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Interview With Michael Palin; Interview With Photographer Tyler Mitchell. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired December 31, 2020 - 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.
This holiday season, we're bringing you some of our favorite interviews from the year.
And here's what's coming up.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Tonight, in a year where cultural connections have helped preserve our mental health, we turn to some of the great artists who
we have hosted.
The Monty Python-legend-turned-explorer Michael Palin, he guides us through a life of adventure.
Wunderkind photographer Tyler Mitchell goes radical, exploring black people at leisure.
Then: As domestic abuse surges in lockdown, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey shares her own experience with our Michel Martin.
And from homeless to country music stardom, Margo Price tells us her story, and plays out from her latest album.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to this special edition of the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
This year, those in the arts, culture and hospitality are really struggling, as lockdowns devastate their sector. But it's also been a year
where people have relied on art, television, film, music and reading to endure social isolation.
So, tonight, we're looking back at some of our favorite interviews with artists.
And why not kick things off with a bit of a laugh?
Michael Palin is one of the world's most beloved comedians. As part of "Monty Python's Flying Circus," he's been a cult hero for generations of
fans. And not one to be put in a box, he's also become a trusted explorer, traveling the world and reporting back on TV and writing books.
Now, at 77, Michael Palin tells me that, despite the obvious limitations, his sense of adventure is nowhere near over.
AMANPOUR: Michael Palin, welcome to the program.
MICHAEL PALIN, ACTOR AND COMEDIAN: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: I just want to ask, because you're such now known for your travel, how has COVID been for you? What has lockdown meant for you?
PALIN: Well, it's shut down my traveling time, but in a good way, because I have actually had time to look back on all the traveling I have done.
The last 30 years, I have been all over the place. And you know, you probably know yourself, it becomes a bit of a blur if you're not careful.
And it's really been quite nice to be at home. I have not left. I have not spent a night away from my house for a year. So, that's it. Which is just
AMANPOUR: When you have looked back now in lockdown, what ones, if you can really, really sort of leap out at you? Which ones that you're looking back
at do you say wow?
PALIN: Well, they were all remarkable. I mean, they really were. There wasn't one easy one, they were -- and there wasn't one dull one. They were
all very extraordinary.
Some days, I feel I would like to be up in the mountains, in the Himalayas or the Andes, which were just sensational. Other times I would rather be --
you know, I remember going to the Philippines and learning how to scuba dive in about two days flat.
AMANPOUR: Let's just go back to being just a little bit. Where did you first get the urge to perform, to make people laugh, when did you first
kind of know in your bones that this might be something you're good at?
PALIN: I think it happens very early on. I mean, I always knew I was curious and wanted to go to places where other people say, well, I don't
know. Let's not go that far. But I wanted to go there. So, that was, I think, the traveling thing.
I think it was also a feeling that I kind of saw the world very often a little step back from my friends. I have enjoyed being teams of sport and
all of that, but I was -- I enjoyed looking at the world from the outside. And I think that was part of the performing thing. I was able to mimic the
masters at school, which is where a lot of things happen. So, I made people laugh quite easily.
I could just do a voice and this is wonderful. I have always felt myself comfortable with being the observer, looking at the madness of the world
that we're all in.
AMANPOUR: I mean, I have read that your dad was a -- you know, a bit sort of harsh, had a stammer, wasn't particularly encouraging.
PALIN: Well my father, his stammer was, I think, the real problem throughout his life. And he never -- he was never able to deal with it. And
so, that made him very techy and he would get quite sharp sometimes. But he had a sense of humor.
And obviously, he loved - -- you know, and having your son around. But my mom was really the great influence, if you like. She would just sort of
feet on the ground, nothing fazed her at all, despite all the things she had been through.
AMANPOUR: And she liked the idea that her young son was going to be an actor or a performer or a writer?
PALIN: Yes, she was happy with it. My father wasn't at all. My father was deeply concerned that I might end up in the acting profession.
So, he was not keen for me to act. My mother on the other hand was very happy. I used to -- when he was out of an evening, when I was quite young,
I would read her sort of chunks of Shakespeare of me playing all the parts. Can you imagine that? She had to be a wonderful mom to listen to all this
AMANPOUR: And she was your audience? You'd do it for her?
PALIN: She was the audience, yes. Well, I think so. She may have nodded off a bit.
But what I can remember later was when we did the "Monty Python's Life of Brian," my mother was a keen churchgoer, but she defended absolutely our
right to do "The Life of Brian." Because I told her, it's not about Jesus. Jesus is not Brian. It's about the church, it's about some people just
accepting what -- doing what they're told.
And she would take people on in that little place where she was living once she retired. She wouldn't -- you know, despite her religious background,
she would say, no, nothing's wrong with this, it's all about the intolerance of the church.
And people would go, yes, Mrs. Palin.
AMANPOUR: That's really amazing. Actually, it just led me right into a clip because somewhat around "The Life of Brian," afterwards perhaps, you
and John Cleese had a television debate with an actual bishop and with Malcolm Muggeridge who was a commentator, a very famous British
commentator. They both were at your throat.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you imagine that your scene from Sermon of the Mount, the scene in this -- in your film of the Sermon of the Mount is not
ridiculing one of the most sublime utterances that any human being has ever spoke on this earth?
