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Iran Admits Killing Protestors; Deadliest Protest in Iran in 40 Years; Farnaz Fassihi, New York Times Reporter covering Iran, is Interviewed About Iran Protests; Proper Use of Presidential Pressure and Taxpayer Money; Hungary Claim Mass Migration is Their Biggest Threat and not Climate Change.; NATO Most Successful Defense Alliance Says Hungarian Foreign Minister; Peter Szijjarto, Hungarian Foreign Minister, is Interviewed About NATO and Hungary; Reenacting Louisiana's German Coast Uprising of 1811; Interview With Fashion Designer Christian Siriano; Interview With Artist Dread Scott. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired December 6, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone. Welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
The true toll of a brutal crackdown is now emerging after Iran's massive gasoline price hike. I speak to Farnaz Fassihi of the "New York Times."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER SZIJJARTO, HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: So, for us, creating the conditions and circumstances for people to return is the major issue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: From migration to climate in Europe's self-declared illiberal democracy. My conversation with Hungary's foreign minister.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DREAD SCOTT, ARTIST: America is a society that was founded on slavery and genocide. That's what the essence of America is and where it comes from.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Artist, Dread Scott, on how hundreds came together to recreate a forget ton but formative slave rebellion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIAN SIRIANO, FASHION DESIGNER: I think, actually, more successful because women are shopping my clothes because we support women.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Christian Siriano on how breaking the rules allowed him to carve his path through the fashion industry.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
One topic was conspicuously absent from NATO meetings here this week, Iran. Well over 200 people have been killed in a brutal crackdown against
protesters, according to Amnesty International. But the Trump administration claims the death toll could be even higher at 1,000. Yet,
U.K. prime minister, Boris Johnson, says Iran didn't even come up at all during this NATO meeting.
Anti-government protests there began last month initially because of a massive overnight hike in fuel prices. But they soon gained momentum and
they grew. The Iranian regime shut down the internet and responded with extraordinary force, reportedly shooting unarmed civilians.
As the internet gradually comes back online, videos and reports like these are emerging to corroborate the accounts, which appeared to be the
deadliest in 40 years since the Islamic revolution. The government itself has admitted to killing protesters. State TV called them thugs and
Farnaz Fassihi is a "New York Times" journalist who has been following the story closely and she joins me from the United Nations.
Farnaz Fassihi, welcome to the program.
FARNAZ FASSIHI, NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER COVERING IRAN: Thank you for having me, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: Well, you have had some quite extraordinary independent reporting about what is going on inside Iran. It's really difficult to get
a real picture with the internet blackout. Can you just sum up for us what you know from your contacts with Iranians or whoever, however you're
getting the information?
FASSIHI: What we know is that the gas price increased sparked protests, which were peaceful for about 24 hours, and then they turned out to be much
more targeting, the regime rather than just an economic grievance. We saw that protests spread all across Iran, in cities big and small, from Shiraz
and Isfahan to smaller towns, working class neighborhoods. And really, the majority of people who came seem to be in a young demographics of between
19 to 26, and most of them are pretty fed up with the Islamic Republic establishment and saying it as such.
And Iran's leadership took the extraordinary measure of shutting down internet across the country and basically opening fire on unarmed
civilians. The death toll continues to climb. The numbers are anywhere between 208, that's the latest Amnesty International number to our sources
telling us that up to 450 people have been killed, thousands injured and 8,000 people arrested.
This is an unprecedented level of violence and crackdown by the Islamic Republic in a very short period. We haven't seen this kind of number since
the revolution in 40 years.
AMANPOUR: So, you and I were both there in 2009, and we saw the so-called Green Revolution, where there was unprecedented protest against the regime.
This was over a disputed election. And there were some deaths. But this seems to be so much worse. Why do you think the regime has responded in
this way this time?
FASSIHI: I think the Islamic Republics' leadership and regime is under pressure from multiple fronts. They're facing very tough economic
sanctions from the Trump administration. They are facing a budget deficit and a lot of tensions with the West. Their regional power and influence is
being challenged in the streets of Iraq and Lebanon, where they thought that they had a grip on sort of political dominance there. And they did
not want to be caught in a moment of weakness domestically.
AMANPOUR: You have had contact with people in certain province there about a particularly gruesome -- I mean, it just sounds like an execution and
some pictures have been coming out which show, I mean, really terrible things going on at close range.
FASSIHI: All the videos that came from Iran over the past -- over the period of violence, which is about four days, showed security forces
indiscriminately shooting from close range at unarmed protesters. Protesters who are throwing rocks were being shot down by machine guns, by
security forces in uniform. So, we had a picture that there was really a lot of violence.
But then when the internet started getting restored, it was as if a curtain had been unveiled and the scope of the disaster unfolded. In a City of
Mashhad, which is in the Province of Khuzestan with an ethnic Arab population and home to Iran's oil fields and petrochemical complex, we were
able to confirm that there was a mass murder of locals there and they have disrupted both the work of the petrochemical factories and transit moving
On November 18th, on Monday morning around 10:00 a.m., a platoon of Revolutionary Guards moved in. And without any warning, opened fire at
dozens of men who were at a check point. Some of them dropped dead. The rest escaped to marshes nearby and took refugees in the marshes.
One person among the protesters had a gun and fired back after being shot at the Revolutionary Guards and then they surrounded them in the marshes
and opened fire at them and killed dozens and dozens of people. We're hearing numbers between 40 to 100 people shot and killed in one incident,
which makes -- until now, makes the Mashhad incident deadliest and most unprecedented.
AMANPOUR: Farnaz, obviously, this is squarely laid at the hands of the regime. This is a very complex situation where the United States seems to
be an active player. It clearly wants to see the regime fall.
FASSIHI: You know, the Trump administration has all along said that their stated policy is to put a lot of maximum pressure policy on Iran, to
squeeze Iran economically through sanctions and isolate it in order for Iran's leadership to come to the negotiating table and deliver President
Trump's campaign promise of a better, wider nuclear deal. So far, that hasn't materialized.
