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The Black Church; Iranian Nuclear Tensions. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired February 18, 2021 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
NED PRICE, SPOKESPERSON, STATE DEPARTMENT: If Iran resumes its full compliance with the deal, we will do the same.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Looming deadlines and a foreign policy test for President Biden. Iran demands action to reenter the nuclear deal. As
Western leaders meet to confer, how will the U.S. respond?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are rising.
REV. AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: The black church was more than just a spiritual. It was the epicenter of black life.
AMANPOUR: Communities anchored in faith. tracing the rich history and influence of the black church in America. Director Stacey Holman on the
story and the song.
AMANPOUR: "The United States vs. Billie Holiday."
Lee Daniels joins our Michel Martin to discuss his new film and the campaign to silence Holiday's "Strange Fruit."
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Now, China may be the number one strategic foreign policy challenge for both the United States and Europe. But President Joe Biden and indeed
Europe faces many other important tests in these early days. Should the United States honor former President Trump's deal to pull out all U.S.
troops from Afghanistan?
Should Biden reverse Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, the JCPOA? Today, top American and European diplomats met to figure out how to
revive that deal. And the head of the U.N. Atomic Energy Agency will travel to Tehran on this weekend to try to head off Iran's threat to reduce
cooperation with its nuclear inspectors.
Now, amid a public game of chicken over who goes first, tonight, key players from the Obama administration and the European Commission join me.
First, we're going to the former administration adviser Vali Nasr.
Welcome back to the program, Vali Nasr.
Can I ask you just to weigh in on whether you think that actually there is this game of chicken being played? Who's on first? Will the U.S. go back
into the deal first? Will Iran go back into the deal first? Is that really an issue?
VALI NASR, FORMER U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT ADVISER: It is an issue, because it's a big issue for the Iranians in terms of trusting the United States.
And, also, the supreme leader in Iran has spoken very clearly, saying that Iran will not go ahead of the United States and will not be more compliant
than the United States. And I think, since President Biden has not said anything about Iran since he's come to power, I think the Iranians are
worried that he's going to use the leverage of the Trump years in order to force their hand.
So, I think they're serious about this, and they have held their gunpowder while Trump was president, hoping for a change of U.S. policy when Biden
comes in. And I think they're they haven't seen that. So they're getting anxious about how serious the U.S. is and whether U.S. will really lift
So, I think they are under some pressure domestically to carry through with their threat.
AMANPOUR: So, the European Commission head today said -- and I will read it, European Council President Charles Michel: "I spoke with President
Hassan Rouhani of Iran. The E.U. supports the full implementation of the JCPOA," which, of course, is the Iran nuclear deal. "Preserving a space for
diplomacy underpinned by positive steps is crucial at this stage."
So, there was a meeting, as I said, before we came to you, between Michel and the German, French, British and U.S. secretaries of state, foreign
ministers. They obviously want to go back into this. What do you think they can do now, for instance, just to prevent Iran making good on its threat to
cease or, rather, reduce cooperation with the IAEA nuclear inspectors?
NASR: That is for me, Christiane?
NASR: Yes, sorry about that.
Well, I think the issue for Iran is that it has put itself in a position of asking that the United States take a step back into the deal, that, because
the United States is currently completely noncompliant, Iranians believe that asking them to become more compliant than they are, without the United
States actually taking even a step back into the deal, is not viable for them domestically.
There is a lot of hard position in Iran about the deal, about the trustworthiness of the U.S., about whether the Europeans are being honest
brokers or are just basically taking the U.S.' side.
So, the Iranians are very much worried about taking another step back without the U.S. reciprocating. So, this game of chicken about who blinks
first has become very key. And there is a need for a choreography between them.
And, at the same time, they're not talking to each other. So, I think the Europeans need to persuade Iran to trust the process. And that's not going
to be easy. And the Iranians are going to ask the Europeans to show some kind of an indication that this is going to move in the right direction.
And that's exactly where we are now holding, with a major deadline looming next week, where the Iranian Parliament has mandated that the Iranian
government move away from the additional protocol and significantly reduce access of inspectors to Iran's nuclear program, if the United States and
other signatories to the deal do not become more compliant than they have been thus far.
AMANPOUR: OK, so let me now turn to Nathalie Tocci, who has been an adviser to the foreign policy chiefs at the E.U.
And so let me put that question to you. And, Nathalie, let me just quote a few things that have come out of today's meeting. The German foreign
minister said that Iran is -- quote -- "playing with fire" if it continues to threaten to reduce compliance.
We have heard the council president, Michel, Charles Michel, say that he believes there's room for diplomacy. He apparently had a conversation with
the Iranian president. And the Iranian foreign minister told me at the beginning of this month that there is a way for the E.U. to help achieve
some kind of synchronicity, so that both sides can say they would go back into the deal together.
Can you break that down for me and tell me whether you think that's likely?
