Return to Transcripts main page
House Votes On Impeachment Inquiry; Tim Morrison Testifies Behind Closed Doors; Norman Ornstein, Congressional Scholar, American Enterprise Institute, Is Interviewed About Trump's Impeachment; California Fire Burns 100,000 Acres; Officials Plead For People In California To Leave; PG&E Did Not Do Their Job, Says Governor Gavin Newsom; Robert Reich, Former U.S. Labor Secretary, Is Interviewed About California Fires; New Film About Harriet Tubman; Ocean Vuong Is Being Interviewed About His Books And His Sexuality And His Race. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired October 31, 2019 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR. Here's what's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NANCY PELOSI, U.S. HOUSE SPEAKER: So, what is at stake is our democracy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: The impeachment inquiry moves into a more public phase but not before another key witness testifies behind closed doors. We dissect it
all with long-time congressional expert, Norman Ornstein.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're this much away from not having anything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: California burning as temperatures keep rising. The fight to stop accepting a new normal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CYNTHIA ERIVO, ACTOR, "HARRIET": He hurt them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: The heroic story of Harriet Tubman. I'm joined by the stars of a riveting new film, Cynthia Erivo and Leslie Odom Jr.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OCEAN VUONG, AUTHOR, "ON EARTH WE'RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS": What my warning was, don't draw attention to yourself. You're already Vietnamese.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Poet, Ocean Vuong, with our Michel Martin. Why he was told as a child to disappear and why now he wants to be seen.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
A somber day in American presidential history as the House of Representatives votes to bring an impeachment inquiry into the president,
Donald Trump. After weeks of closed-door hearings, this is a significant step which lays down of the rules as the process becomes more public.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it a solemn moment and harkened back to Benjamin Franklin and the origins of the U.S. Constitution.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: On September 17, 1787, the day our constitution was adopted, he came out of Independence Hall and people said to him, Dr. Franklin, what do
we have, a monarchy or a republic? And he said, as you know, he said a republic, if we can keep it. But when we have a president who says Article
II says I can do whatever I want, that is in defiance of the separation of powers that's not what our constitution says.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Meanwhile, another key witness, Trump's top Russia adviser, Tim Morrison, testified behind closed doors. Morrison is the second person to
testify having listened in on the phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president that is now, of course, at the center of this impeach
Few people understand the inner workings of Congress better than expert, Norm Ornstein. He is a political scientist and congressional scholar and
the American Enterprises. And he's joining me now from Washington.
Norman Ornstein, welcome back to our program.
NORMAN ORNSTEIN, CONGRESSIONAL SCHOLAR, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Thank you, Christiane. And my hat as most of the viewers will know is to
celebrate our Washington Nationals who won the World Series last night.
AMANPOUR: Now, I know you have the hat on and they did win the World Series, do you think this is going to have any effect on any kind of
bipartisanship or any sort of burst of kind of congressional responsibility across the aisle during this impeachment probe?
ORNSTEIN: Not in the slightest, unfortunately. We had people come together last night in wild celebration because the only thing perhaps
remaining that is bipartisan is fandom and rooting for this team, but it has nothing to do with the dynamic we're seeing and that we saw on the
floor of the House today. Every single Republican voted against moving to this impeachment inquiry after, of course, every single one of them had
called for a vote to do so.
And that fact, it doesn't mean that we won't get some, ultimately, if there are articles of impeachment brought to the floor, but that fact tells us
starkly that we have nothing but the political tribalism that we've seen up to this point and it's likely to get more ugly as we move into the next
stage of this process.
AMANPOUR: So, let's -- walk us through the next stage of the process because we've several weeks now behind closed doors testimony. We've had
many guests tell us that this is a vital component of this process because you have to take expert witness and, you know, in secret, but also, they do
have, obviously, Republicans on these committees. So, it's in total secret. It's not like it's hidden from the Republicans. They're in on the
committees and in these rooms.
But what about what Nancy Pelosi said. You saw how we led into this situation with what she said today as they took the formal vote. Tell us a
little bit about her basis for this inquiry, being the separation of powers.
ORNSTEIN: Well, we have so many grounds now for moving towards impeachment.
But the fundamental one, and I think it will be the true focal point of the hearings as we move forward, hearings that start with the House
Intelligence Committee is a president who tried to use foreign powers through threats, intimidation and also open cries for help to go after his
political opponents to gain political advantage in an election.
The fact that, at the same time, he was withholding aid in recognition for the Government of Ukraine as it faced a direct threat from Russia, which
had already captured a portion of its territory makes this even more devastating.
What was so interesting, though, today, Christiane, is that not just that Pelosi decided, although the constitution doesn't require it, to move ahead
with a formal vote of the full House for an impeachment inquiry is what that resolution contain, because it contained a very different road map
forward that includes questioning done primarily by Adam Schiff, the most competent and capable Democrat, the chair of the Intelligence Committee,
and his counsel, for 30 minutes or longer segments. Not like the usual way we do these things in Congress, five minutes at a time.