The unstated policy of the U.S. has been to hope that these economic pressures would lead or fuel to unrest at home. Secretary of State Pompeo
and special envoy to Iran, Brian Hook, have taken the unusual stand of sort of putting the U.S. at the front and center of these protests by endorsing
them. So, it gives validation to the Iranian regime's claims these protests are not legitimate and they're instigated by outside powers like
Having said that, I think, as you point out, two weeks after the violence, there is tremendous amount of public outrage at the number of deaths.
Parents are starting to speak up about losing young children, men and women, who are really at the cost of their youth being murders and the
regime is trying to do some damage control. They are trying to acknowledge that a lot of lethal force was used and, as we saw, Mr. Khomeini took the
extraordinary measure of saying that the people who were caught in the cross fire and died who are not really rioters can be labelled as martyrs.
AMANPOUR: Farnaz Fassihi, thank you so much. And it's so sad because always the ordinary people who are caught in the terrible vice grip.
Thanks for joining us.
FASSIHI: Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: The Trump administration made unusual interventions during those protests. Secretary of State Pompeo calling for images and videos that the
State Department could put out. While the special envoy, Brian Hook, said that they were pleased to see the protests.
Now, while President Trump spent a few days at the NATO summit here in London, back home, the impeachment process was barreling forward over what
is the appropriate use of presidential pressure and taxpayer money.
The Ukraine affair has many tentacles, some allegedly reaching all the way to Hungary, Europe's self-declared illiberal democracy. Whose prime
minister, Viktor Orban, is a friend of President Trump. Hungary is blocking Ukraine's NATO membership in a dispute over ethnic Hungarians
there. And amid an important climate summit in Madrid, Hungary is also blocking plans for the European Union to be carbon neutral by 2050.
The country leads a group of right-wing east European governments who claim that mass migration not climate is their biggest threat.
And I've been speaking to the foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto. A close ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Foreign Minister Szijjarto, welcome to the program.
PETER SZIJJARTO, HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Thank you for the invitation.
AMANPOUR: So, here we are at the end of a week of -- they don't call it a summit. It's a NATO leader's meeting. Really, I think, epitomized by the
somewhat combative conversation between the French president and the U.S. president but, also, Turkey being at the heart of a lot of dispute.
So, first and foremost, this is 20 years since Hungary has been a member. What take away do you have right now? What do you make of Macron saying
that NATO is brain dead, and standing by the comment?
SZIJJARTO: Look, for us, a country which had to fight lot for its freedom and a country which was occupied by the communists for 40 years and only
been a member of the NATO for 20 years, as you rightly expressed. For us, NATO is the most successful defense alliance ever and NATO is a symbol of
getting back the ability to have a free choice where we want to belong to. So, whoever says bad things on NATO, it's a little bit with a kind of
painful to us, to be honest.
I don't think NATO would be brain dead. I understand that there are debates about how NATO has been adjusted to the current reality. How NATO
formulated or followed the recent developments, but I think saying that it would be brain dead is a little bit too much, to be honest.
Some of my colleagues in the Foreign Affairs Consul, and I hope that you forgive me not mentioning names, sometime call the French president, who we
respect of course because he's the president of a great nation, as the American president of Europe. If you understand me.
AMANPOUR: You mean the European Trump?
SZIJJARTO: Yes. I mean, because some of my colleagues usually say, and not as a qualification, just as a description, that he speaks out of the
box quite sometimes like your president does and he speaks very freely and indecently from, let says, former policies or from boxes or from, you know,
habits or a political correctness. So, sometimes they are, let's say, compared to each other.
And for us, it's really exciting to see when these two persons, the French and the American president, come together and speak out of the box, not
according to scripts, not according to already prepared speeches. That's always inspiring. Let's put it this way.
AMANPOUR: Interesting. Because some of it is quite substantive. I know that Macron is very keen on a strong Europe. But Macron says that it's
about the political organization, the strategic brain of NATO. And particularly looking at what happened in October in Turkey and Syria. So,
Trump and Turkey, Erdogan working out themselves without NATO partners that there was going to be a new reality in Northern Syria. That must concern
you as a member of NATO.
SZIJJARTO: Well, look, to be honest, here we have a position which does not necessarily coincide with the European main stream. But maybe this is
not totally new to you. So, here, regarding Turkey's action in Syria, let's put it in such a simplified of it. Our position was different from
the European -- general European position, and I'll tell you why.
President Erdogan came to Budapest. And he made it very clear that there are two options regarding the 4 million refugees, migrants staying on the
territory Turkey, either he opens the way towards -- opens the gates towards Europe or he makes his best to create conditions in Syria, which
allow these people to return.
Now, as a country which is located on the migratory route and as a country for which 400,000 migrants, you know, marched through back in 2015, for us,
it's a national interest Turkey not to open the gates for these 4 million people, to heed the road towards Europe. Because if these 4 million who
are a part of that hits the road, then the first physical obstacle they're going to face is the border and the police and the army and defense at the
Now, if you really definitely would like (INAUDIBLE) the situation, when Hungary and police and military on the side of a fence faces hundreds of
thousands of people on the other side of the fence.
AMANPOUR: So, you kind of agree with what Erdogan did then?
SZIJJARTO: You know, we don't look at it like this way. We don't look at this issue from -- through global glasses, let's put it this way. Look at
this issue from Hungarian glasses. And what we say is that the international community should change focus when it comes to kind much
issues. International community or international policy is usually aimed how to help people to hit the road and come to Europe mostly.
Our position is different. We -- the thing that the international community should change the focus and should focus on how to help these
people who are the ones (ph) escape from their homes to return. So, for us, the -- creating the conditions and circumstances for people to return
is the major issue.
AMANPOUR: As you know, it's not just war but it's ISIS that caused a lot of these refugees to flee Syria, Iraq, et cetera.
SZIJJARTO: So, that's why are very committed to continue fighting terrorism. And I'll tell you why --
AMANPOUR: So, do you think it's defeated like President Trump says or do you think we still have to watch out and be vigilant as President Macron
SZIJJARTO: Both. I agree with both of them. And I'll tell you how I --
AMANPOUR: Are you trying to have your cake and eat it too?
SZIJJARTO: No, no, no. Come on. My position is the following. That the fact that the anti-ISIS global coalition led by the United States was
successful enough to deliberate 98 percent of the territories which had been occupied by ISIS. Of course, a huge win, a huge success, a huge
victory. But ISIS is not eliminated.
