tv Tavis Smiley PBS November 21, 2013 12:00am-12:31am PST
tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight a conversation with jeffrey wright. he is cursed starring in the second installment of the hunger games titled catching fire. also joined the cast of "boardwalked series empire." we are glad you joined us. a conversation with jeffrey wright coming up right now. ♪
>> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. wright'sffrey distinguished career includes a tony award-winning role in "angels in america." earlier this year he joined the cast of hbo's "boardwalk empire" playing a harlem-based gangster. he is starring with jennifer lawrence in the second hunger
games. the movie opens this weekend. you know? >> a shimmering. you see it. >> it's like glass. >> look around you, all the holograms and lights. >> because the force field is taking up too much energy. glad to have you back on. your talent is immense. you are so versatile. how did you enter "the hunger games." >> i was asked. director, a brilliant director francis lawrence and i had come close to working together on another of his movies he wanted me to be a part of.
he circled back to me on this. he said, take a look at the script. i would love to have you be a part of this. like many parents i was a little perplexed by the first movie, how a movie that features kids fighting to the death in a gladiatorial arena can pass as entertainment. then i delved a little bit further. i realized there was a much more complex social and political commentary that was being nude -- being made using the exploitation of children as a central point within it, and it is very fascinating stuff. it's not fluff. it's catching on in many ways classical mythological themes for jennifer's are. she goes on this heroic journey in the midst of this dystopian society. she really just wants to be home.
with her family, and her priorities are very universal. friendship, love. i was really drawn to it. thanent said, it is bigger bond. i said, i will take a look. tavis: you have started to intimate it, but what are some of those deeper truth you are goessting you saw that beyond kids killing kids? >> i think this is a great movie for kids and also parents to take with their kids. society, a
deterioration of our society potentially, it is escapist but not escaping entirely. there are still these themes that are being explored. issues of war, classism, and what is fascinating is the way thisne collins has written so that you can find yourself within these stories across party lines, across denominations. i have talked to some fans who are attracted to the story as they see the one percent versus the 99% dynamic they think is reflexive of something going on now. about corruptis government and say we need to be strong against the tyranny. universereated the which people can place themselves in. there are others who find other characters they relate to.
the strong girl at the center is attractive to many girls. she is brave. she is fighting for elemental things. she is not necessarily sitting on a political soapbox. there is any number of things. ofhink there is a lot cynicism in movie making particularly large-scale hollywood films. there is a lot of cgi. here we have all these elements, but at the same time you have a very human story, and the story doesn't give way to the scale of filmmaking. balanced, andl that is a credit to the director francis lawrence. there tavis: is something beautiful about it. tavis:one of the great things about your career is you seem to
bounce between not just movies and theater but a lot oster franchise. mentioned aunt. but a franchise. we mentioned that. is that by design, or does it just kind of happen? >> if there is any design it is improvisation. big movie, big action stuff, but it is always done with the degree of intelligence. politics of the bond thing is complicated, but there is always a sense of relevance to those stories. films -- i do other
films for other reasons. i have chosen some films because i wanted to stay close to home. i have two kids, and i put the brakes on film to some extent because i didn't want to be way from home for too long. i did some other things that drew my interest. it varies. there isn't one method. i try to find things i respond to. tavis: it must make sense that this point in your career to be sought out for some of these characters. to prepare for these conversations, and it's amazing the number of times i have had you on for conversations where the director sought you out. they wanted you for this particular character. do.es, they sometimes they regret it.
most of the time not. i have been doing this for a little bit now. if you don't know by now, what i might be able to do, there are a number of directors out there and other creative folks who have said we like what you do and want to work with you. i have to say if there are any people i do owe a good deal of thanks to in the industry, it's the artist. who directors or writers took an interest in my work. i haven't always felt welcomed by the business aspect, by the studios, although that changes as well. artists who for some reason gravitated toward my work. i don't take that for granted. tavis: i wonder what difficulty you have deciding what you want to do.