NATHALIE TOCCI, FORMER E.U. SPECIAL ADVISER: Well, I mean, Christiane, I think the first thing that I would say is that, if the Iranians were not
committed to the deal, they probably would have left the deal over the last three years.
So, the fact that they are raising the stakes now seems to me more of a signal of trying to ensure that there is movement on the U.S. side, as far
as sanctions is concerned, rather than a signal of a lack of commitment to the agreement, because, otherwise, they would have left, as I said, a long
So, it seems to me that, in the game of chicken that you were mentioning, the risk is really bad of inadvertently letting this opportunity slip. And
this is, I think, where the Europeans come in, in, I think, at least two important ways.
The first is, indeed, sort of keeping those lines of communication open, and ensuring that there is a sequencing of sanctions relief, per
compliance, and sort of ensuring that, in that sequence, where obviously, as Vali was saying, the Iranian expectation is that who moves first is the
party that left the agreement, meaning the United States, whether the Europeans can actually stick in, in this respect in providing some of that
economic relief, if they are given the assurance by the United States that they will not be threatened with extraterritorial sanctions.
So, I think that the Europeans really fit in, in two respects. The first is really the sort of channel of diplomacy and the sequencing of these moves.
And the second is stepping in on the sanctions relief front, in doing perhaps what the United States will not be able to do immediately and what
the Iranians expect.
AMANPOUR: So, as we're speaking, the foreign ministers who are holding this virtual meeting, I guess, today have issued a statement in which they
say, the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany, and the United States expressed their -- quote -- "shared fundamental security interest in
upholding the nuclear nonproliferation regime for Iran" when they met.
So, let me put it to both of you now, whether you believe, given that the United States is the one who is out of compliance, who broke the deal
unilaterally, and then, as you say, Iran has pretty much kept to it.
Obviously, Iran has upped its uranium enrichment. Obviously, the E.U. and the U.S. do not like that one little bit. This is what the Iranian foreign
minister told me about the moves they're taking, whether it's on uranium enrichment, or, indeed, on reducing cooperation, tentatively, with the IAEA
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Clearly, actions that Iran takes have always been monitored and verified by the IAEA. And we have
shown that we fulfill our promises.
The side that has not been able to show that it fulfills its promises has been the United States. And, as I said, the United States needs to prove
its bona fides. We have already proven our bona fides. We are away from the strict limitations of the nuclear agreement.
It's because the United States tried to impose a full economic war on Iran. Now, it stops that, we will go back into full compliance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So,Vali Nasr, clearly blaming the United States. And I think Europe believes that as well. The U.S. took the first move to remove itself
from being compliant with this -- with this nuclear deal.
So, as you heard the foreign minister say, that, according to paragraph 36 in the JCPOA, they are acting in accordance with what is envisioned if one
party breaks the deal, at least envisioned for their ability.
Is that strictly true, Vali Nasr?
NASR: Well, an agreement like this is open to interpretation.
And the Iranian interpretation is that they can stay in the deal, but also stop complying with its terms, because the other members are in the deal,
and they have stopped complying with its terms. So, technically, both the Europeans, Chinese, Russians, and Iranians can be in the deal without
complying with the terms that they signed on to.
And I think that's where the Iranian foreign minister is sort of leaving the door open that, since we're all in the deal, we could just start
complying with it. And you start complying, we start complying.
But at the same time, Iran very clearly is trying to build leverage on the United States and the Europeans by enriching more uranium, but also by
taking maybe certain actions outside of the deal. We have seen escalation in Iraq in the past week. We have seen reports of Iranian activity in
There is a worry that the kind of silence that we had in the region for the past two, three months of the Trump administration may come to an end.
Clearly, the Iranians want to show that they have -- they have ability to make life difficult for the United States and the Europeans if they don't
And even this threat of next week is part of this strategy, as well as indications that Iran is -- has made some uranium metal, which is very
strictly for nuclear weapons, and an announcement by Iran's minister of intelligence that, if Iran remains under maximum pressure, it no longer
will abide by a fatwa that the supreme leader gave that Iran will not seek nuclear weapons.
So, the Iranians are now escalating pressure on the Biden administration to make a move, and to at least indicate that it's committed to going back to
the deal. And then, as Nathalie said, it can facilitate that the Europeans would bridge the gap until we get to a better place between the United
States and Iran.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you, Nathalie Tocci, I mean, how much room is there to maneuver? Because we have heard Antony Blinken say -- he's the
U.S. secretary of state, obviously -- that Iran is out of compliance, and it'll take a while to get back into compliance.
We have heard today again from the White House podium, the spokeswoman saying that it's going to take a long time for Iran to get back into
compliance. And, again, Foreign Minister Zarif told me -- and he actually wrote it in an article -- that the U.S. campaign of -- quote -- "maximum
pressure," in fact, under that time period, they expanded their stockpile of low-enriched uranium from 660 to 8,800 pounds and upgraded centrifuges
from other older models, and have now new more powerful models.