I Mean, ISIS still exists but changed tactics. And ISIS is now basing its tactic not as they used to do so far, President Trump does have a right,
but using new techniques and -- or tactics, and there, President Macron is right. Because what they do, sleeping cells and lonely wolves and
encouraging the foreign terrorist fighters to return to Europe.
Now, what we know is, that there were at least 5,000 foreign terrorist fighters who are citizens of E.U., European Union, member states. And if
they return to Europe in a noncontrolled manner, that can put a huge, a huge enormous security risk on the European continent again.
So, on the one hand, yes, we had a big victory, but whether this victory should be, let's say, followed up, I would say yes, it needs to be followed
up. Meaning, we have to continue to fight.
AMANPOUR: I said a moment ago you, Hungary, you want to have your cake and eat it too. You're pro NATO, pro the West, but you also, Prime Minister
Orban, is very keen and quite close to President Putin of Russia. And there's a whole load of even Hungary has become embroiled in the
impeachment scandal in the United States. So --
SZIJJARTO: Very unexpectedly.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Well, very unexpectedly. First and foremost, I want to play a little soundbite which shows how much Trump thinks of Prime Minister
Orban, how highly he thinks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S PRESIDENT: Viktor Orban has done a tremendous job in so many ways. Highly respected. Respected all over Europe. Probably, like
me, a little bit controversial but that's OK. That's OK. You've done a good job and you've kept your country safe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Hungary is basically said to have influenced, you know, President Trump on allowing Ukraine to become more of a member of NATO. It
wants to be. But you have issues. And clearly, you are communicating those to President Trump. Has the Prime Minister Orban influenced NATO and
President Trump's view on Ukraine joining?
SZIJJARTO: Well, to be honest, speaking about this is a great honor to us. I mean, what could be a greater or bigger honor to a prime minister of
central European country then being said to be able to influence the position of the president of the United States on a geopolitical issue.
AMANPOUR: Except that you have threaten to use your veto.
SZIJJARTO: Yes. But I wouldn't be that (INAUDIBLE) of power.
AMANPOUR: But you have threatened to use a veto?
SZIJJARTO: We don't only threaten, we use it.
AMANPOUR: That's what I'm saying, you're using it.
SZIJJARTO: But it has a special reason. Look, we are interested in Ukraine being strong and democrative because they are our neighbors, and
they are between us and the Russians. And when it comes to our relationship to Russia, by the way, President Macron or the Germans or
other western Europeans have a tighter cooperation with Russian than we do.
Although, above the communication surface, they always bash the Russians, but under the surface, they make enormous businesses. So, I mean, the
(INAUDIBLE) gave their permission, you know, to build the Russia-Germany gas pipeline just very recently, which is being built by Gazprom of Russia
and the biggest western European energy companies.
And if you look at the free G7 continental countries in Europe, you will that Germany has increased its trade with Russia by 56 percent last year,
France by 40 percent and Italians by 37. So --
AMANPOUR: But that doesn't answer this question.
SZIJJARTO: Yes, yes. But the real discussion. In Ukraine, we have a Hungarian minority, 150,000 of them. There were two legislation passed in
the Ukrainian parliament, which clearly and by international community widely recognized, violated the rights of the Hungarians, taking away the
right of total access to mother tongue education, taking away the opportunity to use their native language as it used to be before in the
field of media, communication, culture, public administration, right.
So, this goes against Ukraine's commitment towards NATO because Ukraine is a country which would like to cooperate tighter with NATO. Usually, accept
its annual national program.
And there they committed to an enhancement of the respect towards the rights of minorities, which didn't happen. This goes the other way around.
So, that's why we said that until they give back those rights to the Hungarians, which were violated and which ones already existed, so, we
don't want anything special, just to give back those rights which they already had --
AMANPOUR: So, you will continue to exercise the veto until they get Hungarian language education?
SZIJJARTO: Until they get back the rights. So, we don't ask for anything new. We ask for the violated rights to be given back and immediately. And
we made it very clear to the Ukrainians, even to the former administration, but to the current one as well, which we definitely cross fingers for to be
successful in Ukraine, to give back those rights. And immediately after they give back the rights, we lift our veto, no question.
Look, President Zelensky has great respect in Ukraine because he has won election with a big margin for which we congratulated him. And his party
or his political movement has won the parliament elections as well. He has a majority in the parliament as well. So, he could easily do it. And I
really do hope that he will do it, because if he does it, then we can lift our veto.
AMANPOUR: Do you believe what President Trump seems to believe despite all the American intelligence agencies' findings that it was Ukraine that
interfered in the 2016 elections and not Russia?
SZIJJARTO: Look, I leave it to you.
SZIJJARTO: No. I leave it you Americans.
AMANPOUR: No. You're a foreign minister, you know.
SZIJJARTO: And I even supervise intelligence.
AMANPOUR: There you go. So, you got --
SZIJJARTO: Yes. But I don't want to go into that. I'll leave it to --
AMANPOUR: Except Prime Minister Orban has inadvertently played a role in these hearings. You know, the deputy secretary of state, George Kent, last
SZIJJARTO: But he was not there. You know, I was there at the --
AMANPOUR: Hang on. He mentioned a May phone call with President Putin that the Oval Office meeting with Prime Minister Orban had helped to change
President Trump's view on Ukraine from positive to negative.
SZIJJARTO: You're right. I read that report about this hearing, as you said. There were only four of us in the room. Your president, my prime
minister, Mr. Bolton and myself. So, I know what happened there. The gentleman who gave this interview or participated in the hearing was not
there. So, that questions credibility a little bit.
AMANPOUR: So, is that a yes or no? I mean --
SZIJJARTO: Of what?
AMANPOUR: -- did Prime Minister Orban, you know, help change -- because of your interest in Ukraine, he helped change President Trump's view on
SZIJJARTO: No, no. What happened was the following. I think it's natural that when the American president and the leader from Central Europe come
together, they address -- speak about issues here in U.S., in Central Europe and, of course, they have spoken about the situation in Russia.