JOHN CLEESE, ACTOR AND COMEDIAN: No, no. It's making fun of the guy who has remembered it wrong and of the people who don't understand it missed
PALIN: I think that's really unfair because I think that a lot of people looking and will think that we have actually ridiculed Christ physically.
Christ is played by an actor, Kent Colley. He speaks the words from the Sermon on the Mount. And he's treated absolutely respectfully. The camera
pans away. We go right to the back of the crowd to someone who shouts, "Speak up," because they cannot hear it.
PALIN: Now, if that utterly undermines...
PALIN: If that utterly undermines your faith in Christ, then your faith cannot be terribly strong.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I started off by saying that this is such a tenth-rate film that I don't believe that it would disturb anybody's faith.
PALIN: Yes, I know you started with an open mind. I realize that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, you seemed to have been actually quite angry and irritated with them by the time this debate sort of got fully under way.
PALIN: I was very angry and very disappointed, because John and I had gone into the debate knowing that we were going to be given quite a roughing up,
in a religious sense, by a bishop and by Malcolm Muggeridge.
So, we'd -- you know, we'd looked and worked out what our answers were going to be and what we felt about making the film and we were going to
And there in the end, they didn't actually even attack us for the content of the film. They just sort of threw abuse around. When the bishop ended up
with saying, well, I hope you make your 30 pieces of silver, I think that was a nadir.
And I felt -- I actually did feel very embarrassed for the church, for the authorities in the church and for that particular generation. I thought
they must do better than that. Come on.
AMANPOUR: I must say that was very vicious, because, for those who don't know, that's a reference to the 30 pieces of silvers that Judas received
for betraying Jesus Christ.
PALIN: Yes. Yes.
AMANPOUR: The whole world bought into "Life of Brian."
Everybody still quotes it. It's just still such an amazing cultural touchstone. So, talking about the crucifixion, you play a very proper and
AMANPOUR: ... as a group of condemned are coming in and you're telling them where to go. Here's the clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MONTY PYTHON'S LIFE OF BRIAN")
PALIN: Next. Crucifixion?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Yes.
Out of the door, line on the left, one cross each.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Yes.
Out of the door, line on the left, one cross each.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: No, freedom.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Freedom for me. They said, I haven't done anything, so I would like to go free and live on an island somewhere.
PALIN: Oh, that's jolly good. Well, off you go then.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Now, I'm just pulling your leg. It's crucifixion, really.
PALIN: Oh, I see. Very good, very good.
Well, out the door...
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Yes, I know the way. Out of the door, one cross each, line on the left.
PALIN: Line on the left.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, what is that, if it's not mockery?
PALIN: Well, I think that's, if you look at it closely, it's actually saying a little something about the time and the historical period.
And that was -- that was actually the background to a lot of "The Life of Brian." The fact that he -- you know, Brian had so many followers was
because we had read that there was a messiah fever at that time. There was the sort of feeling that the world was coming to an end and the messiah was
I was just putting, in that character, putting it in place someone who probably come from a very nice family outside Rome and rather comfortable
and being sent off to do his army service in Judea, in this god-awful place with all this other strange people.
And there he was trying to be as understanding as possible. You know, and when Eric says, oh, no, I can', I will go to an island and live on this
island, oh, that's wonderful.
No, he's just joking. It's crucifixion, really, which is my favorite line in the film. And power personified by the Romans being taken for a ride,
people laughing at power, which actually happens quite a bit in "The Life of Brian," including Pontius Pilate, when they all roll with laughter at
him because he can't say Rome, you know?
AMANPOUR: So, listen, you're talking about Eric Idle there. And I'm really interested by what you say about power and skewering power. Now, should be,
I mean, just a land of riches for people who want to do the kind of thing you used to do, mockery, humor, satire.
AMANPOUR: And, clearly, the president of the United States is a target- rich environment.
How do you feel -- or do you feel that there has been an adequate skewering, in the way you guys did, of the current autocratic tendencies?
PALIN: Well, I mean, I feel -- you know, take Donald Trump for a start. It's very, very difficult to be funny and more absurd and outrageous than
he really is.
And there really is not much else you can say. You know, people see him as an often figure of (INAUDIBLE) dangerous figure than that. But you know
what I mean? People already see that. There's nothing much a comedian can add to it, saying, oh, by the way, do you know Donald Trump has got an
Well, we all know that. And he has hair done at $75,000 a time. All those little things that one might have dreamt up exist. They're there already.
You know, he's outdone the satirists.
And I feel that's happening -- you know, it's a bit like that here as well, I mean, with Boris and his mad hair. Looks like somebody that's been
created by a satirical show, but he's actually the prime minister.
So, what do we do? I don't know. Just stay quiet. No, you don't stay quiet. You try and find the humor there somewhere. But it's difficult to find at
the moment, to be honest.
AMANPOUR: Back in your day, you used to have the Ministry of Silly Walks and all sorts of things like that.
AMANPOUR: And you must have thought about what it means to try to get under the skin of modern-day politicians.
What do you think is the best way to get under the skin of those who we're discussing now?
PALIN: That's very difficult to know.
I think you have to somehow -- well, you can quote them back at each other for a start, because what they're saying is sometimes so completely
But, otherwise, I think you've just got to -- you know, you've got to find a way -- you've got to find another way of looking at what's going on, not
just saying, these are ridiculous people. You have got to say, there's something quite dangerous that's happening here.