How much of that is leverage that can go back into the box? And how much of that is a real issue in terms of trying to get both sides back into
TOCCI: I mean, I think, Christiane, from a technical standpoint, yes, there are obviously some technical timings to be respected.
But we're not talking about, in a sense, sort of incredible amounts of time. I think the main point here really is that breaking this deadlock,
this political deadlock that we're, in which what we're seeing is Iran raising the stakes in a manner that, had it done what it's doing now last
year or a year-and-a-half ago, it would have clearly signaled its intention to exit the deal.
The fact that it's doing it now can very clearly be read as raising the stakes for negotiation. But, of course, the problem is that there isn't a
great deal of time for negotiation to deliver before Iran itself enters its presidential election.
So, to me, it is not so much a question of the technical time that is required for compliance to take place, but the political time to ensure
that there is a virtuous circle that is set in motion.
AMANPOUR: OK, so that's another major issue, because, as you say, it could be that a hard line -- a more hard-line president and administration is
elected in Iran.
So, Vali, do you think that the United States is making -- is weighing up, oh, my goodness, should we try to do something under the Rouhani
administration that we know, we have worked with before, we secured the first deal, or should we wait and see what happens in the elections and who
Do you think that the politics in Iran is a factor from what is a highly political issue in the United States?
NASR: Yes, absolutely, I think the politics in Iran is very important.
If there is movement on the nuclear deal, more than likely, the participation in election likely is going to be higher. That will favor the
moderates. We may actually get some serious moderate candidates, which have yet to be -- enter the race. If there is no movement on the nuclear deal,
or there is no economic benefits coming to the Iranians, we're likely to have an election that's going to favor conservatives.
And then, if there's no engagement with the Rouhani government, and Iranian elections are in June, and then the new president in Iran comes to office
in August, between now and August, if Iran keeps enriching and keeps pushing on the boundaries of JCPOA, we will be in a much worse position in
August than we are now.
I also want to sort of put another spin on what Nathalie said. It is very true that Iran has wanted to stay in this deal on until now. But there has
been a very powerful faction within Iran in the security services, IRGC, among the conservatives, and even some of the senior advisers to the
supreme leader, who have all along said that this deal was a mistake, and, if we go back into it, it could be a trap.
But this argument did not prevail because they were waiting for Biden. I mean, I cannot overemphasize how important this election in the United
States was in the debate in Iran, that are we dealing with the United States or are we dealing with Trump?
If Biden comes in and actually really initiates a new policy, starting with going back into JCPOA, then this deal may be worth it.
Now what we're seeing in Iran is that increasingly the voices that were saying there is no difference between Biden and Trump, the United States is
not going to revive this deal, is going to use the leverage of the Trump period to continue to corner us, and, in fact, Biden is more dangerous than
Trump because he's going to be building bridges with the Europeans that Trump couldn't, and we shouldn't -- we shouldn't go back in the deal, those
voices are going to become ascendant.
There is a real debate in Iran...
NASR: ... that the waiting in Washington is helping the hard-liners in that debate.
AMANPOUR: Well, and a likewise mirror image is happening in Europe, in the United States, and, of course, influenced also by Israel. This is what
Antony Blinken has said about the future.
It's not just going back to status quo ante. They want to go even further. Let's play this.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
TONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: If we're to get back into the deal, if Iran returns to compliance, and we do the same, we need to work on an
agreement that's this longer and stronger than the original one.
And we also need to engage other issues that were not part of the original negotiation.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, Nathalie, let me ask you, and then finally to Vali.
Any chance that they could -- because, obviously, this is what you now want to talk about, missile program, Iran's influence and activities in places
like Syria and elsewhere. Nathalie, do you think that's even a starter? Do you think there's -- do they know that if they -- if the JCPOA is revived,
that this will most definitely be on the menu in short order?
TOCCI: Well, it's obviously not a starter, but it is, I think, an end point.
And the point is, though, when to start and ensuring that we do actually start. And you start by reviving the JCPOA itself, because that is what
enables not only to actually deal with one key aspect, which obviously is the nuclear one, but perhaps even more importantly to rebuild that trust,
that minimum level of trust that then enables you, not only to upgrade that agreement, given that one has -- one has to then eventually deal with the
sunset clauses, but then tackle questions like regional questions.
Now, on missiles, to be honest, I'm far more skeptical. But I think there would be scope to talk about regional questions, if that trust-building on
the nuclear front is actually established.
AMANPOUR: Well, we're out of time now. We will watch for the next meetings and what Iran does next week. And we will get back to you.
Vali Nasr and Nathalie Tocci, thank you very much, indeed, for joining us.
And we turn now to a fascinating look inside the black church in America. A new series examines its central role from slavery to emancipation, from the
civil rights movement to Black Lives Matter, stretching back centuries.