Russia's relationship to Central Europe. We have spoken about the general situation of Central Europe. Yes, we have spoken about Ukraine. But
portraying this meeting as if it was the game changer, if at all, from the perspective of the positive of your president over that is too much.
AMANPOUR: I mean, not the game changer but an influencer.
SZIJJARTO: No, it's too much.
AMANPOUR: But I want to ask you about your government's record on climate change because -- and in view of the migration. Because in parts of Europe
and indeed, in Germany, we've seen it in the MEP elections, in local elections in Hungary with the mayor of Budapest, is an, you know, climate
activist. Are you getting the mood wrong Europe wide? In other words, do you believe despite all the protests, all the young people, the elections
that are showing otherwise, that migration or immigration is more important than climate right now?
SZIJJARTO: You know, I don't think there should be a mayday ranking list from these issues. Migration is vital from the perspective or Europe for
sure and the climate change is an extremely important issue as well. I mean, we are living in this world. We understand the developments or
sometimes we do not understand the developments.
And in the meantime, I have to tell you that we, the current Hungarian government, we consider environmental protection extremely important --
AMANPOUR: Well --
SZIJJARTO: -- because we want, you know, clean air, clean water for our successors. So, there's no question.
AMANPOUR: But even President Trump says he likes clean air and clean water and he pulls the United States out of the Paris Climate Accords and he --
SZIJJARTO: Yes. But we were the first ones to ratify it in the European Union.
AMANPOUR: OK. But the prime minister's chief of staff, your prime minister's chief of staff, said in September that, "Aside from a few dozen
activists, the whole topic interests no one, which only shows the sanity of Hungarian society." He called Greta Thunberg a sick child. Is that
SZIJJARTO: No, no. My position is the following and the government's position, what I can tell you is the following, that climate change is a
serious issue. And the European Union does have a goal to be, let's say, climate neutral when it comes to emission by 2050.
SZIJJARTO: Which we think --
AMANPOUR: You've blocked it. You're one of four countries that blocked that.
SZIJJARTO: Yes. But I'll tell you why. Because in order to -- if you take this seriously and if you do not only blow it as a communication, then
you have to take it seriously. Meaning, if you want to get there, you need a plan. And we want European Union -- we want the new commission to come
up with a plan when it comes to technology, financing, how to get there.
And, you know, we do a lot. We are building now another nuclear powerplant. We have a lot of solar investments in Hungary. Because these
two will help us to radically decrease emission and we are committed to that.
AMANPOUR: Foreign Minister Szijjarto, thank you very much indeed for joining me.
SZIJJARTO: I appreciate this opportunity.
AMANPOUR: So, while Hungary grapples with the issue of migration, American history is a reminder that for many migration and enslavement was forced
upon them. Artist, Dread Scott, even says that you can't understand American society if you don't understand slavery.
His latest work is a reenactment of Louisiana's so-called German Coast Uprising of 1811. It was the largest rebellion of enslaved people in
America's history. It involved over 500 people who retraced the 26-mile route that was to lead them to freedom.
I spoke to Dread Scott about the weight of the past for African-Americans today and the meaning behind his own name.
Dread Scott, welcome to the program.
DREAD SCOTT, ARTIST: Thank you for having me on.
AMANPOUR: For viewers who don't know, the significance of your name, because it goes to the heart of one of the major slavery cases at the
SCOTT: Yes, well Dread Scott, there was an historic figure who in 1857, he -- well, he sued for his freedom. He got to a territory that had outlawed
slavery. And so, he assumed he was free. And so, he sued for his freedom and sort of lost in the lowest court, appealed and then won an appeal and
then that got appealed to the Supreme Court. And the Supreme Court ruled on 1857 amongst other things that there were no rights that a black person
has that a white man is bound to respect. It was the most well-articulated argument for white supremacy I've ever read.
AMANPOUR: And it essentially meant that they were not citizens of the United States.
SCOTT: Right. The ruling was very explicit. Just like not only were they not citizens, I mean, it was saying they weren't citizens but that the
founding fathers did not even view them as people and viewed them as effectively savages. That -- I mean, they literally said that it is for
the white race to do what these people as the white race sees fit.
AMANPOUR: You have said you can't actually understand American society if you don't understand slavery. And you can't understand slavery if you
don't understand slave revolts, and that obviously goes to the heart of the reenactment of 1811 slave revolt that you've performed.
SCOTT: Yes. Well, I think that's really true. I mean, a lot of times we talk about, well, you know, this is a democracy. It had founding fathers.
They wrote the constitution that gave freedom, et cetera. But America is a society that was founded on slavery and genocide. That's the essence of
what America is and where it comes from.
The constitution actually enshrines slavery as part of its founding understanding, that freedom of some people was predicated upon the
ownership of other people. And that's actually what America is. But then, you have to actually understand slave revolt because people were rebelling
ever since they were captured and brought to these shores and brought to the shores of the Caribbean. And that's essential. If you don't get that,
you don't actually understand the history or the present.
AMANPOUR: And so, you decided to reenact this 1811 revolt that is -- I think it was called the German uprising.
SCOTT: The German Coast Uprising.
AMANPOUR: And it was pretty much unknown. I mean, it sorts of got forgotten. But interestingly also, people, I suppose, thought that there
were no revolts. The slaves were pretty happy just being who they were.
SCOTT: Well, that's a mythology that's been somewhat consciously sort of reinforced and perpetuated and not just by people that are conscious
racist. The training that enslaved people were happy is so deep that people don't even question it by and large, except for a lot of black
people. We question that.
But it's -- you know, it actually rationalizes and justifies the continued sort of treatment of people of African descent in this country. You don't
actually get a situation where a policeman on a welfare call in Fort Worth, Texas could show up in two seconds after he somebody murders them. You
don't get that without slavery.
And so, this notion of happy enslaved people actually kind of racializes and justifies that, oh, you know, the white race is free it do with black
people whatever they want. And so, that is something that's both very dangerous, has real-life consequences today but it also has tremendous
import for how black people see ourselves.
And I've talked with a lot of college-aged students and there's almost a shame or stigma of being black which is back to people not actually
understanding that they were not the descendant of slave but they're the descendants of people that were enslaved. And that they're in their
current position because of all the resistance that's happened.
