
I mean, I don't know. I still never got over that completely.
AMANPOUR: There's been so much talk in the aftermath about that and it was a terrible moment. Let me ask you this, though.
You know, you made those incredibly successful films, "Pink Flamingos", "Hairspray", all the others. And then you said, I've then gone from
crawling my way up to the top to almost sinking back to the bottom and needing to crawl back up again.
What is this trajectory? What does it mean to you?
WATERS: Well, to me, in the beginning, what I learned through this, you know, 30, 40-year history of making movies is the early films that make you
the most known, that are the most original, you never make any money on them. But the big films later, where I got big salaries to direct, they
all lost money.
So, I failed my way upwards because, in Hollywood, it's about just the appearance of success. So, I knew how to ride that, and I wanted every one
of my movies to make money.
And the one thing is they keep playing, they keep playing, they keep playing. So I think when I finally die, the next day there will be a bump
in sales and maybe some of them will break even.
AMANPOUR: Tell me a little bit about your mother and father. From what I read, anyway, they were so in your wavelength or at least ready and willing
to be supportive.
I know you said your dad might have liked you to make different movies but nonetheless -- nonetheless, they were supportive.
WATERS: I was a John Waters Jr. so he got my obscene phone calls in the middle of the night. I'm unlisted. He wasn't.
You know, my parents made me feel safe. That's the only thing you have to do with your kids.
And I put them through the wringer. I most definitely did.
And they had a 70-year happy marriage. They both lived to be 90-years-old so I'm not really so sure why I'm as neurotic as I am if I am, but they
were supportive but they didn't really know what to do.
It didn't say in the baby book, you know, what to do if your kid is obsessed by car accidents or if he wants to do a puppet show that has fake
blood in it or if the camp calls up and complains that I'm reading stories to the campers that are giving them nightmares.
So, I was always doing this. My career started when I was 12-years-old. I had a puppet show career.
I got "Variety" at 14 so they knew that I -- the thing is, all the schools I went to, after grade school, wouldn't let me be who I wanted to be. I
knew what I wanted to be.
I should have quit school when I was 16. That way, I would have made two more movies because they wouldn't let me be what I wanted to be.
Today, they will probably let you be what you want to be if you went to the right school if your parents could get you in that school without paying
AMANPOUR: It is said, generally, that it's one of the most partisan times, one of the most anxiety-ridden times in America and in much of the world
right now, a very hyper-neurotic time indeed. And I just want to play back what you said to David Letterman on his show back in the 1980s.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WATERS: I find humor in all the things that are terrible about America and things that people have anxiety about but the first step of getting rid of
anxiety is to laugh at it. So I think they're a very healthy movie.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Look at that young John Waters.
WATERS: Oh, God, with hair, right? Right, right.
AMANPOUR: You agree with that?
WATERS: Yes, I still agree with that. That if you can laugh about the worst thing that's ever happened to you, that's the first success of
getting past it.
You can't change anything that's happened. You've got to use it in some good way.
If you can laugh at it -- and a lot of things aren't funny that happen to people but if you can at some point get past it by making a joke or using
it as humor in a different way, that's the first step of getting over it, I think.
AMANPOUR: John Waters, thank you very much indeed for all your tarnished wisdom.
WATERS: Thank you so much for having me.
AMANPOUR: What an amazing impact he's had. And we remain in the artistic slipstream now with our next guest, the young playwright, and actor Kate
She became well known for her adaptations of classic novels like Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." She's back with "Little Woman" now off-
Broadway in New York. And she sat down with our Alicia Menendez to talk about why the classics are so important, even today.
ALICIA MENENDEZ, CONTRIBUTOR: Kate, thank you so much for joining us.
KATE HAMILL, ACTOR AND PLAYWRIGHT, LITTLE WOMEN: Of course.
MENENDEZ: So, the play you are currently staging is an adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women." What drew you to this text?
HAMILL: Well, I'm really interested in creating radical feminist reclamations of the classics. And this book is, [13:40:00] you know, I
like to think of it as an "Our Town" for American women in that it's a book that a lot of people have extremely personal connections to.
It's about these almost archetypes of American women and so I was really interested in creating a piece that went, OK, well, how do you deal with
becoming a woman in both Louisa May Alcott's society and today's society when the world kind of wants you to fit in this teeny tiny box.
And so I was very very interested in exploring and exploding all of these archetypes of these four sisters and focusing on what it means if you sort
of reject the label of woman altogether and what that means and what it means to be forced into these gender roles.
MENENDEZ: What does it mean to do a radical adaptation?
HAMILL: Well, you know, traditionally, adaptations are sort of copy and paste jobs. That's not a uniform rule but a lot of people really want to
sort of be very faithful to the original.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She nearly killed your half-wit sister.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAMILL: I believe in creating something that's much more surprising and theatrical and embraces the fact that especially in a piece of theater, it
doesn't have to be a museum piece. It doesn't have to sort of live in this cold marble altar and be a dead thing.