Through struggle, discrimination and upheaval, the black church has been a place for African-Americans to raise their voices in prayer and in song.
Here's some of the trailer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OPRAH WINFREY, PRODUCER/PHILANTHROPIST: The black church gave people a sense of value, belonging and worthiness. I don't know how we could have
survived as a people without it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To tell the story of American religion is to tell a political story.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The black church helped us to withstand all the slings and arrows of segregation and the segregationists.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: "The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song," it's on PBS. And it is directed and produced by Stacey Holman.
And she is joining me now from New York.
Stacey Holman, it's an amazing piece of work.
And let me just start by asking you, what did you find to be the difference between the Christian church in America? Did you know that there was this
difference between so-called the black church and the other church?
STACEY HOLMAN, PRODUCER/DIRECTOR, "THE BLACK CHURCH": Thank you for having me, Christiane.
And, yes, I did. I think one of the most fascinating things about doing this whole series is how we started really on the continent of Africa, and
the fact that all of the certain rituals and belief systems, though Africans, enslaved Africans, were stripped of their freedom, they were not
stripped of their gods.
So, just saying that this institution was really built from the ground up. It's a space of agency. It was a space of mobilizing. It was a space of
also encouragement. So, it was incredible to just tell the story and to see it -- just the church evolve from the very beginning.
AMANPOUR: So, we know that Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates case is the presenter, and you're the producer and the director. But he came to you
with this idea of, I think, grappling with 400 to 500 years of the black church in America.
I mean, what did you think, when you were presented with that idea? And how did you come down to the four hours and sort of decide what focus to have
in each hour?
HOLMAN: Well, took a deep breath, first of all; 400 years in four hours is a tremendous task, said a lot of prayers, for sure.
And I had an incredible train team. I had another director, Shayla Harris, who directed two of the hours. And we had co-producers. And we also had an
amazing group of advisers. That was one key element, asking them, what are the key stories that we need to tell?
We knew that people would expect to hear about the civil rights movement, but what else could we say about the civil rights movement that was a
little bit different or shined a different light or a different lens on it?
So, with our advisers, also another producer, Kevin Burke, we just really dug in deep. And one thing, too, was that this was also a personal story
for Dr. Gates. He grew up in a Methodist church, and in the series, people who have not yet watched it, I won't do a spoiler alert, but he speaks
about just how he came to the church, and just really that personal story.
So we wanted to also incorporate people's personal, as we'd say, testimony of how they came into the church, how the lord had moved them and had
touched them and carried them through a turbulent time or season.
AMANPOUR: You know, you say there's a lot that people know or think they know about the civil rights movement, about music, gospel, about all the
things that we think we know.
But I was struck in the first hour by how you go all the way back to the African slaves coming to the United States, and what the church meant to
them. And also, I was stunned, I really did not know this, that actually Islam came to the United States all those centuries ago with the slaves.
And you find some remnants of Arabic Koran writing in a church that has lasted even to today.
HOLMAN: Yes, that was fascinating for me, too, for all of us know, that there was an Islam footprint.
And it just speaks to just the richness and the depth of how far back certain religions went on this continent. And, actually, seeing -- going,
first of all, to Sapelo Island and seeing the cemetery of Bilali Muhammad's descendants lie.
And then to go to First African Baptist in Savannah, Georgia, and to see that inscription of a church that was built by free and enslaved Africans
was also just a reminder that they might have left, but they did not leave those traditions. They did not leave those remembrances or those words or
those writings, which are seen on the sides of the pews.
AMANPOUR: Before I go into the music, because, obviously, this is our lives, our song, how much real help, protection did the slaves, did black
Africans, black Americans get from going into their churches?
How much of a welcoming place was it? How easy was it for them in the very beginning to create these churches and churches that were separate from the
white churches? I mean, weren't the slave owners kind of suspicious? Did they think they may be plotting how to escape and free themselves?
Tell me about that.
HOLMAN: Well, they were suspicious.
We talk about invisible institutions. And what that exactly is how it sounds. They would go into hush harbors, which were in the woods, in
forests and trees, and praise and worship, because, as enslaved Africans learn how to read, they begin to understand and interpret the Bible for
They understood about Moses, and they understood that God liberated the Israelites. They understood that Jesus was a servant like them, was abused
like them. So they found that what they were being denied in the word, as they began to read, they were teaching each other.
And a lot of planters did not want that to be spread. So, in terms of even Savannah church, and First African Baptist, there was like, some, watchful
white eyes that were sitting in the pews as people were preaching, as men, I should specify, were preaching.
And that was a big deal, until we get to Richard Allen, where they're like, you know what -- which is the African Methodist Episcopal, and they
completely separate themselves from the Methodists. And that's strictly because they're denied of sitting in the pews next to other white
But it was very -- it was a very fine line. And they had to be very careful on all fronts.
AMANPOUR: So, obviously, music is a huge, huge, huge part of the black church. And, I mean, there's a quote.