If you rob the history, it actually has tremendous effect on people that live today. And so, you know, this German Coast Uprising, the knowledge of
that was suppressed from day one. There are complex reasonings for why that was done. But, you know, this was the largest rebellion of enslaved
people in the history of the United States, that should be something that everybody knows. It's basic
AMANPOUR: So, was this reenactment for black people or was it for the wider community?
SCOTT: Well, the audience is actually all people. But it is definitely for black people, including specifically black performers. This is a
project that's not about slavery. It's a product about freedom and (INAUDIBLE). And as such, I want all people to actually think about what
actual freedom is and that black people, in particular --
SCOTT: Well, the audience is actually all people.
But it -- it is definitely for black people, including specifically black performers. This is a project that is not about slavery. It's a project
about freedom and emancipation.
And, as such, I want all people to actually think about what actual freedom is, and that black people, and particularly Africans and people of African
descent, in 1811 had no way to get free, except to overthrow the system of enslavement.
That was a very radical idea. In fact, it was the most radical idea of freedom and emancipation in the continental U.S. at the time. And those
are people, if you actually want to study freedom, if you want to study liberation, that's what you should be looking at, not people who wrote into
their Constitution the ownership of human beings.
AMANPOUR: And then you reenacted this rebellion that took place along, I think, a 26-mile stretch in Louisiana towards New Orleans.
So, for 26 miles, we marched in period costume. There were black people in 18th -- 19th century French colonial clothing. We walked with machetes and
muskets and sickles and sabers , past exurban New Orleans, so past grain elevators and oil refineries, past trailer parks and gated communities,
past fast food joints.
It was a very startling sight to see this sort of army of the enslaved with sort of African drumming, singing in Creole and English, onto New Orleans,
freedom or death, we're going to end slavery, join us.
And we meant all of that. We actually wanted people to join us, but it was a project that was about this past, but simultaneously about the present.
AMANPOUR: What sort of reaction did you get, both positive and negative?
SCOTT: Well, there was a lot of reaction.
I mean, people did come out. There was sort of an elementary school that actually assigned their students to come out and watch it. There were
people who, when we passed by their trailer park and their trailer -- I mean, one woman came out and said, "Look, my family's owned this land for
SCOTT: This was a black woman. "My family has owned this land for three generations. I am so glad you guys are here, because we don't know this
history and we need to know this history."
Other people came, and they were intrigued. There were also people that were curious, when we get to the town of Norco, which a lot of these towns
on the river parishes are very segregated. So there's a black section and a white section.
And so the black section, there was more interest and intrigue. The white section, sometimes, people were like, well, I don't know what this is.
There are armed black people. I'm a little scared.
But some of the white people were really intrigued and actually were very happy to have this, because they don't want to be burdened by the history
of their ancestors, in a certain sense.
And there's a real question that's posed to them. Do they actually defend the legacy of enslavement, or do they renounce that?
AMANPOUR: And some of these people said that, look, it's all well and good to read about it, even to hear about it in church, even to get the most
dramatic tellings of this past, but until you see it live, which is kind of what you were doing, we never really understood it.
SCOTT: That's true.
They wanted to set up an African republic in the New World. It was would have been -- much like Haiti, it would have outlawed slavery, and it would
have been an African republic and a place for Africans and people of African descent that would have been a radically different society than the
U.S. society or the French colonial society, each of which had slavery at their foundation.
And so that would have changed U.S. and world history. This is a real what if story, but what if for the past, but what if for the present.
The news story here, what's really exciting, is that over 500 Africans and people of African descent planned for over a year to actually get free and
wanted to set up an African republic that would have outlawed slavery.
That is something to truly celebrate. And that's why we actually both sort of focused the entire project on the idea of freedom and emancipation, but
also had the project get to the city of New Orleans itself.
In 1811, New Orleans was a fortified city. There were five forts. And one of them was Fort Saint Charles, which stood where now the old U.S. Mint
stands. And so when we got to the city itself, the army of the enslaved, the reenactors, we actually -- our first stop was really at the Mint that
was Fort Saint Charles.
And it broke into somewhat of a spontaneous celebration and chants of ase, ase, liberte, liberte, which ase is Yoruba word that means the power to
change -- the power to make change happen. And liberte is just a French or Creole word that means liberty.
And so it was so spirited when people got there. And then we marched from there to Congo Square.
AMANPOUR: And you got sewing circles, so to speak, all over the district or the area to contribute to the -- to make the costumes and to do it all?
SCOTT: Yes, there were tons of people that contributed by being part of sewing circles.
And sometimes people that didn't know how to sew taught others how to sew, and people contributed in all sorts of ways. And it was a way for people
to connect. And the leader of our costume department, Alison Parker, was really good at finding ways that all sorts of people could contribute.
There was a class from Xavier University that made patterns during their class. And they studied the history, but they made patterns, which then
got sent to around the country to people who wanted to make the costumes.
AMANPOUR: And I don't know whether you feel this, or whether I'm just sort of, I don't know, projecting, but it feels like this 400 anniversary of the
first slaves who were enslaved who were brought over here has unleashed a sense of ownership and that famous word, agency, in the black community in
the United States...
AMANPOUR: ... where there is so much culture being pushed out to reeducate people about what actually happened, whether it's the 1619 Project in "The
New York Times," whether it's the film "Harriet" about, obviously Harriet Tubman and her role in the Underground Railway.
AMANPOUR: Do you feel that this is this has been a teaching and a learning moment?
Do you feel that what you all are saying to your community and to the rest of this nation is having sort of an impact right now?
SCOTT: I think it is. But I think it's also a real fight.
I think there is a tremendous focus on sort of the question and position of black people in the society, including historically.
AMANPOUR: "Black Panther," I mean, it was just...
SCOTT: Oh, yes, yes, which -- Wakanda nation has been transformative for a lot of -- I mean, it's been really inspiring, including sort of
transforming the past and the present, again for agency within -- the most tweeted about film ever was "Black Panther."
And I think the third highest gross grossing film of all time was "Black Panther." That was that was a very black film, not just the characters in
it, but the whole way it was created.