I mean, I would -- you know, if I was doing something about Trump or something like that, I would look at the rallies, for instance, because I
think those are quite sinister.
I would just have a group of people who shout at each other all the time. They always shout all the time. Yes, I shout at me, you shout at me,
because that's the way you are! I shout at you!
You know, the convention of the shouters, which is what it's all about. It's just people screeching at each other. So, maybe one could do something
And I just wondered, when you -- because I believe "Monty Python" first aired on PBS in the United States.
PALIN: Yes, absolutely.
AMANPOUR: Where this interview is also being aired.
PALIN: Yes. Thank God for PBS.
AMANPOUR: What did you think? I mean, A, how did they get it, and not the other broadcast networks? How did that happen? And how did -- Americans are
not known for their sense of irony or...
PALIN: No, that's very ironic, the whole situation. Most of the big American companies passed on it. I mean, ABC. People really didn't really
want the shows as they were played in England. They would take bits of them and all that.
A man from Dallas PBS station was in New York, looking at BBC product. That was a terrific storm. He was late leaving the airport. He said, what else
have you got? What's this "Circus" thing? So they showed him "The Flying Circus." He took it back to Dallas, because he thought it was quite funny,
just one show, and showed it to the PBS team at Dallas. And they loved it.
They said, this is really odd and strange. Have you got anymore? So, they rang the BBC, in New York, and, oh, well, we will look at the cupboard.
Have to go downstairs.
Yes, we have got some more. How many? Oh, we have got 44 more. And he just bought the lot. And they ran them over one weekend, a sort of "Python"
telethon in Dallas. They just completely went ballistic on it. And the -- this was picked up by other PBS stations.
And that's how it caught on. And it was students and it was the younger audience that absolutely loved it. They didn't understand it, particularly,
but it was so different to anything else that was on American television.
PALIN: And there were no ads or anything like that. And it was sending up authority. It was sending up everything. And they just said, well, whatever
it is, we love this, because there's nothing else like it.
AMANPOUR: Recently, you were knighted.
AMANPOUR: You're Sir Michael Palin. I giggled a bit when I read the reaction of one of your colleagues. Do you know what I'm saying?
PALIN: A taller member, probably.
PALIN: Yes, that's right, yes.
AMANPOUR: The one who said, great to see you have been knitted.
PALIN: Oh, no, that was Terry Gilliam.
AMANPOUR: Oh, there you go.
PALIN: Yes. Terry Gilliam said, great to see you be knitted, yes.
AMANPOUR: Just in time for the cold weather.
PALIN: That's right. That was Terry Gilliam.
AMANPOUR: It's good.
AMANPOUR: And then the taller fellow, the John Cleese fellow, he said the following about you: "It shows that really hard work can overcome complete
mediocrity. And I think it's a tribute. It's an encouragement to all not particularly talented and rather mediocre people to see what can be
achieved by sheer hard work and good luck."
PALIN: Yes. No, well, he embodies that so well.
AMANPOUR: Are you all great friends?
PALIN: We're pretty good friends, basically, the usual sort of slight problems, management, what we decide to do as a group and all that. But,
basically, we're very good friends. We still make each other laugh, which is the main thing.
And we just greatly miss Graham and Terry. We really do. I mean, they were such -- "Python" was a sort of -- it was the six of us, as writers and
And as a little group, we held each other together. Whoever else was employing us, we knew what we wanted to do. And it taught me a lot about
being -- about artistic independence and creative independence. We were able to sort of get through things that people would say, you can't do
that, and we would say, well, let's have a go. And we did it. And it worked most times.
AMANPOUR: Possibly because nobody knew what you were talking about, those in authority.
PALIN: Well, yes.
AMANPOUR: They didn't know they were being made fun of, maybe.
PALIN: No, no, I think -- no, that's true about satire. People always think it's the other person. Oh, it's not me. It's him.
AMANPOUR: You're 77.
AMANPOUR: Is there anything on the Michael Palin bucket list? When you look down the road, what do you still want to do?
PALIN: I want to keep learning. And I want to keep responsive to the world. I just -- there's so much going on. There are so many amazing things
happening. I know, at the moment, we're in deep trouble with coronavirus and all that.
But I know we will get through that. And, as a result of coronavirus, I think we will see some very ingenious and inventive work coming out. And
I'm interested to see what it is. It's not going to be normal. We're not going through normal times. So I want to sort of just be able to take it
That's really it. And I have always been slightly instinctive. I have never had a big game plan. And things have come up out of the blue, and I hope
they will continue to do so.
AMANPOUR: Well, it's very nice to see through your eyes the light at the end of the tunnel.
PALIN: Well, thank you, yes.
AMANPOUR: Thank you very much for being with us.
AMANPOUR: A hopeful note as we enter a new year filled with new possibilities.
Now, from a man who spent his life in front of the camera to one who's building his career behind it.
Tyler Mitchell became the first black photographer in 126 years to shoot the cover of American "Vogue." And he was just 23 years old, his cover
girl, none other than Beyonce.
And now, at the grand old age of 25, Tyler Mitchell has released his new book. It's called "I Can Make You Feel Good."
And I sat down with him to talk about where he points his camera and why that act is so important.