And the Republicans led by Devin Nunes, who has been one of the strongest supporters of Trump and of his involvement with Putin, and that means in
effect that we're going to have public hearings where the case against Trump will be laid out in a more systematic fashion and not with the kind
of yelling match and embarrassment that we have often seen with these hearings that turn people off.
That may change some of the public opinion including some Republicans towards Trump and change the whole dynamic here. So, watch these hearings
carefully because of the way they're conducting them and the people in charge.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, that's very interesting. It brings me to the head of the Judiciary Committee who has tried to allay some of the, you know,
opposition, fears and some of the theories and conspiracy theories about a coup and all the rest of it that that "Fox News" and the Trump base are
He has said, and I'm going to play it, that what's happening is pretty consistent with what happened during the Clinton impeachment process and
leading up to, which didn't happen but, the Nixon impeachment inquiries. Just listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: It provides the president and his counsel opportunities to participate including presenting his case, submitting requests for
testimony, attending hearings, raising objections through testimony giving -- given, cross examining witnesses and more.
And contrary to what you may have heard today, we give more opportunity to the -- to his case than was given to other presidents before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, that's Nancy Pelosi giving her view of it. But as I said, the head of the Judiciary Committee --
ORNSTEIN: Jerry Nadler.
AMANPOUR: Yes. -- was saying that it's very consistent with what's happened before.
ORNSTEIN: Not -- yes. And it is. As Speaker Pelosi said, it's actually more open with more opportunity for the president's representatives and
lawyers to ask questions and to participate in the process than what we've seen before.
So, much that we've heard from the Republican side is simply false or farce or both. The processes they've used up until now, holding these
depositions in a secured facility called a skiff with Democrats and Republicans from the relevant committees' present is exactly the procedures
that were put in place by the last Republican Congress under Speaker John Boehner.
So, these stunts that we've seen with Representative Matt Gaetz leading 30 Republicans storming the skiff and saying, oh, we can't do this in secret
anymore, is exactly what they did before. And now, while we have a process that's a little bit different, say, than we saw with the Nixon impeachment
where it went from a Senate investigation, of course we've had no Senate investigation, directly to the House Judiciary Committee, this will start
with the Intelligence Committee and then move to the Judiciary Committee.
It's going to be open for very much the most part. And we're likely to see some pretty powerful cases made. We've already had them with the witnesses
who have done depositions or spoken out in public so far. This is pretty devastating stuff.
AMANPOUR: You just mentioned the lawyers who will be doing most of the questioning as opposed to the -- what we've got used to, the sort of five-
minute by five-minute blocks that members of Congress use and often kind of quite frequently grandstand rather than getting to the heart of the issue.
Why is that significant now? Do you think it's a good thing that the lawyers will be doing the questioning?
ORNSTEIN: I absolutely do.
And I think just as significant is moving away from that five-minute rule. What we've seen in hearings in the past, not just involving these cases but
almost everything else, is you will get a member asking questions for five minutes, and if it's a hostile witness, that witness can filibuster for
three or four of the five minutes then you get a reprieve for five minutes while you get a rant from a member of the minority before going back to the
next questioner who may follow a completely different line.
Not having each of these members get their five minutes in the sun is creating some animosity among the members because they want to have their
time. But what this means is you're going to get opportunities for follow ups and to take a line of questioning and follow it through much more
significantly done by people who are trained to do this process.
And the same is true of the role that will be played by Adam Schiff who has proven to be the most effective at following a line of questioning in a way
that the average person looking at it can understand. A casual viewer in the normal congressional process thinks it's just a zoo, people screaming
at each other, and then you can blame both sides.
This, I think, is going to be harder for them to do. And while a Devin Nunes can rant for five minutes, he's not going to be able to so for 30
minutes when the evidence is all powerfully presented on the other side.
AMANPOUR: You talked a little bit about the Senate. Analysts believe that it's inevitable that if this goes to where the it's going that the House
will vote to impeach the president, but that it's equally inevitable that the Senate will not because you need a two-thirds majority. This is what
Mitch McConnell has said about the process and about trying to rally the Republicans. Just have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Nancy Pelosi is on the clutches of a left- wing man. They finally convinced her to impeach the president. All of you know your constitution. The way that impeachment stops is when a Senate
majority with me as majority leader, but I need your help. Please contribute before the deadline.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, that is obviously his fund-raising appeal on his Facebook page there. What do you make of it? Do you -- can you predict? And do
you think even if it's unlikely that the numbers are there to convict after an impeachment, if that happens, that as William Cohen, former defense
secretary and Republican told me, it's nonetheless valuable for the American people to be able to see this, hear it and see what's happening.
ORNSTEIN: Well, I agree with Bill Cohen on that front. And in particular, if the House had not moved forward to impeach, they would have said
implicitly that the actions that President Trump has taken, and there are many other areas in including the kleptocracy, the corruption of benefiting
you and your family from being in office that are explicitly prohibited in the emoluments clauses of the constitution. If you don't take this action,
you're saying that these actions are legitimate.