And so that's true. There is this teachable moment in a certain sense and shift. But we're also living in a time where white supremacists are
unleashed and emboldened, including by the man in the White House, and when they can drive a car into peaceful demonstrators who are demanding the
removal of white supremacist monuments and kill Heather Heyer, and the president says, hey, these are good people, they're very fine people?
AMANPOUR: In Charlottesville.
SCOTT: Yes, yes.
This is -- there's a real war going on.
AMANPOUR: To that point, I mean, honestly, we could only find one negative comment to your reenactment. And it was given to a newspaper.
Basically, watching it, one man said: "That's history. Why don't they let that be?"
Do you hear that a lot?
This project, being about freedom and emancipation, really enabled the best of people to kind of come out. And the people -- the worst in people
didn't have a lot of freedom. I mean, so I think that there was generally a lot of support for this, people thinking, wait a minute, we have to
rethink this history, including centering the fact that black people had agency, there was resistance, and there was self-determination.
That's actually an incredible story and really sort of explodes a lot of mythology about this period. And it's something that's very attractive and
AMANPOUR: And was your project, do you think, consciously or unconsciously, motivated by the amount of Civil War reenactments?
I mean, it's just a thing that happens all over -- all over those battlefields regularly.
SCOTT: I didn't start this project because of Civil War reenactment. I started the project because I wanted to find a way to talk about how people
And I have been thinking a lot about resistance and freedom within art. There's a lot of art that's made that addresses important social and
historic questions. But much of it focuses on the problems that we confront today, and not so much people resisting.
And so Civil War reenactments were things I thought about a little bit more as I was preparing this artwork, trying to understand how they do them,
because they are history buffs. And, I mean, I went to the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.
There were 10,000 reenactors. It's kind of incredible on one level, but then you look at it more, and the thing is, they're all about sort of the
clothing and the troop movements. And it really is -- you know, they're very white -- white exercises. And they are about sort of telling history
from the perspective of the lost cause or the War of Northern Aggression.
And it really -- it, like the sort of notion that enslaved people were just happily going along with it, reinforces a white supremacist understanding
of the Civil War.
I mean, frankly, the Civil War, the U.S. Civil War was the one good war that the United States has fought. It actually was the reason that slavery
was abolished. It wasn't a moral question about that, but it actually took that war to do it. That should be celebrated.
But what does it mean when basically a bunch of white people who think the Confederates are the good guys are reenacting it? So that's a problem. I
mean, it could be a liberating story, but it's not the way it's told.
AMANPOUR: Dread Scott, thank you very much indeed.
SCOTT: OK, thank you.
AMANPOUR: And our next guest is another creative spirit, but working in an entirely different arena.
Christian Siriano is one of America's foremost fashion designers, who's thriving at a time of major cutbacks in the industry. He's known for his
breathtaking visual imagination and for championing body positivity and diversity, both on the runway and on the red carpet.
Our Alison Stewart sat down with him to discuss some of his most iconic designs and why he's happy to break the rules.
ALISON STEWART, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What was your first memory of wanting to design something, anything?
CHRISTIAN SIRIANO, FASHION DESIGNER: Oh, my gosh.
I mean, my mom and my sister were pretty, like, eccentric women. So I think -- my sister would always like dress up every day for school, and she
was a ballet dancer.
So, I think it was something in that world. And I just was like, oh, I want to make something, because I liked seeing my sister kind of transform.
She was, like, in warmups and then would put these, like, fairy costumes on.
So I just always really loved that idea of, like, transformation, I think. So it was very early. I mean, I was probably like, I don't know, 8 years
STEWART: What did you make? Do you remember what it was?
SIRIANO: Yes. I do actually think I remember my first thing I made.
And it was bad. It was not made well. It was white tulle and feathers. And I wanted to make, like, a fairy kind of princessy dress, I think
because I had seen my sister dance. And I was like, oh, I want it to be, like, fantasy world.
Yes, that was probably the first thing I made. I hope my mom still has it, actually. I have to ask her.
STEWART: Oh, the way you described your mom as eccentric, I think she might still have it.
SIRIANO: Yes. Yes. She probably does.
STEWART: You have described her as your muse, actually, that your mom is your muse.
STEWART: What does that mean to you?
SIRIANO: I mean, I think, growing up, my mom -- just being in a household of women, they were really inspiring, I think.
My mom was -- she got married in a DVF wrap dress. Like, she didn't get married in a traditional dress. She was quite cool in what she liked. We
would go shopping a lot. So I think -- I don't know. I just was inspired by her.
And I think, as I was -- as my business was growing and growing, I was like, I want to make clothes for someone like her. And I want to make
clothes for someone like my sister, and I want to make someone, like, Lady Gaga. I don't know.
SIRIANO: I just wanted all these different types of people to be able to have something of mine.
STEWART: So you're 20 years old. You're living in London. Right? You hear about "Project Runway."
STEWART: What made you think, I'm going to go do that?
SIRIANO: Yes, it's...
STEWART: What was going on in your life that that seemed like a good idea?
SIRIANO: God, I think I was broke ,and I had no -- nothing to do, and I had no job, and I had no idea what I was going to do when I moved home.
I was like, I lived in Europe and I was done. And I was like, OK, I have to move home. What am I going to do? And I knew I wanted to live in New
York. So I was like, I'm going to live in New York. I was there for a few weeks. And my friend was like, you have to audition for this show. And I
was like, I had never seen the show.
So it was a hard thing. And -- but I just went into it with fully open mind. Like, I had no idea what it would be. I really didn't.
STEWART: Had you not seen the show because you were in school in the U.K.?
SIRIANO: Yes. Like, we did -- it didn't air in the U.K.
So I was -- I kind of knew. And I, like, semi-knew of it, but I had never really seen it. So I think that was probably also why it was -- I was able
to be successful, because I had no pre-anything.
STEWART: So you had no expectations?
SIRIANO: I really didn't.
And I was so young. I was 21 years old. I auditioned when I was 20. So I really just went in it as, oh, this could be fun to try, you know?
STEWART: I think of you -- and take this as a compliment -- like the Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood of "American Idol."
STEWART: That they're such big stars now and considered artists, that people don't even really remember that they were on a reality competition
SIRIANO: Yes, totally.