AMANPOUR: Tyler Mitchell, welcome to the program.
TYLER MITCHELL, PHOTOGRAPHER, "I CAN MAKE YOU FEEL GOOD": Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: I'm fascinated by what you say, that photographing black people at leisure is radical, not the fact that they're at leisure, but
photographing them is radical.
MITCHELL: Yes. Yes.
AMANPOUR: Why is that?
MITCHELL: Yes, well, it has to do with denied histories, right, and this idea that visualizing, and making images and projecting those and stating
visualizing black folks enjoying their lives is important, right?
What is central to that in my work is that existing in a public space for black folks in America has been denied psychically in our minds. At any
moment, that freedom or that enjoyment that we're having or that pleasure could be taken away or shipped away. So, to me this book stands for a
beacon of that.
AMANPOUR: This is all "I Can Make You Feel Good"?
AMANPOUR: What does that mean? Who are you saying it to?
MITCHELL: It's the title of a Shalamar song, really. I heard it from a soul song. And I heard it in the Atlanta Airport when I was travelling to
Amsterdam for my show.
And I thought, that's the title. I love this idea of it being a really simple, unacademic statement about feeling good, about optimism, but it
also has a gut punch, it's very direct, it's from me to you, from the photographer to the viewer, so, simply a..
AMANPOUR: And in your opening statement here, you have some pretty pointed and poignant messages.
So, I'm going to read a bit from the statement: "I often think about what white fun looks like and this notion that black people can't have the same.
My work comes from a place of wanting to pushback against this slack. I feel an urgency to create a body of images where black people are
visualized as free, expressive, effortless and sensitive."
I feel like you're trying to correct a balance.
AMANPOUR: An imbalance.
MITCHELL: Maybe. I'm mainly trying to create like a self-contained utopia, a self-contained world.
And, yes, it was about bringing my own autobiographical experience to my instinctive response to those images. So...
AMANPOUR: You know, some of them -- well, they're all just kind of normal, stuff that you would see, the famous (INAUDIBLE) iconography of white
people in a painting at leisure.
AMANPOUR: And you have the red gingham mat or tablecloth where you got some people lying down.
AMANPOUR: You've got people at fun in a park.
What are they saying to you, those particular pictures?
MITCHELL: I think about people like Kerry James Marshall, who has been making amazing work for years about the black experience. I think about
what he said when he was trying to bring together with his Vignette paintings, Rococo paintings, right, flowery or kind of over-the-top just
luxurious enjoyments of life, right, scenes -- Rococo paintings were essentially frivolous
They were all about frivolity. And I love that he was trying to bring together that with some of the social, kind of -- or political feelings and
statements that he wanted to kind of unify in one painting. So, I think this -- these pictures respond to that.
AMANPOUR: So -- I mean, look, Sosa with the orange hula hoop. I mean, it's such a beautiful picture.
MITCHELL: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Had you seen that elsewhere?
MITCHELL: I don't think I have seen that before.
MITCHELL: I mean, each picture that I made that I put in that book, I thought, this is something I haven't quite seen before.
MITCHELL: And maybe if I hadn't been brought to the fore enough yet and hadn't been brought to a bigger conversation that needed to be had, so...
AMANPOUR: And I think this one is called Still from Idyllic Space. It's two boys with gummy bears behind them.
MITCHELL: Yes, yes, yes. A lot of it is going back to Georgia.
AMANPOUR: It's just cool.
MITCHELL: Yes, it's just cool and it's instinctively cool, but it's also thinking about growing up in Georgia and what my summers looked like in the
And, also, you think about that red gingham fabric in that picnic, that for is what the South looks like. That fabric, to me, says Georgia.
AMANPOUR: White South?
MITCHELL: Any South.
AMANPOUR: So, those were images that you actually grew up with?
AMANPOUR: So, what was it like growing up in Marietta, a suburb of Atlanta.
MITCHELL: Well, I grew up middle class.
The suburban existence is -- it's about having space. There's a big front yard. There's leisure. And there's a lot of things in the pictures that I
had growing up.
And those kind of experiences and kind of freedom, I started to understand as I grow up more, was luxury, right? Having a summer to kind of think
about what I wanted to do with my life, those things are freedoms that I'm kind of posturing or gesturing or suggesting all black folks should have.
So, for me, that's important. And I think that upbringing was really actually really positive.
AMANPOUR: So, this is a dramatic and really powerful cover image.
MITCHELL: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: So, you have got a line of black young men. I don't know how old they are, but they look young.
MITCHELL: Yes. I made it here, actually.
AMANPOUR: Did you?
MITCHELL: Yes, in the Walthamstow marshes.
AMANPOUR: Oh, yes, I thought so, because it's all the boys of Walthamstow.
I looked at it, my first impression, like my first reaction was the chain, was the heads bowed, was a little bit of subjugation.
AMANPOUR: Is that what you intended?
MITCHELL: I think it's a mixture of everything.
I think it's like that landscape, those willow trees in Walthamstow spoke to me. They reminded me of Georgia. They reminded me of the South. They
reminded me of some element of the global black experience. And there's beauty in that, right?
There's these boys enjoying moments. Before this picture was taken, all these boys were playing tag together. And there's this amazing video I made
of them kind of enjoying one another. And that kind of black male kind of unity is important to visualize.