Now, looking at it from today's perspective, the likelihood of a Senate where there are 53 Republicans convicting Donald Trump and removing him
from office is slim. Now, I'd offer a couple of caveats here though. One is, as we see this evidence mounting and -- in these public hearings, if
Republicans start to get more uneasy with Trump, if his support there goes from 80 to 90 percent down to 50 to 60 percent, a lot of Republicans in the
Senate may look at this in a slightly different way.
A second caveat. It's two-thirds of the Senate but it's two-thirds of senators present. And that means there's at least a small possibility that
law professor, Laurence Tribe, has pointed this out, that maybe 20 Republicans in the Senate will say, this is bad behavior. We do not want
to support an impeachment, but we will simply not show up to vote where you could get him removed from office.
AMANPOUR: All right.
ORNSTEIN: They have to add another point, which is Democrats may be a little bit unhappy if he is removed from office where Mike Pence becomes
the acting president and very possible Republicans would nominate instead a Nikki Haley or somebody who could be a much more formidable candidate in
AMANPOUR: Really interesting. So much to watch out. Normal Ornstein, thank you so much indeed.
And now, from a crisis of governance at the heart of power to the brutal side effects of a similar crisis out West. Fires are raging in California
again, wreaking havoc from north of San Francisco down to Los Angeles.
Nearly 100,000 acres have been burned across the state. California is a leader when it comes to climate change policy, but good governance needs to
be ramped up across the board or the state will become uninhabitable.
Hundreds of thousands of people are displaced. Many more are simply in the dark without power, winds are gusting and officials are pleading with
people to leave.
Here's the deputy fire chief of San Bernardino.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATHLEEN OPLINGER, DEPUTY CHIEF, SAN BERNARDINO FIRE DEPARTMENT: This fire moved so fast and has -- continues to have the potential to move so quickly
that if folks don't evacuate when we ask them to, it will be very difficult to try to get them out when the fire is moving toward their home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: How many times have we heard that recently? Robert Reich served as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton, he is also the author
of "The Common Good." And he's joining me now from Berkeley, California.
Welcome to the program.
You know, I sort of framed this as good governance because a lot of the analysis and the -- I guess the kind of forensic look at what's happening
in California is moving away from the breast beating of the fires into what is at the heart of the reason why this keeps happening. Do you agree with
ROBERT REICH, FORMER U.S. LABOR SECRETARY: Yes, absolutely, Christiane. The issue here is not just forest fires and wildfires. The issue is much,
much larger. It has to do with responsibility. And who is responsible and how do you actually organize when climate change is reeking devastating
effects here in the state where one out of eight Americans live and where, if the it were a separate economy, it would be the seventh largest economy
in the world.
It can -- the trend line is extraordinarily dangerous and it cannot -- we can't -- it's not sustainable. So, many people are asking what about the
major utilities or who is looking over the shoulder? Who's regulating them? Who's in charge? What changes need to be made?
AMANPOUR: Well, that's interesting that you bring up it because I wanted to ask you about utilities as well. Of course, we have a map that's showing
us all these fires that are burning. But in the meantime, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, PG&E, they've claimed responsibility for several of the
fires because many have been sparked by the powerlines.
And apparently, some of them are uninsulated and they go for miles out into the forest. And they're shutting off power now, cutting electricity to
millions of homes. It's losing public confidence, the company, battling bankruptcy. And this is what the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, had
to say about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): We should not have to be here. Years and years of greed, years and years of mismanagement, particularly with the largest
utility in in the State of California, PG&E. That greed has precipitated in a lack of intentionality and focus on hardening their grid
undergrounding their transmission lines. They simply did not do their job. It took us decades to get here but we will get out of this mess.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, A, can they be held accountable? But more to the point, why haven't they? I mean, you write about the common good, public policy. Why
haven't these companies, or this one particularly, upgraded its infrastructure and become, you know, a utility for today rather than one
that's clearly had to admit a lot of wrong doing here??
REICH: Christiane, I think this is a classic example of kicking the can the road and not taking responsibility. Every year, it was possible until
it became not sustainable for this public utility to say, well, we will be making these investments in putting the powerlines underground and doing
the kinds of things that should have been done. We will do them next year or we will get to them or we can't quite afford them now.
The problem, again, is a governance problem. This is a public utility. They're supposed to be a public utility commission that oversees this
public utility that has not been doing its work either. The public utility is also a profitmaking entity. It has shareholders. Those shareholders,
for years, wanted to show profits, they wanted to make profits.
How can you manage to make the kinds of long-term investments you need as a public utility when you have this kind of a structure? The answer is you
can't. And by now, I think, the -- that answer is dawning on many people here. I hope it dawns on the government and legislature as well.