STEWART: That you have sort of been able to transcend that, not that it's something that you want to leave behind, but I don't think necessary
someone thinks about that first when they think about you now.
SIRIANO: Yes, yes.
STEWART: Was there a decision that you made after "Project Runway" that helps you achieve that, whether you were trying to achieve it or not?
SIRIANO: Yes, I think it's, like, you really have to focus on your work.
I think you just have to be known for actually what you're doing. I think any writer, any film, anyone in that field, you just want to be known for
the clothes. So that's kind of how I took it.
I was like, I don't want to be known as a character from a show. I really want to be known for, like, the beautiful clothes I make. That was always
So I think that that's what I just tried to do. I just tried to put everything into the work, dressing as many people on the carpet as I could,
doing as many collaborations, showing collections season after season. That was really my focus. It's still my focus.
It really is. Like, I get requests to do projects all the time, but I'm like, no, I just like making clothes. That's really all I like doing.
STEWART: So you won "Project Runway" in 2008. And you have got to realize the iPhone came out in 2007.
SIRIANO: I know. It's wild.
STEWART: So it's kind of wild. So, you're a generation of designer who has come up during social media and during the idea of people being able to
pictures right away and share them and send them.
What impact do you think that's had on your career?
SIRIANO: It's interesting, because right when I started, Instagram didn't exist. Twitter had just launched. It was very new, but interesting to see
how it changed every year, like more and more and more.
But, luckily, I think, for me, I already had a fan base that was kind of out there in the world because I was on a TV show. It was a little bit
easier for me to understand how that worked. I think brands now are playing catchup, because they're just not used to it.
But, for me, I think I was a little bit more like -- I don't know. I would post a picture and people would want to buy it. It didn't seem that
strange to me. I don't know why. And, actually, still to this day, it doesn't really seem that strange, even though it is a strange thing.
STEWART: Well, it's organic, because it happened at the same time. You're...
SIRIANO: Yes. Yes.
STEWART: It's part of your origin story of you as a designer.
STEWART: The beginning of you as a designer.
SIRIANO: And I think I actually don't know -- I don't know anything better.
I mean, I talk about this a lot like when people ask me how my business grew over the years. But my first day of market was the day that Lehman
Brothers crash. I mean, every single one of my retailers canceled their appointments.
I mean, but I -- so, for me, though, I was like, oh, but I didn't have sales last year. So, to me, anything was up. So, anything was success.
So I think, also, that's how I started everything, thinking that way.
STEWART: You're a very hands-on designer.
STEWART: You sketch all of your own sketches.
STEWART: You don't do it on the computer. You clearly do your own draping. Why?
SIRIANO: I -- it's the -- actually things I like to do. I don't want to talk about the money. I mean (INAUDIBLE) money. But I don't want to talk
about the hard thing some days. And some days,. I just want to create. Like, that's what's fun. That's why I got into the business, I think.
I think, sometimes, I hear that as that, oh, you didn't have a part of this. I'm like, no, I had a part of every single thing. And some things
are misses and aren't always the most successful.
But I actually am more proud of that, because then I know that, OK, we tried it and it didn't work, and I had my hands in it a little bit. And I
think it feels -- I don't know. It feels more authentic.
STEWART: Can we do a little play by play with some of your dresses?
SIRIANO: Yes. Yes.
STEWART: Sportscasters of fashion?
SIRIANO: Yes. Please, I would love to.
STEWART: Let's take a look at Michelle Obama at the DNC.
What was your goal for her for this look?
SIRIANO: I think the whole point was to make it powerful and have presence, but in the most simplistic way, because it is very simple dress.
But I think her -- that night, her speech was so important that I didn't want the dress to overpower her.
STEWART: And you picked such a beautiful vibrant blue.
SIRIANO: Yes, yes. It just made sense with, I think, the night, yes.
STEWART: All right, Billy Porter, Tony Award winner, of course, on "Pose."
So, this was the Oscars. And you know what is so crazy about this? I mean, this was a big moment, I mean, first man to really were kind of a
dress on a red carpet, which we didn't realize at the time was going to be such a cultural thing.
I just wanted to make him feel good. And he felt good in this. And that was the goal. But I think it was the right moment for this. We needed
this, I think, in our culture to see that you can be masculine and feminine. There are no rules in fashion. You should have fun and feel
STEWART: What was challenging about making that?
SIRIANO: Honestly, it was the time, that literally we made this in a week.
SIRIANO: And he couldn't even come in for a fitting because he was doing rehearsals and I was in New York. And that was the challenge.
But, other than that, like, it was actually probably one of the easiest things we have ever done, yes.
STEWART: Are there crinolines under there?
SIRIANO: Oh, yes.
And, I mean, Billy also, he is a performer. He can work anything. So he worked that carpet. I mean, he really, really did.
STEWART: Let's take a look at some of the Met looks that you did.
SIRIANO: Yes, Janelle.
STEWART: This was for -- this was camp, right? This is one of the themes, was camp.
SIRIANO: Camp, mm-hmm.
STEWART: So, Janelle Monae.
SIRIANO: And I think, with Janelle, she wanted to be -- really, surrealism was very important to her. She wanted to feel like a walking painting. We
put a mechanic in her eye, so it would blink all night long.
She takes things -- I mean, Janelle is amazing to create for because she's such an artist. And she stood like that all night long. And that was very
heavy. And, you know, she really commits, which I appreciate.
STEWART: So it was so interesting when Leslie Jones made it known that someone -- no one would lend her a gown for the "Ghostbusters" premiere.
STEWART: I thought that was just -- it was sad that it was newsworthy.
STEWART: But it was newsworthy at the time.
STEWART: How aware were you of the issue of actresses who are not -- do not look like runway Paris models who have -- everybody has got real
SIRIANO: Yes. Yes.
STEWART: But you know what I'm saying, but different size bodies.
STEWART: How aware were you of the issue of those actresses trying to find someone to give them a dress to wear to their movie premiere?
SIRIANO: I know. That was what was so funny.
I wasn't aware at all, because I had been -- I have been dressing women that look like Leslie since my very first collection. I mean, Whoopi was
one of my first people. Oprah was one of the first women I ever dressed. I mean, they're all curvy, great women.