But, yes, you're right, there is a somber note. And the chain is definitely like the punctum of the picture. I think there's, like, subtle reference
made to images of chain gangs in Louisiana...
MITCHELL: ... right, in Georgia and those histories.
AMANPOUR: How interesting is it to be Tyler Mitchell today?
AMANPOUR: I'm asking you, because you're 25 years old. You're young. At 23, you did something that no other black photographer had done. I mean,
perish the thought that there had never been a black photographer at "Vogue," certainly not to have shot the cover or the September issue.
AMANPOUR: Just process that for me.
MITCHELL: Yes, still processing.
MITCHELL: I think, in some way, I was always interested in many, many things, just as a person, as an artist. There were assignments and
commissions and pictures that I was making that spoke to people on many different levels. I was photographing musicians.
I was photographing -- I had the opportunity to photograph Emma Gonzalez and a lot of the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Parkland
shooting, and a lot of young gun reform activists. So, I was interested in that. I was interested in making images of kind of black male compassion,
right, and kind of envisioning a new sort of black masculinity.
AMANPOUR: How did it come about that Beyonce -- well, you were thrown in at this -- your first big major shoot like that...
AMANPOUR: ... to somebody else global and as mega as Beyonce? How did it feel?
MITCHELL: It felt amazing. I mean, you -- that's a great moment, yes. It's a really -- it's an honor to photograph someone like that and to work with
a magazine like "Vogue," so, yes.
AMANPOUR: And you made a regal and very flowery.
MITCHELL: Yes, I was referencing -- it was referencing Rococo paintings, like I said. It was thinking about the luxury of frivolity, thinking about
the luxury of having time, the luxury of having space to breathe, and those flowers and that amazing image. So, it was a great collaboration.
AMANPOUR: And it wasn't obvious that you were going to do fashion, right? I mean, you started, I think doing, selfies and skateboarding videos and
things like that.
MITCHELL: Yes, I was making films of my friends like skateboarding in Georgia. So, yes, I kind of avalanched into photography by actually making
a trip to Havana, Cuba. I made -- I went in 2015 on an exchange through my school at NYU, didn't know anything, other than Americans weren't allowed
to go to Cuba.
So, I wanted to go. And a teacher of mine looked at pictures that I would already made, and identified them as fashion photographs. And I said, why
and how? And he said, well, it looks like you dressed these people up and you took pictures of them, didn't you? I said, yes, with the sweater out of
Like, I thought they looked cool in something I had in my house. And he was like, well, that's a fashion photograph, then. You have dressed them in
something. You spoken about an element of style in the picture. And, to me, that switched on a light of, like, a fashion photograph can be much, much
more about the person than necessarily the brand or the clothes or any of those things.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Certainly, the language around photography is all about hierarchy, the subject, capture, shoot, God forbid.
MITCHELL: I'm constantly thinking about that...
MITCHELL: ... and constantly trying to in every way subvert the old notions of what those relationships were. So, you think about older fashion
photographers, where it was very dictatorial almost.
They would really tell the model to the T. where they wanted their finger, how they wanted their body, how they wanted them to lean, how they wanted
them to look. And I think these pictures indicate a more collaborative process.
They speak to a relationship, a true relationship between myself and the subjects, a lot of whom are friends or friends of friends or just people in
a larger contemporary community. So, for me, it's about thinking, with photography having its 200-year history of hierarchical relationships, how
do I subvert those as best as I can? Yes.
AMANPOUR: You have got another picture. I mean, it's called "Gun," 2016.
AMANPOUR: What were you thinking? What was going on?
MITCHELL: I was thinking about Tamir Rice, to be honest with you. He's the 12-year-old boy who was killed in a park near his house in Cleveland
because police believed him to be armed. And he was playing with a toy pellet gun.
Tamir and so many other stories that we hear of, these are about kind of projected and imagined realities, rather than real ones. So, as much as a
picture is a fantasy, that image of a gun speaks to those histories, so, yes.
AMANPOUR: You said, black beauty is an act of justice. Explain.
MITCHELL: It is. It is.
That comes from a lot of different places. The depiction and imagination that we have as black folks is a strong and powerful thing, I think, for
ourselves, for our community. It's kind of an important self-assurement to envision ourselves, to dress ourselves to the nines, and to picture that.
People have understood that since the beginning of time. I think about Frederick Douglass, who was the most photographed man of the 19th century.
He traveled up and down the East Coast, and he would collaborate with photo studios up and down the East Coast as he was writing his autobiography.
And he understood the importance of his image. He would style himself, he would groom himself, he would dress himself, and he would sit for the photo
studios in the late 1800s. And he knew that handing that image out to people, alongside his story as a free slave, or as a freed slave, was
And so, presenting images of ourselves as beautiful is an act of justice. We know this.
AMANPOUR: Clearly, like everybody in the world, you were shocked and devastated by what happened to George Floyd. You're also at the center of
the conversation about, you know, black power, black visibility, black talent, black -- you know, just being there, and people wondering why this
didn't happen earlier. So, does that part of it weigh on you? Do you feel any sort of responsibility, or --
MITCHELL: I think the most important thing that my work is kind of suggesting or posturing is that freedom and whatever that means to the
individual is the most important thing. So, for me, in this book and in this work, it's about hula-hooping. It's about skateboarding. It's about
jump-roping. It's about enjoying space and taking up space. And it's about, you know, existing.