This is a democratic state. This is a liberal state. We're 3,000 miles away from Donald Trump. In fact, this is a state that has a leading
environmental kind of profile that Donald Trump is trying to erode. But here on the ground, the state really is not doing the kinds of things the
state should have been doing.
AMANPOUR: So, talk to me about the latest Farhad Manjoo column in "The New York Times." He's the tech correspondent and lives out in California.
And he wrote about a whole lot of unsustainable California design -- designers, technology, all those things.
This is what he wrote. "The founding idea of this place is infinitude, mile after endless mile of cute houses connected by freeways and
uninsulated powerlines stretching out far into the forested hills. Our whole way of life is built on a series of myths, the myth of endless space,
endless fuel, endless water. The long-term solutions to many of our problems are obvious, to stave off fire and housing costs and so much else,
the people of California should live together more densely. We should rely less on cars. We should be more inclusive in the way we design
So, what do you make of that? And, obviously, a lot of very wealthy people, the small percentage, like to live in this infinite space with, you
know, not close and not dense and using their cars instead of public transport.
REICH: Well, even -- I think that article is very, very accurate. Even though this is the heart of liberalism and the most democratic state
capital D in the United States, there is a kind of not in my backyard mentality. I, individually particularly people who are wealthy out here
don't want to make the sacrifices that are necessary in order to plan for the long-term. They want the freedom. They want the space.
California has been part of the American dream for 150 years in terms of freedom to do whatever you want. And as a result, California is emblematic
of many of many of the largest problems America has in terms of widening equality, unaffordable housing, a crisis that is not just a utility crisis,
but is a crisis of a failure to manage climate change.
And also, a lot of people who are on the streets, who have no place to -- no shelter. You see, California is the future of America. It has always
been the future of America. And this is, in sense, a laboratory and a test in America for that future.
AMANPOUR: And a real challenge as well. Thank you so much, Robert Reich, for joining us today.
REICH: Thanks very much.
AMANPOUR: And now, we turn to the silver screen. She is a true American hero. And now, the remarkable story of Harriet Tubman is coming back to
life in a new movie simply called, "Harriet."
Tubman escaped slavery and came to be known as the Moses of her people for leading others to freedom on the underground railroad. Here's a clip of
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are you back here? It ain't safe.
CYNTHIA ERIVO, ACTOR, "HARRIET": To come get you. Bring all of you to freedom.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what would happen if you got caught? You got lucky, Harriet.
ERIVO: I made it this far on my own. So, don't you tell me what I can't do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Cynthia Erivo stars at Harriet Tubman and Leslie Odom Jr. plays a free man born and living in Philadelphia, a prominent abolitionist who
connected Tubman to the underground railroad. The film is out this weekend and they both join me now from New York.
Welcome to the program. And as you get your glass of water, welcome to the program.
That's live television. It's beautiful, isn't it?
But let me ask you this because, first and foremost, the two of you inhabit that film in such a profound way. I mean, I'm looking at you now, cool,
dressed in your, you know, daytime attire, but you put yourself back, you know, to that time in such a remarkable way. How difficult was it to play
Cynthia, let me ask you about Harriet.
ERIVO: You know, it was overwhelming. There was a lot of training that was needed. I started training before we got to set because I didn't want
to play catch up. You know, Harriet has a really wonderful connection to her faith. And so, I wanted to make sure that I also had a way in that
way. So, I did some searching and looking into my own faith and getting a bit braver about talking about it so it felt more authentic. So, it took a
lot but it's nothing that I'm not grateful for.
AMANPOUR: Well, it's an extraordinary performance. And from you, too, Leslie Odom Jr., obviously you come to public knowledge, if you like, from
Hamilton. You were the first burr. And here you are playing this unbelievable role. What made you, you know, glom on to this story? It's
such an amazing story and it's the first major film, I think, that's been done.
LESLIE ODOM JR., ACTOR, "HARRIET": Yes. I mean, you put your finger right on it. I mean, Cynthia Erivo, Casey Landman (ph), Debra Martin Chase,
Harriet Tubman. You know, I was getting an invitation to the party to be a part of this first nation motion picture about Harriet Tubman.
And growing up in Philadelphia, I knew about William Stills' work very well. So, the chance to be part of this first. I don't think it will be
ODOM JR.: You know, I think I think we're see the first one. But, yes.
AMANPOUR: I watched it, obviously, and I was completely gripped from beginning to end because it's also like -- you know, it just has all those
elements of, I don't know, good versus evil excitement, drama. You -- even though you know the history, you don't really know how the story is going
to unfold minute by minute.
And here's a wonderful part of the film, we're going to play a little clip, where the two of you are talking. You first meet. Your character, Leslie,
first meets Cynthia's character as she sort of bursts through his door having made it to Philadelphia.
ODOM JR.: OK.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ODOM JR.: So, where are the others?
ERIVO: There are no others.
ODOM JR.: You can trust me. I'm a friend. Who did you make the journey with?
ERIVO: I left my husband and my family. It's just me and the lord.