During the Civil War, one of the soldiers said that: "Spirituals did more to free my people than all of the guns of the Army."
And we're going to play a clip of Rutha Mae Harris. She was one of the Freedom Singers in the 1960s. And here she's just talking about the
importance of music during the civil rights struggle.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUTHA MAE HARRIS, FREEDOM SINGER: Say you're walking down the street doing a march, and this policeman tell you you're going to be hit or whatever.
You start singing. I ain't going to let nobody turn me around, not even a chief of police.
HENRY LOUIS GATES JR., PROFESSOR, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Right.
Not even a billy club.
HARRIS: Not even a billy club.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Talk to me about that, about music.
I mean, what -- you reimmersed yourself in, again, a part of the history of the church that you know. But did you learn anything extra or knew about
HOLMAN: I did, and especially when you get to the later hours, of hour three, but even in the earlier part of just how hymns and spirituals just
kind of transition to what we now hear in the civil rights songs that Rutha Mae sang, with the SNCC Freedom Singers.
But my biggest like OMG moment was Rosetta Tharpe and just her music, how it just really tried to cross over, but yet there was pushback from the
church, and just how she was really trying to, as BeBe Winans says, spread the gospel by singing and with her steel guitar in more public settings
that were outside the confines of the church.
But I also too -- just one thing that was amazing is just how the thread of music also runs through the thread of this preaching and how they both are
synonymous with each other. And you can't have one without the other.
AMANPOUR: I mean, that came across. And, in fact, I think somebody even was mimicking how the tones of the music was reflected in the preaching
tones as well. And it was a very graphic example. It was really good.
But I'm so glad you said Rosetta Tharpe, because I wish we could have played a clip, but she was amazing with her with guitar, with her clothes.
HOLMAN: Oh, my gosh, yes.
AMANPOUR: I mean, amazing. But we can't play a clip. I wish we could. She was really amazing.
AMANPOUR: But that leads me, of course, to your focus on women, particularly in the third episode.
And, obviously, we know Ida B. Wells, we know, you know, Rosa Parks, we know Fannie Lou Hamer, but there are so many other women who played such an
important role and who never really got as much knowledge or rather as much, you know, renown. And particularly, Prathia Hall. Tell me about her
and I have a dream. I mean, it knocked my socks off.
HOLMAN: Well, it's still ironic that who tells the story is now Senator Reverend Warnock, which is incredible. But I -- that was news to me as
well. She was preaching in Georgia. She was a member of SNCC (ph) dealing with voter registration and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King just happened
to be there when she was saying a prayer. And while she was saying the prayer, she's like I have a dream. I have a dream some day and she keep
reciting this word over and over again. And he was pretty much was like, wow. That was really good. I'm going to borrow that. And we cut to the
march on Washington in 1963 to the most historic, one of the most historic speeches and he keeps using that refrain and that was inspired by a woman.
I had never heard of Prathia Hall before doing this series. And we asked -- everybody we interviewed we asked them their top five pastors, and
majority, at least 70 percent mentioned her name. And I mean -- and no one knew her. So, I'm just privileged that people are now definitely getting to
hearing her name, she is going to get, you know, what she's her due and what her contribution is, not just with I Have a Dream, but just in the
movement and just in the pulpit over all.
AMANPOUR: And what I found interesting was that in the program, I think, it's Dr. Gates, he says that actually Martin Luther King took Prathia Hall
to the -- I think the airport or something and told her that he likes that phrase and that he was going to use it. And I just want to give him his due
AMANPOUR: -- but I want to play Reverend Raphael Warnock talking to you about this, reverend now Senator Warnock, and I just want to play what he
said to you about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D-GA): She began to talk to God aloud about what she desired for the world. And over and over again, she kept saying to God, I
have a dream.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really?
WARNOCK: This was in Terrell County, Georgia I believe in 1962. And so, people need to know that before it was Martin's dream it was Prathia's
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I just think that is really beautiful and as you said you didn't know it. Many of us didn't know about that. But can I talk a little bit
about a somewhat darker reality that, you know, there was a lot of backlash, too. I mean, churches were attacked back then and still, you
know, today. And we've seen, you know, horrendous assaults on your churches. We remember what happened to the Emanuel AME Church. And, you
know, I want to ask you about that. Because back in 2015, you know, the shooter came in and killed so many people.
How does the history of the hopeful and the hateful sort of keep and still intertwine in the black church in America?