It could be living. We can sort of scribble on it with crayon and see what it means now. So, I try to think of it as a collaboration between myself
and an author who is currently dead.
In this case, it's Louisa May Alcott so sometimes that means being faithful to the story and sometimes that means quite a radical departure.
MENENDEZ: That's a big responsibility.
HAMILL: I feel very much like, well, why do this if it's not trying to make something surprising and new and something that speaks to why we tell
these stories today? These stories are cultural touchstones for us, and I feel very much that if we're not re-examining how these stories shape us,
which means re-examining how we shape these stories, why do it?
MENENDEZ: Let's take a look at a clip from the play.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not working.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of course, it's not working, you won't let me get my lines out.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The problem here is that Amy is not a convincing gentleman and it's not realistic, then why should we care?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a play about a wizard.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But in truth strives.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I could play the gentleman and Amy, Lucella.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Amy's too little.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I regret to inform you, Amy, you are dismissed.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dismissed?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can't help who you are, dear. But I shall give you a nonspeaking role, a fairy or a servant.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A servant?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A woodland creature.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You cannot dismiss me because I quit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MENENDEZ: What made this adaptation of "Little Women" particularly radical?
HAMILL: Well, I changed the ending. You know, spoiler alert, Jo does not go off and marry a man. She does not give up writing. She's, as Alcott,
and there's some, you know, you can go back and forth about what Alcott meant by this but Alcott said she was a man's soul trapped in a woman's
MENENDEZ: Let's talk about Alcott.
HAMILL: Yes, of course.
MENENDEZ: Because it's for a classic text, she was, along with Jane Austen, ahead of her time.
HAMILL: Yes. You know, she was -- it's very interesting because she was extremely -- she didn't like "Little Women" very much. It became a huge
hit for her but she was very resistant to it but it was very much based on her own family and her own family dynamic and Jo was based on herself.
MENENDEZ: I remember even as a teen reading it and finding her incredibly gender-bending.
HAMILL: Yes, me too. And you know what? In a way, Alcott's own sexuality and Alcott's intentions, you know, Alcott was writing for her day and she
was a genius.
She was so good at creating this sort of witty world, at creating deep, moving relationships, at depicting the epic scale of these seemingly small
lives. But I thought, well, if I'm having -- writing a play that young people are coming to today, I want them to look on the stage and go, I
don't have to be heterosexual. I don't have to fit into my gender role. I can be the hero of that story and I can find a way through.
I'm open to actor [13:45:00] interpretations of where on the spectrum Jo falls. But for me, Jo is not straight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here I am, Meg.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAMILL: Jo is someone who's growing up without role models to whom she could -- who would help her define herself. But I believe nowadays Jo
would be maybe gender queer or non-binary or even trans. I feel like that's the natural next progression of this character and what I wanted to
show young people.
LGBTQ kids are five times more likely than the general population to commit suicide, to suffer depression, to be kicked out of their homes. I really
wanted to create a story that's about, it is not wrong to be who you are. You can be who you are and you may get pushback for it but things are going
to turn out for you.
And I did not want it to end with, isn't it wonderful, you'll -- you know, eventually realize you don't want to be a writer after all and you'll go
off and give up your dreams and marry a man. There's nothing wrong with marrying a man. I'm marrying a man.
But I really hate when those are the only stories our young people are being told and particularly our young girls are given so much messaging
that romantic love is sort of the point of life. And you know, that's -- I can remember being a little child and sort of feeling like, oh, you know,
four or five and feeling like after you get married, life sort of ends in a happy way, you ride off into the sunset.
And I just -- that just drives me crazy because I think it has so many lasting repercussions on women's ambitions and what women do in the world.
MENENDEZ: I mean this is not the first classic that you have adapted.
MENENDEZ: A lot of your other award-winning work, adaptations of "Pride and Prejudice", "Vanity Fair," "Sense and Sensibility". Why not write and
adopt more modern plays?
HAMILL: Well, I do modern work as well. I'm developing something right now called "The Piper" which is about essentially a cult and how cult
thinking enables toxic masculinity.
But it's especially important to me to create new feminist classics because you know, again, these stories are things we teach in our schools. They
are stories that shape us culturally. They are stories that we refer to again and again.
They're stories that we look to for archetypes. And so when these stories are always male-dominated or indeed told through the male gaze, we're
losing the sense of female-driven narratives.
So often, women are expected to be tertiary in storylines, sort of the wife, the girlfriend, the prostitute. There are great roles for wives and
girlfriends and prostitutes but when you're never the hero of your own story, I think that has ramifications culturally.