So I just thought that was so strange. And I think Leslie was the first really to, like, announce it. She was like, this is crazy. Like, I am in
a huge movie with other amazing actresses. Why can't I get a dress?
And that's why I wanted to make her look the way we did, because I was like, people need to see, like, she's stunning, has an amazing body.
STEWART: She's 6 feet tall. She can carry a dress like that.
SIRIANO: Yes. She can carry anything.
And that's why I think it was especially a powerful moment, I think, just for our world to see that everybody needed to see.
What needs to happen for size inclusivity to be a thing, for us to never have to ask you this question again?
SIRIANO: Yes, yes, I know.
Honestly, it's just going to take time. I think people need to -- you have to put things in front of people's face sometimes for them to, like, get
it, which is kind of what I keep doing. And, hopefully, it works.
Yes, I'm just trying to, like, put it out there, yes. I mean, same with this. This is Selma walking on the runway. And I remember she -- we had a
whole conversation. She had a really hard time walking.
STEWART: She has M.S., correct?
SIRIANO: She found out a week later from doing this show.
STEWART: Oh. Oh. Oh.
SIRIANO: She had no idea, which is why she was having a really hard time.
And I remember talking about her. And I was like, I'm so glad we did this for her, because I think it showed how actually really strong she was, and
didn't even really realize.
So it was a great moment.
STEWART: Why is it important to you personally to design for women that other designers won't?
SIRIANO: I think, personally, it's probably because of how I grew up, how I was raised, growing up kind of in a female household, a sister who is a
ballet dancer, mom who is a little bit of a curvier woman, and then also going to high school in Baltimore City, where I was the minority.
Like, I just was in that world. So I just didn't understand that that wasn't how we should be with one another. I have never really understood
that. So, yes, so I really just -- that's why I do it, I guess. It just feels, like, normal life to me.
STEWART: I'm so glad you said about going to inner city, because I feel like I can say this to you, when I look at your pictures. Half of these
women are women of color.
SIRIANO: Yes, they are. Yes.
And I -- and it's so interesting. I never actually really noticed that until someone said that to me the other day, that I -- and -- or my
comments are like, thank you for supporting these, like, strong black women.
And I was like, yes, you know what? I like -- but, again, like, I don't think about it that way. I just am like, I just like making who I want to
make more. But I'm glad it is those women.
STEWART: I'm sort of interested in your -- you seem like you have -- you're a rule breaker, whether you're trying to be a rule breaker or not.
STEWART: You have -- you have designer lines, you have bridge lines, you have shoes at Payless.
You go up and down, up and down the scale.
STEWART: You dress all kinds of women. How do you think about breaking the rules? How does one sort of survive as a rule breaker?
SIRIANO: Yes, yes.
I really approach it as, I don't really like rules. And I don't really like being told what to do. So I think that's kind of how I approach it.
I really do. It's really just like, I dress who I want to dress, I make what I want to make.
I mean, I think that's very important, that no one else is running my business. So I wouldn't ever want people to say, you have to do this to be
successful. I mean, I already kind of showed that you don't have to do the normal thing.
And I think we're now realizing that, because our whole world is different. I mean, fashion is going through a really rough time. It's like -- it's a
whole thing out there. I mean, if I didn't do things like Payless, or like Lane Bryant, or now we have a new collection at J. Jill, which is exciting.
Like, if I didn't do things like that, I wouldn't be able to do things like that.
STEWART: That's interesting that you said that it's going through a hard time.
Rachel Zoe, Yahoo Finance, that you have to be nimble to survive now, because it's dark times for fashion.
SIRIANO: Yes, sure. It's hard.
STEWART: What does nimble mean to you?
SIRIANO: For me, it's more -- it's scrappy. It's down and dirty. It's back to what you used to have to do.
It's not just selling a dress on a rack anymore. It's, what is the customer experience? What is -- what does your brand stand for? I think,
actually, we're successful because women are shopping my clothes because we support women.
I think that's how -- that's where people are going to stores now. They're going to stores that they want to support, not just because they like the
product. It's not enough anymore, I think.
STEWART: That's a very millennial -- and I say this in a positive way.
STEWART: They want to spend money on things that they know do well and do good.
STEWART: They're very conscious consumers that way.
SIRIANO: I think so.
And I think every brand is realizing that. Even big brands, I mean, are changing all the marketing campaigns based on like who actually is in the
store, which I think is smart, I mean, I hope.
I know that that -- for me, I think dressing powerful women who maybe not everybody would normally dress, but, for me, I have turned that into a
success, because we have their fans buying clothes. So I like it.
STEWART: You have got your fingers in so many different things.
SIRIANO: Yes. I try.
STEWART: I found you in Wayfair. I stumbled on that.
SIRIANO: Yes. Yes.
STEWART: I stumbled -- and then you have a curated store in Midtown, in this land of -- opening a brick and mortar?
SIRIANO: I know. It's very scary.
STEWART: What were you thinking about?
SIRIANO: I don't know.
SIRIANO: No, I just was thinking about the customers and the experience.
And I wanted people to feel -- be a little closer to us, the creators. I think the separation was a bit strange. So I like that every now and then
people will see me popping through the front door and -- or if they need attention with a custom piece, they get it.
So I like that. And I curated things for the store because I like other things. I like jewelry brands from other designers. I like hats from
other designers. I don't do everything.
So it's nice to have that mix, I think. I think it's a nice way of shopping too.
STEWART: You have come full circle to being a mentor and being on "Project Runway" as the grownup.
SIRIANO: Yes, yes. I like being the boss. It's really fun.
SIRIANO: It's awesome.
But I think -- you know what? I'm really glad that the producers chose a designer and to be in that role, because I'm really working. I'm really in
So I think my feedback is so important, because I'm giving them real-life feedback as it's happening. They're doing a red carpet challenge. I'm
like, well, I just dressed 17 women at the Oscars. I know something about it, whereas not many designers can say that.
So I think that's helpful, more helpful for them than they ever could have.
STEWART: Christian Siriano, thank you for being with us.
SIRIANO: Thank you so much.
AMANPOUR: And you're about to see a lot more of Christian Siriano's looks on the red carpet.
That is it for now. Remember, you can 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.