HOLMAN: Well, as long as the church -- I mean, it is the first place of agency, the first place that is independent, that is owned by black people
for essentially black people but its doors have always been open to every kind of people. So, as long as it is that, it is always going to be a
However, what I believe that, you know, in doing this series and just for my own faith walk, just knowing that, you know, there's always belief, you
know, it's more than these four walls. It's more than your circumstance. It's more than any situation. And we can look back in time and see just
what enslaved men and women and even through the civil rights movement and those moments in between just, it's that hope of something better. It's
going to be around the corner. And I believe that is really what keeps the church going but I also do believe that is really what makes it always a
AMANPOUR: And just the bomb of the song throughout your history, everybody remembers, President Obama breaking into "Amazing Grace" during the, you
know, funeral service, the eulogy for the pastor who was killed by that white racist shooter. And we want to play a little clip of the singing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: It obviously speaks to resilience of the church and of the faith. But do you remember what you felt when you first heard that back in
HOLMAN: It was fitting. It was moving and it was fitting. And it just -- for me, it's like, what soothes you but song? What warms you but song and
fellowship? And it just -- it was natural. And it just really kind of put that balm on that hurt and that pain and provided that peace.
AMANPOUR: So, let me just ask you about today. Because, you know, quite a few of, you know, the -- quite a few of the churches in your community,
they struggle with a lot of what is happening today in the world, whether it's sexuality, whether -- whatever it might be, the role of women. There's
still -- like in the white Christian church, there's still political and religious struggles over our lives.
And I wonder what you think and what you found out from your investigation and these four hours where the church, where your church is headed on these
issues and, also, the continual struggle between the secular and the sacred.
HOLMAN: It's a question we asked everybody what the future that black church was or is. And it varied in response. Some people thought it was
very bright. Some people thought it's definitely a crossroad moment to figure out, OK, it's going to have to make some changes. Me, personally, I
am in New York in the Harlem area and there's a lot of churches that are dying out because of older congregations. And they're not bringing in a
And you know, what I've taken away, too, is that there is a meeting between the two. I mean, there is a space to recognize and to honor the traditions
of the church. However, traditions change. We need to move forward with it. And also, too, I feel that with today's generation, you know, seeking to
find fellowship in other ways, you know, through social media, you know, transferring that to a dying church or an older generation, I think it
could really give some new life to the church. And I feel like this season we're in with COVID kind of really has almost done that in a natural and an
unfortunate way, but it is showing that, again, the church is still relevant, that people are desiring community.
And I think as long as people are looking for community, as long as people are looking for hope, that people are going to still seek the church. And
whether it is over a Zoom, whether it's actually when you actually when you gather or whether it is in an open outdoor space. But, you know, most
people of the ones that I did ask felt that there was a future in it. And I do believe, you know, despite all of the issues with LGBTQ and also with
women, it's still relevant. And a lot of people are taking note of that. They are definitely recognizing, OK, there is some stuff we have to look
at. We have to look under our own rug.
AMANPOUR: Well, we got a really great look and it was really, really interesting. So, Stacey Holman, thank you so much indeed.
Now, we continue the American story with the award-winning director, Lee Daniels, who is known for films like "The Butler" and the Oscar winning
"Precious." His latest offering "The United States Vs. Billie Holiday" depicts how the jazz legend ended up on the wrong side of the Federal
Bureau of Narcotics.
It was all down to her song "Strange Fruit," a potent protest against lynching. The bureau exploited Holiday's own drug addiction to try and
silence her. Here's Daniels speaking to our Michel Martin about that incredible story and his own struggles with addiction.
MICHEL MARTIN, CNNI CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Christiane. Lee Daniels, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.
LEE DANIELS, DIRECTOR, "THE UNITED STATES VS. BILLIE HOLIDAY": Thank you, Michel. Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: So, you know, on a new show when we're trying to figure out who we want to talk about on a news event we would say why this person on this
topic at this time. So, I wanted to ask you this about this film. Why did you want to tell this story at this time?
DANIELS: I do films that are in my spirit. You know? Whatever is in the air. And racism is interesting because unless -- you know, unless -- they
don't have to call you a -- to -- you can smell it in the air. Systemic racism is real. It's an aerosol. And you can't -- sometimes you can't touch
it. And I felt that there was something going on. There was this darkness that was in the air and that when the unmentionable got elected. And I knew
that something was going on. I felt it.
So, I was drawn to this material that Suzan-Lori Parks wrote based on this book that Jon Henry (ph) wrote and it was first time that I understood what
"Strange Fruit" meant. I was attracted to this script because it was a call to arms and it was something that I thought in my spirit I had to do
because it was in the air.
MARTIN: You know, it was interesting because I think a lot of people know that Billie Holiday was one of the great singers of all time or the great -
- certainly the jazz singers. I think people may know she struggled with addiction. But I don't know that a lot of people know of the government's
role in pursuing her and in making her such a focus of this intense, just obsession in a way with -- it leads to it some sort of bureaucrats.
Would you give us a little synopsis of the story that you're telling in this film?
DANIELS: It picks up with Billie first wanting to sing the song "A Strange Fruit" and the government not allowing her to sing that song. And her
manager and her then husband trying to convince her to not sing it. And so, we see this defiant woman wanting to sing a song that, we're (INAUDIBLE),
what is the song? "Strange Fruit." What is the song?