So, the work is both of this moment and not of this moment. And I think that work is my life's work. So, I think, for me, I try and make sure that
freedom and expansiveness is what I push for. So --
AMANPOUR: You obviously have an optimistic vision of life. Are you optimistic about the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd? What -- does
something about it make you hopeful?
MITCHELL: I think I have to be, you know. And with a book called "I Can Make You Feel Good" and with everything that I'm doing, I think I have to
be. I think there are amazing beacons of progress. I think they're -- and I think we have to focus on those and then we have to question and we have to
interrogate and we have to look into everything, and then we have to basically come up with solutions. And I think that's the only way, you
know, things can go forward.
You know, I think about "Moonlight," you know, a movie that was basically not designed to do much of anything in the theaters, not designed to do
much of anything commercially. Barry Jenkins will say that. And I think about the trail it had to winning best picture and the conversations and
the lights that I saw in people's eyes as I was experiencing that movie and as the world was experiencing that movie, and I was like, oh, yes, this is
possible, you know?
AMANPOUR: Yes. Kamala Harris, cover of "Vogue" shot by Tyler Mitchell?
AMANPOUR: Are you going to break a story?
MITCHELL: Who knows? You never know.
AMANPOUR: Tyler Mitchell, thank you so much, indeed.
MITCHELL: Thank you for having me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Well, now that she's vice-president elect, we could well see a Kamala Harris cover shot by Tyler Mitchell.
We turn now though to a confronting topic as countries around the world have faced lockdowns, domestic violence has spiked dramatically, leading
the World Health Organization to describe it as a shadow pandemic. Our next guest has experienced the devastating impact of violence in the home.
Pulitzer prizewinning poet, Natasha Trethewey, was 19 when her stepfather murdered her mother.
This excruciating pain is a subject of her new book, "Memorial Drive: A Daughter's Memoir." She also writes about growing up in the '60 in the deep
south as a child of mixed race. Here she is in a raw and enough emotional conversation with our Michel Martin.
MICHEL MARTIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Natasha Trethewey, thank you so much for joining us.
NATASHA TRETHEWEY, FORMER U.S. POET LAUREATE: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: I think many people are familiar with your work. You have won multiple awards. You're a respected, highly sought-after college professor,
teacher, former poet laureate of the United States, a high honor. I feel comfortable in saying that I'm sure millions of people know your work. And
I remember reading a brief biography of you. It said, her father, Eric Trethewey, was a poet. Her mother died when she was in college. Her mother
died when she was in college.
So, just to get to the core terrible details, your stepfather, your mother's ex-husband, who had physically abused her, and, frankly, if I may
say, emotionally abused you, killed her when you were only 19 years old and when she was 40. She had finally gotten free of him. And, frankly, he seems
to have been threatening her for years, from what I can see.
Why this book now? Did this book sort of force its way out of you? Why this book and why now?
TRETHEWEY: I think it did. I have been carrying this grief with me now for 35 years. And more and more, my mother was being erased. This erasure was
It was particularly easy for people, as I said, to draw this line straight through my father to me, because my father was a poet. My father was also
my white parent. So, there was something both racial -- racialized and patriarchal in this assumption that I'm who I am because of my father.
And it wounded me deeply that people didn't understand that the thing that hurt me into poetry, that the thing that I had tried to contend with my
whole adult life was the loss of my mother. I felt like I needed to tell that story and to place who she was and what she meant to me in its proper
MARTIN: The title of your book, of course, is "Memorial Drive." And it comes at this remarkable moment of reckoning for the country, where this
country is reckoning with its racial past, as it does periodically. And one of the remarkable things about your book is the way it intertwines your
personal history with that of the history of the South and of the country.
So, to that end, I just wanted to ask if you wouldn't mind reading a passage for us from --
TRETHEWEY: Oh, of course, I'd be happy to.
This is from the first chapter, which is called "Another Country." In the spring of 1966, when I was born, my mother was a couple of months shy of
her 22nd birthday. My father was out of town traveling for work, so she made the short trip from my grandmother's house to Gulfport Memorial
Hospital, as planned, without him. On her way to the segregated ward, she could not help but take in the tenor of the day, witnessing the barrage of
rebel flags lining the streets, private citizens, lawmakers, Klansmen, often one and the same, raising them in Gulfport and small towns all across
She could not have missed the paradox of my birth on that particular day, a child of miscegenation, an interracial marriage still illegal in
Mississippi, and as many as 20 other states. Sequestered on the colored floor, my mother knew the country was changing, but slowly. She had come of
age in the summer of 1965, turning 21 in the wake of Bloody Sunday, the Watts riots, and years of racially motivated murders in Mississippi. Unlike
my father, who'd grown up a white boy in rural Nova Scotia hunting and fishing, free to roam the open woods, my mother had come into being a black
girl in the Deep South, hemmed in, bound to a world circumscribed by Jim Crow.
Though my father believed in the idea of living dangerously, the necessity of taking risks, my mother had witnessed the necessity of dissembling, the
art of making of one's face an inscrutable mass before whites who expected of blacks a servile deference.