I think that's part of why it takes 20, 30 accusers to bring down 1 man who's a serial sexual predator because we're so used to thinking of women
as the other. And so, it's really important to me to make these classic stories which we'd use to teach our children stories and also to teach
these universal stories which are supposed to speak to all of us to make sure that they speak to people of all gender and expressions that are
MENENDEZ: There's a note in the script that I wanted to ask you about where you write, "Little Women" must, all caps, be cast in an inclusive
fashion, it's an American play and should reflect America today, particularly the March family."
MENENDEZ: Why that note? I mean do you need to put that note in the text to help people get it?
HAMILL: I do need to put that note in the text because otherwise, they tend to want to cast it with all white people. And for me, first of all,
I, as an adapter, am someone who believes very much like I don't -- the wonderful thing about theater is it doesn't have to be like film or the
It doesn't have to be drama tragically. It doesn't have to be purely realistic.
People can play animals. People can play different characters. Adults can play children.
But it's -- again, it comes back to it's so important that people be able to see themselves in the classics and everyone across that makes up America
be able to see themselves in the classics and not feel like that doesn't -- that's not for me, that doesn't include me.
And I think it's important for us to embrace, like, how America looks when we're putting American women on the stage.
MENENDEZ: To that point, I want to take another look at another clip from the play.
HAMILL: Of course.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then, just then, like she sensed it. Daisy woke up and started wailing and that woke Debbie and he started wailing. And
then I should have gone and picked them up but I just couldn't, I started wailing. [13:50:00] And that's how John found me, crying and covered with
jam with the babies screaming in their nursery.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then John asked me why I hadn't picked up the babies and I cried. And he asked me why I hadn't made dinner and I cried.
And he asked me why I was so messy and I cried.
And then he called me hysterical and I said, hysterical is just what men call women who bear and bear what men never could and finally snap.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MENENDEZ: That must be so satisfying to deliver.
HAMILL: It really is. You know, and it does get applause most nights and I think it's because it's so -- it's still true, that women are really
expected to fit in these tiny boxes of acceptable behavior which are impossible.
No one can be that perfect. And I wrote this speech based on friends of mine who are mothers who feel very -- who have, at various points, in their
lives, felt very much like you're punished for everything. You're punished for being at home, for not being at home.
It's just very hard to reconcile the demands society puts on women and especially mothers. It's just still very, very true.
MENENDEZ: There was a note in the script that stood out to me. You write, of the characters, they are not always perfectly likable and that's
particularly important for young women, the freedom not to be likable at all times but they are perfectly human. Why is that gender expectation,
which is so subtle sometimes, so pernicious?
HAMILL: You know I would argue it goes back again to the primacy of the male gaze. If women are always tertiary, if they don't feel like they can
be the heroes of their own story, of course, they feel like there's such a premium put on likability because you are trying to appeal to the male
And what I found working, you know, having my place produced around and working especially with young actresses, is women are given notes like,
well, I don't, you know, sort of like your character. But men can play mass murderers.
Men playing Macbeth and -- are not getting those notes because women are expected to stand in for their entire gender and men are allowed to be
human beings. And so I find such freedom in allowing characters to be fallible.
MENENDEZ: And what is the response from male audience members?
HAMILL: You know what's fascinating is I was -- I think when I started out, I was expecting a more defensive response. But it's been so open-
minded and lovely and people getting invested in stories that they thought was, you know, sort of chick literature or chick stories.
What was important to me was creating feminist stories that also show how, frankly, the patriarchy also affects male lives and how toxic masculinity
oppresses men. And it's been fascinating to see men really respond to these stories that before they kind of felt like, well, that's not for me.
And you know, men do come to my shows and I'm super heartened by it.
MENENDEZ: The next play that you're Adapting, "Dracula".
MENENDEZ: Why that story?
HAMILL: Well, it's very interesting. "Dracula," a classic stage company, I'm doing "Dracula" with them in the winter and it's a very problematic
novel. It's incredibly sexist.
I write little notes in the margins and the thing I kept writing was, yikes, because it is sexist. But you can't deny the kind of stranglehold
it has in our culture.
And I thought, oh, wouldn't it be fascinating to do a feminist reclamation of this, to be like, OK, who are the vampires in our culture right now?
What does that mean, to be a vampire? What does it mean to fight vampirism?
So I'm working on that right now and I also like flexing my muscle in the darker stuff, so it's fun for me.
MENENDEZ: Are there any texts that are off limits?
MENENDEZ: Moby Dick, the Bible?
HAMILL: Yes. I sort of would do either of those. I feel like if we're still talking about it, it's worth re-examining.
There was a reviewer who didn't like me very much and when the cities were one of my plays who said, is no classic safe from Kate Hamill? And I was
sort of like, well, no.
I'm not proposing burning the books. They're still out there. But why not do something surprising or interesting?
MENENDEZ: Kate, thank you so much.
HAMILL: Thank you so much.
AMANPOUR: That's it for now. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast and see us online at amanpour.com. And you can follow me on
Instagram and Twitter.
Thanks for joining. And goodbye from London.