So -- and then we find out that the government is -- they don't want her to sing this song. This song is -- it kicks off the civil rights movement as
we know it. It's a call to arms.
MARTIN: So, for people who are not aware, who have perhaps never heard it what is "Strange Fruit" about?
DANIELS: "Strange Fruit" is about the lynching of black people. It is a song about the lynching of us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILLIE HOLIDAY: Southern breeze bear a strange fruit. Blood on the leaves and blood at the root. Black bodies swingin' in the Southern breeze.
Strange fruit hangin' from the poplar trees.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Billie was an international global superstar. I think the equivalent to Beyonce, you know, around the world. And they didn't want her
to sing the song. She refused to stop singing the song. So, they couldn't hire white agents to infiltrate Harlem. So, they hired black agents to
infiltrate Harlem to take her down, to stop singing the song. And she went to jail.
And it's really the -- what her life -- what happens to her life post singing this song to the end and how the government dogged her until her
death bed and how they -- we even question whether they were responsible for her death. Planting drugs on her. Anything they could to stop her from
singing the song. Paying off her boyfriends. The song could not be sung. Hoover did not want that song sung.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I cut "Strange Fruit."
HOLIDAY: No, Joe, I want to sing the damn song. All right? The club advertises it. People pay good money to come here and hear me sing it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've told you a hundred times people in high places don't want you singing that song.
HOLIDAY: And I've asked you over a hundred times, what people, Joe? What you looking at him for? I'm the one who pays you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The government.
HOLIDAY: The government. People like your buddy (INAUDIBLE), right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Quit it with that, huh.
HOLIDAY: The song means a lot to me, Joe.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) commy.
HOLIDAY: Right. Come. I don't care. All right? It's important to me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You ain't singing that song.
HOLIDAY: I'll sing whatever -- I want.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARTIN: I think, you know, it was blacklisted from the radio. It just -- what is it you think was so frightening?
DANIELS: Well, I think we know how frightening it was and then I even heard it throughout the years, I didn't really understand the significance
of it until I read the script. Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze. Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees. It is the ugliest
thing I have heard. You know, the ugliest poem that I've ever read and it's pungent and powerful and disturbing. It ain't pretty. And yet she made it.
I don't know why she made it. But she made it so that we couldn't take our eyes off her, Billie. And I was really happy that Andrew was able through
God really work miracles and re-enacting that.
MARTIN: Is it true you didn't really want her for the role at first? I think I read that, that you didn't want her. Is that true?
MARTIN: And why not?
DANIELS: It's a hard role. She is in every scene. Every scene practically. And she carries the film. And so, I really wanted to work with an actor,
someone who I had worked before and I couldn't take that chance. And I loved her voice. I knew that she could understand what it was like, you
know, as a vocalist. And I had gotten -- so I was down to the wire with a couple incredibly known actors that would have been able to pull it off,
but they were acting. Difference. You know, there is a difference. She transcended. It was a spiritual awakening for me watching her, her
And so, I met with her. I begrudgingly met with her. And she -- I think, the first thing that I realized, oh, my God, this woman is maybe right for
this role, is because she was nervous herself. She had such respect for Billie Holiday that she didn't know that she could do her justice. And I
had never seen anybody talk themselves out of an audition. I've been around many. I said, this is a good stunt. This girl is really -- she's a really
good actress. But she really was talking herself out of it. You know, I don't know whether I can do this. And I said, well, let me put you with an
acting coach. Let me put you with a vocal coach.
And I used my acting coach and vocal coach and I put them together. And the acting coach sent me a video of her getting into character. And her posture
is changing. There was a change in her eye. Her vocal had changed. I don't know what happened. And it was God speaking to me. I knew it was God
speaking to me. And so -- and then I think the day after that, I saw her at the academy awards where she shut it down singing and I knew this was the
girl to play this character.
MARTIN: I feel like your film is also generous toward Jimmy Fletcher who, as you described, was the -- a real person, a federal agent who was, you
know, the head of this team that went to infiltrate, you know, the Harlem scene as it were to be sort of -- he was supposed to be the agent of her
downfall. We have a clip with Jimmy and Anslinger who is the government official who is sort of determined to take Billie Holiday down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pardon me for asking. But why is that song so important to us?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hoover says it's unAmerican. You've heard those lyrics. They provoke people in the wrong way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The wrong way. What would you have me do, sir?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're a good liar. Now, I need you to go down to the prison and tell her you're sorry. She'll believe you. She's a sucker for
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DANIELS: A lot of black people are put in that position. My dad was. My dad was a cop at the height of the movement in Philadelphia. And I remember
him coming home crying and it was -- and I -- you know, I was terrified of my father. He was abusive. But I remember feeling so sad for him. I had
never seen him cry before. Ever seen him cry before.
So, I think that there are lots of Jimmy Fletchers out there, lots of us that are doing it out there. And I think there, again, is a greatness to
Jimmy, and that was the hardest role because it was walking the tight rope. It was the hardest role to direct. Because he -- I mean, he took her down.