ODOM JR.: Well, I don't know if you know how extraordinary this is. But by some miraculous means you have made 100 miles to freedom all by
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: It is remarkable when you just put it that way. Did you know that part of the story, Leslie, you know, or did you figure that out when
you were researching it?
ODOM JR.: I knew about that part of the story. But a lot of times these things they become richer as you live, as you get older, you know. I
didn't know what 100 miles was when I was learning about Harriet Tubman at 10, 11 years old. But know, knowing what that is and knowing that she
walked that and ran that on foot, you know.
I didn't have a family of my own when I was learning about Harriet Tubman, but learning that the -- her first impetus for going back was for her
husband and her family it just brings the story that much closer to home for me.
AMANPOUR: And it's chilling, actually. I mean, Cynthia, you are English. I don't know whether you had any, you know, knowledge of that American --
that particular part of American history growing up, maybe you did. But what about Harriet really attracted you? And then just speak to what
Leslie just brought up. I mean, the tragedy of you then telling Leslie's character that you wanted to go all the way back, kind of in defiance of
the underground process, to find your husband and then what did you find when you found your husband?
ERIVO: That he had found another woman. He was married, remarried and with a baby on the way. Yes. Heartbreak. Absolutely heartbreak.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Yes. It did seem heartbreaking. And it was -- you know, your character is very contained and controlled. The way you play her,
it's not loud voices or extremes of emotion. You're very, very controlled. And yet, obviously, you're in deep distress when you hear this from him.
And I was shocked when he turned around to you and said, but you left me, you know, when you, obviously, in that scene, had to leave. You were being
ERIVO: Yes. Right. You know, it's the complexity of a relationship. And I think that's probably the most humanizing moment. I relished being able
to do that because I felt like it showed her womanhood, it showed the love that she had, the complexness of like -- of the relationship that she had
with her husband. They still had love for each other, but had the find ways to move on, that they had to find ways to survive.
And that for him, she had died in his eyes. He did not realize that she was still going to make it. Many people didn't make that journey alive.
She was one of the anomalies. And when she makes it back, again, against all odds, it just should never have happened, really. And truly, she was
one of a kind. Yes.
AMANPOUR: And she did it over and again. She kept going back for members of her family. Brought out 70 people in all, at that particular time. I
want to ask you also, both of you, actually, because you both have musical -- well, musical -- music as part of your careers. Can you still hear me?
ODOM JR.: I don't think Cynthia can, but I'm going to relay --
AMANPOUR: OK. OK. I'm going to ask you, Leslie, and maybe somebody can fix Cynthia's ear. But music plays a big part in this film. Obviously,
Cynthia as Harriet is singing. But you -- I mean, obviously, Hamilton was, again, you know, a revelation of that part, a significant part of American
history through music.
The music as a way to communicate but especially communicate the danger from Harriet to the other slaves working in the fields was very profound.
ODOM: She wants to know about the spiritual aspects, you know, using the spiritual as a medication.
ERIVO: Yes. I mean, I think I've been asked a number of times if music was put in because I'm a singer. But no, it happens to be a part of
Harriet's story. Really and truly, the spirituals were used often by enslaved people to communicate with one another. They were in danger of
being caught and maimed and hurt if there were certain things said so they used to spirituals to communicate.
So just, as they did, Harriet would also do the same in order to let people know that she was there, that she was leaving. That it wasn't time to go
yet, that it was time, that it was safe, that it wasn't safe. And it meant that there was a distinct way of being able to talk, to speak using music.
And we all know that music is a way in which we can tell our stories and communicate the way we're feeling, but this was communication in its purest
sense and that she needed to send a message to others and this was the safest way to do it.
AMANPOUR: And it was really very effecting. Really remarkable. I want to play another clip. Again, obviously both of you are in this and then talk
about it on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ODOM: Rescuing slaves requires skill and careful planning. It requires reading, Harriet. Can you read a sign or map? Can you read at all?
ERIVO: I put my attention on trying to hear God's voice more clearly.
ODOM: Do you know what would happen if you got caught, they would torture you until you pointed them right to this office? You got lucky, Harriet,
and there's nothing more you can do.
ERIVO: Don't you tell me what I can't do. I made it this far on my own. God was watching, but my feet was my own, running, bleeding, climbing,
nearly drown, nothing to eat for days and days but I made it. So don't you tell me what I can't do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: God was a --
ODOM: Tell them, Harriet.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Tell them, exactly. That was pretty amazing. I'm sure women not to mention African-Americans all over the world were very happy
to hear that. But God was a very huge feature of her life. And it came across so incredibly in this film. This sort of magical realism that was
I mean, the visions and the way she took her not just inspiration, but direction in real time from, from what she was feeling from God. How did
that resonate? How did you sort of interpret that, Cynthia?
ERIVO: Casey and I wanted to try and find a language that felt authentic to those moments. Casey says that she was doing research on how people
would see seizures because obviously with the injury, she also would slip into both a seizure and these would come in the form of a vision from God.