MARTIN: It's always tricky asking our artists how she makes her art. But I am wondering how you arrive at this voice, how you arrive at this kind of
intertwining of the personal with the social story, you know, the mixing of the races, the expectation of white supremacy, expectation of deference?
Was it hard?
TRETHEWEY: Well, you know, it took a long time to write this book. It took me seven years to write the book. And I think part of the hardest thing was
to figure out the voice. Who am I in telling this story? And what is the story that needs to be told? I mean, because there are obviously the tragic
facts of my mother's life and mine, but that's not the story.
And I -- when I -- what I realized, and it has everything to do with that intersection of public history, the history of the Civil War and the
aftermath and the monuments we have erected to remember, or misremember, the Civil War, and my mother's death at the base of Stone Mountain, that
largest monument to the Confederacy. Those things converge, and they actually represent my two existential wounds. In his memorial to William
Butler Yeats, W.H. Auden wrote, "Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry."
Well, likewise, my nation, my native land, my South, my Mississippi, with its history of violence and racial oppression, inflicted my first wound.
Being born there on Confederate Memorial Day was as if I were given that history to write. And then, when my mother's death occurred at the base of
that mountain, I could see how what is remembered and what is not was the very threshold through which to enter this book.
MARTIN: This book is so beautifully written. And it is so -- if you don't mind my saying, it is so terrible in other ways, just the recitation of the
abuse that your -- was visited upon your mother is very hard to read. It's obviously the remembering and the intuiting of the kind of physical harm
that he's inflicting on your mother, but it's also terrifying and horrible to read the harm he inflicted on you in trying to silence you.
In fact, there's this one passage where you come home and you say, I'm going to be a writer.
MARTIN: And he says to you, you're not going to do any of that.
MARTIN: I can't think of a more terrible thing to say to a child.
TRETHEWEY: Yes. So, I mean, I think that anything that seemed like a dream that I had, he was going to try to find a way to shut that down. And that
is a very telling moment in my relationship with my mother as well, because she was obviously enduring physical abuse at his hands, often out of sight,
but something I could hear.
And, for years, in order to kind of do a kind of dissembling and to keep him from going into a violent rage later on, out of sight, she would only
talk to me about my accomplishments or achievements when he wasn't around. It was something that we had to keep secret. But that particular day, I
came home so excited, I couldn't wait. And I said that at the dinner table. And when he said, you're not going to do any of that, I could see my
mother's hands clench the fork she was holding and her jaw clench. And she said, she will do whatever she wants.
And even in that moment, I knew the price that she was going to pay for defending me. And as much as she was willing to do that, and knowing the
cost, she wasn't going to let him batter my soul in the same way that he was battering hers.
MARTIN: Mm-hmm. Your stepfather murdered your mother. He murdered her after she had left him, after a long history of abuse.
TRETHEWEY: That's right.
MARTIN: That's the foundation -- OK. Go ahead.
TRETHEWEY: She'd been divorced for him -- from him for nearly two years when he murdered her. So, she indeed had done everything right and gotten
away. And he continued to stalk her. He even went to prison for attempting -- well, he wasn't convicted of attempted murder, but he did try to kill
her once before, on Valentine's Day in 1984. He went to prison for about a year, but only convicted of criminal trespass. And when he got out, he came
back and finished what he started.
MARTIN: Natasha, it's another hard thing, but it's my understanding that he's actually been released from prison now. Is that true?
TRETHEWEY: That's right. He was released in March of last year.
MARTIN: May I ask, do you feel safe from him?
TRETHEWEY: You know, the day that I found out, I had the strangest sensation of being inside my mother's body. And I was very afraid and I
felt very unsafe. I think the only thing that makes me feel safe, or a modicum of safety, is that I don't live in Atlanta anymore.
I got out of Atlanta just before he was released, a year or two before. And so that helps. The distance helps. But I think I have never truly felt safe
in the world.
MARTIN: Kiese Laymon writes in "The New York Times" that: "Trethewey's memoir is not the hardest book I have ever read." He says, the poetry
holding the prose together, the innovativeness of the composition, make such a claim impossible. "Memorial Drive" is, however, the hardest book I
could imagine writing.
And, truly, you do some very difficult things in this book. I mean, you go through the files, like you're -- the police officer -- incredibly, you
encounter the police officer who responded to your mother's murder, and he retrieves the files for you.
MARTIN: And you go through them all. I just find myself wondering how you were able to do that, to read the fact that she was keeping notes of what
was happening to her, create -- to create some sort of protection for her, for herself, which ultimately did not succeed. But how did you do that, and
why did you feel that was so necessary to do?
TRETHEWEY: Well, I resisted doing it for a long time. He gave me those files in 2005. And I did not allow myself to sit and go through them until
I was in the process of writing this book. I didn't want to have to look at those things. I'd been trying to, I think, forget and avoid as much as I
could, you know, over these last three decades.
And, finally, when I did sit down, it was as if I were reliving those days. They came all back to me. And the grief -- even now, having done that, the
grief feels much more immediate, as opposed to sort of the dullness of it that I have lived with my whole adult life.
But I think it was important, because it allowed the possibility of my mother's voice to enter this book, along with mine. And I knew that that
was important, because I could tell you how resilient and powerful and loving she was, or I could just let you see it for yourself. And I think,
when you read those documents that I include in the book, you see it for yourself. The evidence is incontrovertible.