And so -- and then so why is he showing up and why are we even liking this guy? And -- but we see that he was wrong. We see that he knows that he is
MARTIN: I wonder, in addition to being a character himself and being -- having been a real person who played a real role in the story, is there a
bigger metaphor here about the dilemma that some black people are confronting?
DANIELS: Oh, come on now. You know, Michel, what the bigger metaphor. I mean, come on. We are living it daily. We see it daily. You know, some of
these cops that were -- that are out here doing what they're doing, it's horrible.
You know, I was doing -- I'm thinking about doing a procedural. And what is a cop show right now? What is a cop show right now? The idea, are they the
good guys or the bad guys? And the stories that I'm hearing from black cops right now, I don't want to tell those stories. I do not want to tell those
MARTIN: Why not?
DANIELS: It's too sad. Too sad. You have some unhappy black men out here that are serving our country, serving our country in, you know, as cops.
MARTIN: One of the things that always strikes me about your films is the contrast between the beautiful and the terrible. I mean, on the one hand a
lot of your women characters are very strong and have their own sense of being and yet they are not immune from being brutalized. And yet -- I don't
know, that duality seems to interest you. I want to hear more about that. The duality of it. Both the beautiful and the terrible.
DANIELS: Because we are. We really are. We're not one, I don't think. I think that, you know, for as tough as I am, I'm really, really weak. You
know? I don't -- I'm tough and I'm weak. And I'm good and I'm bad. And I wake up every morning and I try to become -- I do something. I want to be a
good example for my kids. But I follow my (INAUDIBLE).
And so, I look at the imperfections in everyone and to try to find the perfection in the imperfection in all of us. And I think in particular in
my story, in black cinema, I just think that we are -- often times it's not -- we're the hero and that's that, or we're the bad guy and that's that.
But we don't live in that gray area. And I like to live in that. I like to settle in that gray area. And that gray area is very disturbing to many
MARTIN: You get things out of people, people saying, I'm not sure other directors could get. And why do they trust you so much to go to such to go
to such -- to go to these difficult places? Because you're asking them to take on and to channel a lot of pain. Why do you think they trust you to do
that with them?
DANIELS: I think because I am so raw and honest, Michel, in my day-to-day with them that I talk about my insecurities. I talk about my inability as a
director to find the scene that I'm scared, help me find the scene. And they see my fragility and my vulnerability, and that makes them vulnerable,
too. They know everything about me. There are no secrets. I have no secrets when I'm working with an actor. My life is an open book.
And when they are relaxed and open to receive, I yell, action and they're in it and they don't even know what happened. I don't even know what
happened. But we have found it. Because we are pure. We're honest with each other in the moment. So, everything you see is real. Very real.
MARTIN: Well, speaking of being very open, you have been very open about your own struggles around addiction in the past. I know you talked to me
about it in the past and I understand that subsequently you've even given up drinking. You're sober, completely sober now. And I wondered, did those
experiences find their way into the character, your experience with addiction? Because you've been highly productive the entire time. You were
going through all of this as she was. And I just wondered, did that experience find its way into the story?
DANIELS: Yes. I mean, how can you be successful -- I don't know how I did it. You know, I'm trying to heal myself. I was trying the only way I knew
how and I think the only way Billie knew how, and that was to anesthetize yourself from the pain of your childhood, of the darkness that you've
encountered. You're just trying to heal. You're trying to live.
And so, when you yank that away, that blanket away, that cover, it makes you feel good, it's terrifying. So, it's a dangerous thing for me to do
this film. Sober. I don't know whether it is good to be honest with you. I hope it's good. I don't know whether it's good. I can't -- I'll never going
to back and look at it. But I'm not as confident about it as I am now.
MARTIN: Really? Why?
DANIELS: Because I'm not boozed. If you're boozed, everything is good. You know what I mean? I'm not as confident as I am when I am using.
MARTIN: What allows you to finally release that? What allows you to finally let that go, the booze and the drugs? Because it sounds like you
really kind of stepped out on the plank and jumped. What made you -- what allowed you to do that?
DANIELS: What allowed me to do that was I just think it was time. It was just time. It was time. I'm 60. I've been drinking for all of my life. And
four years ago, I decided as we began on this journey with Billie to stop, completely. To live in the truth, because I knew that I had to tell this
story. I know that I had. For me to honor her, I had to tell it sober. That may not make sense to you. It may not make sense to you but it makes sense
to me. I could not honor this addict high (ph).
MARTIN: Lee Daniels, thank you so much for spending this time with us.
DANIELS: Michel, thank you so much for having me. I look forward to coming back again and again.
AMANPOUR: And how startlingly honest and vulnerable he was. "The U.S. Vs. Billie Holiday" will be streaming on Hulu from next Friday.
And that is it for now. Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.