And so that's why it's all whenever we slip back, it's like in black and white. That's often how it would be seen. But I allowed myself to be a
bit braver about my faith. To be led myself a little bit. I wanted to make sure that there was space for a little guidance from Harriet and from
who I believe in God.
And so I think it meant -- it made it easier to really believe that there was direction given to her from a higher power, and so I just sort of went
into it, really.
ODOM: You know, we call that thing a lot of things. People of faith call it God, but I believe it's also your intuition. It's that one of the
greatest gifts we have as human beings. I certainly want to teach my daughter about that. It's when the hairs stand up on your arm and the hair
stand up on the back of your neck when you sense danger, when you sense safety. Those things, they're powerful messages that come from the inside
AMANPOUR: I wonder if the hairs stand up on the back of your arms or on the back of your neck as you realize that, you know, this is 400 years
since 1619 when the first slaves came to the United States. And so much amazing culture and art whether it's, you know, novels or films, or books
and the like, are coming out just describing not just the slave experience but actually the massive debt that America, white America, owes black
It is extraordinary in every aspect that we're getting to hear about now. There's such a debt that's owed. And even the author of the current play
on Broadway called Slave Play, Roberto O'Hara says. You know, when slavery is portrayed, it should cost us something to watch it and to experience it.
ODOM: He's right.
ERIVO: I think so. I think that's true.
ODOM: And it does, you know. But people talk about -- I've heard Casey talks about it, too, our director talks slave fatigue, you know, because
for so long, there's been just a way that we've told the story about cattle slavery in this country again and again. But look at this, 400 years, and
it's the very first motion picture about Harriet Tubman. About someone who was on the frontlines of black resistance, of the resistance movement.
And so I -- you know, I don't have slavery fatigue. I think, you know, I watch -- I watch every movie, every great movie about you know, the taking
down of Adolf Hitler that they make. And so I watch every great story about the history of these great American, their courage and their
ingenuity as Hollywood makes.
AMANPOUR: I want to thank you both so much for being with me. Cynthia Erivo and Leslie Odom, Jr. Thank you and the movie Harriet is phenomenal.
Now, we move to one of the most compelling and magnetic literary talents of recent times. Ocean Vuong is an award-winning Vietnamese-American writer
born in Ho Chi Minh city and the grandson of a U.S. soldier.
Vuong and his family were forced to immigrate to the United States when he was 2 years old. His debut novel released this year, "On Earth, We Are
Briefly Gorgeous," spent six weeks on the New York Times' best seller list.
Semi-autobiographical, it's written in the form of a letter from a young Vietnamese-American to his illiterate mother. And he spoke to our Michel
Martin about the force behind his creative spirit.
MICHEL MARTIN, AMERICAN JOURNALIST: Ocean Vuong, thank you so much for talking with us.
OCEAN VUONG, AMERICAN POET: Thank you, Michel. Pleasure to be here.
MARTIN: And congratulations on everything.
VUONG: Thank you. Thank you. It was a pleasant surprise all of it.
MARTIN: The book tells the -- I guess, how would I say the coming of age story of a character who is very much like you --
MARTIN: -- comes here as a young boy. He's trying to understand his gender identity, he's trying to understand his sexual identity. He's
trying to understand this world that he's been kind of dropped into. Is this your story? Is this autobiographical?
VUONG: To an extent. I was inspired by -- I had good elders in literature. I was inspired by Baldwin's "Go Tell It To The Mountain."
Baldwin said he had to write that book in order to write anything else and it made perfect sense to me because what he was doing was saying that the
(INAUDIBLE) that raised him, a black family in Harlem, similar to a Vietnamese family in Hartford for myself, is something worthy and of the
dignity and the power of literature.
And I think he wrote that to prove to himself, America, his community, that this could be in the center. You can use your imagination to tend to
yourself and your communities to empower them.
Not necessarily be a representative of them, but empower them to say that, this is right up there with any other novel in this country, every other
And to use a life that was recognizable to me. Asia America life working out of poverty. Within poverty in Hartford was a powerful moment for me to
say this life that many people just pass on the freeway, this life gave me my imagination. In the same way Harlem gave Baldwin his.
MARTIN: You were a baby when you came here, right?
VUONG: Yes. Yes.
MARTIN: Do you have any memories of coming here in those early years?
VUONG: My first memory was listening to music. And particularly in Hartford. I lived in a black and Latino neighborhood and I didn't know
America was mostly white folks, for a long time.
MARTIN: Really? You thought it was black and Latino.
MARTIN: Because you live in Hartford, Connecticut.
VUONG: Hartford, Connecticut. And it was so vibrant, there was so much life, there was so much joy and music. It's a rough city, but we were
immigrants from war, we were refugees so violence was something everybody understood. And so we sought out the pleasure and the community really
took us in.
MARTIN: Do you remember anything that your mother and grandmother talked to you about America? Do you remember anything they said to you about your
story, your journey, how you came to be there?