MARTIN: I'm reminded that, as we are speaking now, this country, among -- and along with many, many others, many people are still in lockdown mode. I
mean, many people are trapped at home. I can't help but think about other people who might be trapped in similar circumstances, as part of this
effort to control this health crisis. But part of it makes me worry that another crisis is afoot. And I wonder if you think about that, too, given
what you saw, given what you grew up with.
TRETHEWEY: I do. And it's a terrifying moment to think about how many people might be in a situation of domestic violence. One of the things I
think about all the time is that, in the language of organizations committed to ending domestic violence, my mother was referred to as a
perfect victim. And that's because, not only did she do everything right, did she seek out the right resources to get out of this marriage, but she
was also an educated professional woman who was not dependent upon her abuser for shelter, for the care of her children, for support, for
And so, if you have someone like my mother like that who can't even get away, what can you say to women who are in that situation, but are
dependent on their abusers for support? It's almost impossible to get away. And if you add to that the chances of you dying go up, not when you stay,
but when you leave, it makes it almost impossible. And we are in a moment where all of that is the case now, and it's even harder to leave, because
where will people go during this time of lockdown?
MARTIN: This country is very, you know, fractured and traumatized right now, I feel comfortable in saying. Is there something we can learn from
your story, do you think, as a country?
TRETHEWEY: Oh, well, I would hope a lot of things, actually. One of the things that I deal with constantly is the idea of memory and forgetting. On
a personal level, one might argue that, for a long time, I enacted a kind of forgetting, thinking that that was helping me some kind of way.
And yet, even as I was consciously trying to forget, I think our bodies recall trauma. So, it was still there with me waiting to somehow attack me
at a different point. I think that's a metaphor for our kind of cultural amnesia in this country, that wounds that we haven't healed, that we have
simply allowed to fester are waiting to make us sick, to make us even more damaged, because we haven't contended with the truth of our shared history.
I think that that's what this moment of reckoning is about.
So, I always -- you know, Yeats wrote, we make of the quarrel with others rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves poetry. I always begin with the
argument the quarrel I have with myself in order to talk about the larger quarrel that I have with my nation over and -- our historical amnesia about
race, about the aftermath of the Civil War, about the causes of the Civil War, about the reason that we erected monuments to the Confederacy.
All of those things, if we don't deal with the truth of them, they're going to continue to erode us as a nation.
MARTIN: Natasha Trethewey, thank you so much for speaking with us today.
TRETHEWEY: Thank you, Michel.
AMANPOUR: Some of those stories are hard to hear. And finally, tonight, another artist who's unafraid to speak the truth no matter how painful.
Country music star, Margo Price, is making waves with her latest album, "That's How Rumors Get Started." It weaves together issues from motherhood
to healthcare, including the rock heavy hit single, "Twinkle Twinkle." Take a listen.
AMANPOUR: A powerful rift on the price of stardom. Margo Price has quite the backstory too having experienced prison and homelessness. She funded
her first album by selling her car and her wedding ring. She joins me from Nashville to talk about her fascinating life.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, Margo Price. It's a wonderful album. It's really listenable. Congratulations. It's your second big one. What
inspired you on this one, and tell me about the title song. Why did you choose that title?
MARGO PRICE, SINGER/SONGWRITER: Yes. This is actually my third album. And "That's How Rumors Get Started" was something I heard in passing. And I
just liked the mystery behind it. But I think, you know, we live in such an age of mistruths and rumors, and, you know, it has a little bit of
AMANPOUR: Yes, you know, people put in air quotes you're sort of a country music rebel, country music outlaw. You certainly talk a lot about truth,
and there is a saying, of course, that country music, all you need is three chords and the truth. You speak a lot about it, from whether it's, as I
said, the health or gender issues, the pay gap, et cetera.
What gives you that, I guess, the cojones to go all that way, given how difficult it is for women in the country music sphere?
PRICE: Yes, it certainly at times can be a very misogynist, you know, even racist genre. And, you know, I think for, so long, people have these
misconceptions that anybody who plays country music is going to be, you know, right-winged or not liberal. But I come from a long background of,
you know, blues and folk music. And, you know, this album, I think, is a little bit more rock 'n' roll.
But, certainly, living in Nashville and being part of the anti- establishment, I have never wanted to fit inside the mold that was set
there by many of the organizations in this town. And it's been challenging at times to speak out about issues like gender inequality or gun control,
but I think that someone needs to be saying it, and I'm happy to lend my 2 cents.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you, we are going to see Jeremy Ivey, who is not just your husband, but he's also your creative partner and an artistic
performer, obviously, in his own right. And I just want to ask you both because I know you're going to play us out. You have chosen -- I want you
to explain the song you have chosen. I believe it's for your son, your oldest son, and why you have chosen this. And then play us out as we say
good night. And thanks for watching.
Margo and Jeremy, thank you very much for your rendition of "Gone to Stay."
PRICE: Thank you so much for having us.
This is a song that we wrote to our children. And it's a message of, you know, when we're gone on the road, to know that we're always with them, but
also to know that, when we're gone, and when we pass, this is a message that we wanted to give to them on how to treat other people and what to
leave behind, and, you know, to not take so much from this struggling Earth right now. So, this is when I'm gone.