VUONG: It was all warnings. And I think a lot of folks of color get this from their elders. Unexplained warnings and my warning was, don't draw
attention to yourself. You're already Vietnamese. That's one strike against you.
And it's a precarious condition to step out into the world with one strike against you and that your goal is to be invisible. That's very strange for
a mother to tell a child, disappear, go out -- you go on and go out there and disappear.
And what I realize is they were trying to protect me. If you stay out of the limelight, you can get by, do your work, make a living quietly. And
that's the greatest paradox between first and second generation because the second generation wants to be known. We're here. We're proud. We want to
honor our journey but the elders tell us it's time to hide yourself in order to protect yourself and that's the great conundrum of being an
immigrant. And I think we don't have to solve that. We can honor both perspectives.
MARTIN: Do you remember though when you developed that yearning to be seen, to be known?
MARTIN: Right away. I've never been put in time-out. I was 6 or 7. Teacher put me in time-out. And I was so invisible, she forgot about me.
The students left and when -- and I just sat there. You know, I'm sitting in the corner and then she looked up, she was eating lunch. She looked up
for her macaroni salad and she said, oh, my God, what are you doing here still?
And I thought it's so easy for a small yellow child to vanish that the hard work, the real work that requires innovation is to be known. And one of
the best and most perennially powerful ways to be known is to be an artist.
MARTIN: Do you remember when you started thinking about writing or something making art? Something to create a space for yourself? Do you
VUONG: I tried. But it was -- it was not encouraged. My family is illiterate and it took me a long time age 10, 11 to really start reading
MARTIN: And forgive me, you're saying your family's illiterate in both Vietnamese and English?
VUONG: Yes. Dyslexia and lack of, you know, foundational education. I would sneak out of recess, stay in the library to listen to tapes of famous
speeches. And one of those was Martin Luther King. And you could hear the static when he was giving the "I have a Dream" speech.
And I thought it was snowing. It sounded like snow to me. And I said, who is this man talking about dreams in a snowstorm? It felt so powerful and
surreal. But it was not different than what my grandmother would tell at home. She would tell folktales, mystical journeys and folklore from
Vietnam and I thought this was what story telling was like. And it was so powerful to me. As a little lonely kid in Hartford listening to a library
tape that I tried to write my own poem.
But my teacher thought I plagiarized because I was a poor student. My grandma was bad. My -- I couldn't even say the word "the" well. So he
thought, oh, this ESL student must have clearly snatched this from somewhere else and he dumped my desk out and he says, you know, where did
this come from? And it was terrifying to be in trouble for your imagination.
But that's a moment where I said he respects me though. You respect what I did. I've never been so respected to the point of being feared. To being
unfathomable. And I think when it comes to Asian-American talent in this country, a lot of us are unfathomable.
When you think about the two stereotypes of Asian-American talent, one, the math whiz. Two, the musical prodigy. When it comes to the math whiz, it's
genetic. They're born like that. That's the big stereotype. Or they only have it through the unjust parenting of tiger moms, right? So they have it
only through this inhumane parenting and regiment, but it's not their own talent. Their own agency.
When it comes to the musical prodigy, there's a great violinist, a great pianist, but always in service of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, euro centric
music. So at its best to be an Asian-American artist of talent is to be merely a fine tune instrument in service of somebody else's name then.
So to be a novelist, to be a poet, a dramatist, a painter, to be an Asian- American artist making your own thing, the only result would be you're inconceivable.
MARTIN: Are you angry about the way you were treated as a child?
VUONG: I think I feel it, but I don't act out of it. I think one thing living with elders with PTSD, living in a black and brown community where
violence was pervasive, where police brutality was pervasive, I saw that anger was the death of creativity and innovation.
And I think as a writer, as a thinker, I'm most useful to myself and to my world when I ask now what? What can I do now? That's where I'm most
useful and I tried to write my books out of that question.
MARTIN: Will you read a little bit for us?
MARTIN: Here's a passage, I think, we both agree we would like to hear you.
MARTIN: Thank you.
VUONG: The most common English word spoken in the nail salon was sorry. It was the one refrain for what it meant to work in the service of beauty.
Again and again, I watched as manicures bowed over a hand or foot of a client, some young as 7, say I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry.
When they had done nothing wrong.
I have seen workers you included, ma, apologize dozens of times throughout a 45-minute manicure hoping to gain warm traction that would lead to the
ultimate goal. A tip. Only to say sorry any way. When none was given.
In the nail salon, sorry is a tool one uses to pander until the word itself becomes currency. It no longer merely apologizes, but insist reminds I'm
here, right here. Beneath you. It is the lowering of one's self so that the client feels right, superior, and charitable.
In the nail salon, one's definition of sorry is deranged into a new word entirely. One that's charged and reuse as both power and defacement at
once. Being sorry pays. Being sorry even or especially when one has no fault is worth every self-deprecating syllable the mouth allows because the
mouth must eat.
MARTIN: You sure you're not angry?
VUONG: I'm angry. Of course. But I don't write with rage. I can't. I think rage and anger are energies. They're raw energies, ready to be
recycled and reused. But if we use them, anger is a force that extinguishes the welder as well as the world. I'm more interested in using
the energy of compassion and understanding. I'm at my best when I say I'm angry about this, but I need to know why you're doing it to me.
MARTIN: One of the things I think many people appreciate about your work in addition to your beautiful language and your sharp observations is that
you're also very honest. I think about some of the dynamics within your own family. At least as described in the book. And there was brutality
there. If you don't mind my saying that there are many ways that your mother treats you that are very difficult to read. And to think about your
And I have to ask you, what do you think about that?
VUONG: I think writing helped me understand that although you can technically be a victim, you can be a victim of war. You can be a victim
of domestic violence, child abuse, but whether you live in victimhood or not, is up to you.
We can't change what happens to us. But we can change how we live in order to have a successful life. And I think one of the great power of writing
is that when you can take your story and present an alternative future for where it was headed, you ultimately take control of your life.
And, yes, we all experience terrible things. You know, the women in my family suffered from war. The poison of war entered them. They passed it
down to me. And I like to see it as this is our species wide endeavor is how do we change what happened to us into how we live better has the great,
MARTIN: What's your relationship with your mother now?
VUONG: It's quite beautiful. You know, I never thought it would be this lovely. What I learned from these refugee women is that you don't have to
talk it out. That's the great western myth. You know, you've got to talk it out. You've got to get a therapist. Lay it all out.
And I think when I see them, they're more invested in the present. The wounds are understood, and sometimes language can't even hash them all out.
They taught me that despite what happened, I can still be of use to you. So when I see her, it's, are you hungry? What can I do?
There's a wisdom in accepting what happened is beyond your control. They never ask for their country to be bombed. They never asked to have
terrible husbands who abuse them. But what they can do is say regardless of what happened, I care for you and I'm going to find a way to keep caring
for you. That's what I learned.
MARTIN: Did you ever meet your, I guess your grandfather, right? Who was a white American soldier, right?
MARTIN: You've met him. What does he think of your work?
VUONG: It's a challenging relationship. It's an amicable one. But it's also one where there's so much guilt on both sides. You know, we don't ask
to -- it's rare and challenging when the elephant in the room is always a war that costs four plus million lives.
MARTIN: But there's a poem that you wrote about that, which I cannot say on this air because of there's some language in it that I can't repeat, but
it's basically the concluding line is, no bombs, no me. Right?
VUONG: I am the direct product of war. And I think the opportunity there, although it's very fraught, is that within a mixed race family that comes
out of war, there's no way to keep it simple. And I think that's why the book and my thinking moves more like a spiral.
I moved through history and observations like a spiral. I keep returning and double checking. And that comes from having a very complicated history
without the Vietnam war, this horrific, this black page in American history, I wouldn't be here talking to you.
How do you grapple with that? You can't say that's good or bad. You have to say the next thing, which is why did it happen? And how do we avoid it?
MARTIN: You've spoken a number of times in our conversation about just the experience of being Asian and American and what is expected of you as an
Asian-American artist, but what about your sexuality and your understanding of that. How does that factor into this story?
VUONG: Right. I wanted to address these tropes of shame around queerness and sexuality. And the thing that I wanted to portray was that, you know,
little dogs relationship with this white farm boy portrays the difference in how they approach shame. Trevor, the farm boy, is incredibly ashamed of
his queerness because it is the antithesis, the absolute antithetical identity of what American masculinity is.
And he in a way crumbles from it. He loses himself literally. Because he can't be a man, if he's not a man, he's not human under American standards.
Whereas little dog having been raised by Vietnamese women was much more comfortable with the sexuality.
His family understood, we -- they come from a different tradition where there was more malleability in sexuality. And in fact, he's better off in
his queerness than this American boy who is supposed to have everything, including ultimate freedom.
MARTIN: "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous," before I let you go, tell me about the title. It's a beautiful title. So many of your senses are
beautiful. What does this mean?
VUONG: I think for me, I dared to call poor black and brown and yellow bodies gorgeous. It felt like here's my chance to say it out the gate.
The first sentence in the book is the title. And I want to start with beauty, because that's a given to me. That's a fact. These people are
beautiful. And I want to start with there and show then show the world how they're beautiful.
MARTIN: Ocean Vuong, thank you so much for talking with us.
VUONG: Thank you so much.
AMANPOUR: And such a poignant ode to marginalize immigrants.
Before we go tonight, a note about tomorrow's show. My conversation with a former nun who's become the most important interpreter of religion, Karen
Armstrong. I speak with her about her new book, "The Lost Art of Scripture".
But that's it for now. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast, see us online at amanpour.com and follow me on Instagram and Twitter. Thank
you for watching and goodbye from London.