you wrestle with how you are going to explain why you took a particular role, as if somehow you owe me or the viewers an explanation. i guess you feel you have to justify to yourself why you take certain roles, given your politics. this stuff doesn't happen easily to you. you are such a complex human being who has views on the world. sometimes they are controversial, but i wonder, is the process of you choosing roles that fraught with difficulty? >> no, i don't suggest it's difficult. i try to find things that resonate for me, and not everything does. earlier in my career i did angels in america on broadway, and it spoiled me the idea that you could find work that was meaningful, that the actor
wasn't just a guy at the other end of the bar. tavis: i get the sense you are looking for stuff that has relevance and meaning. >> i am looking for stuff that connects to my interest. i was born in the middle of the 60's, grew up in washington, d.c. when i was a kid it wasn't free chris brown. it was free angela davis. that's where we were then. this is now. things were formative, and when i started acting, i thought you could bring those things to the table as well. the early movies i took in as a the i remember going to cinema and seeing claudine, dog day afternoon, all of these things that even if they weren't overtly political there was a .ocial resonance to them
they were connected to the day, and they weren't trying to mask society. it was a different era prior to the big block oster. you know the jobs and star wars and star wars era. that is still something i am attracted to. tavis: you mention washington. you had the nerve the other night to show up on a talk show for a conversation wearing a washington redskins hoodie, and you knew when you walked on that stage with that jersey on the debate about the name that you were stepping into the middle of, so tell me your thoughts about the name and whether the commissioner and the owner of the redskins should do something about the name of this team. beautiful, and
for me, growing up in d.c. about five minutes from our case to bem, i don't mean nostalgic about it. i was a kid who was in love with foot all, and the redskins in washington were the biggest thing going. they are bigger than the federal government. the city in a significant way, and they elevated. there is no mockery. for me that image was in fact subversive of mainstream exclusivist white american so i tookbolism, great pride in it, as opposed cowboy example, the imagery. the dallas cowboys are from dallas, so enough said, but the idea of john wayne, ronald
reagan riding off into the sunset was something i could never identify with, but as a young kid i didn't see something disparaging. i thought something i took great ride in and that there was a figure of color -- great pride in and that there was a figure of color was something meaningful to me, so what i take exception to is that you have a group of journalists who said you cannot even use the word. we can't even approach this word , but that it necessarily needs a slur, i as challenge. if you look at the origins of the word, there is a fantastic article in the washington post by a senior linguist at the smithsonian. find examples where it was native americans themselves who actually referred to themselves as redskins to differentiate
themselves from the white so what is inherently racist about red and skin together unless you aspire to you mayte skin, then see it as inferior? i never viewed it in that way, i don'tn't inc. fans -- think fans are disparaging when they say, he'll do the redskins. they aren't saying it in a mocking way. it's not a minstrel image. it's something that is very extent drawn some from portraits of sitting bull. i'm not going to sit here and say people shouldn't be offended, but i just want people to understand it doesn't necessarily have to be seen through the lens of a white racist aesthetic. your point notwithstanding, it makes perfect sense to me. i guess the question is whether
it matters how we view it, whether we be black or white. does it matter how we view it versus how they view it? i don't know the answer. white folk can have their opinions about the use of the word n--. >> there are some native groups saying it is offensive. there are others who say it is not. absolutely have to be sensitive to that, but i want to put the brakes on the suggestion there is some kind of newly fashioned clan rally people were associated with, and in fact there was some criticism that said the clan marched in saying, keep the redskins white. marched in post 68
d.c. out of the stadium they would have had hell to pay. there were some brothers who met them saying, we are just here to greet them. it has no relevance to what people were celebrating, but i understand it is intimidating. maybe the washington power jam would be a more apt name, which was the confederation of peoples in the d.c., maryland, virginia area. i would hate to see this native imagery completely disappear. in some regards, you take the land, the culture, the people are marginalized. now you don't even see any representation. i think it could be used as the opportunity. in an optical way but in a highly considered and mutually land way with certain
communities that are open to it. find a way between these mainstream community. there could be an opportunity for a new engagement, setting a new benchmark that could be an example for mainstream america, including the u.s. government. entirely sensitive to folks perception, but i think there are creative solutions that could be interesting. i want to move on. does this say anything about political correctness? one of my pet peeves, my white liberal friends i talked to, i find myself checking them from time to time. sometimes they are so well- they missed the issue by a mile sometimes,
trying to be politically correct. they end up missing it. since you raised this earlier, i wonder what does this say to you correctness in our era? >> sibley because you don't , theon the word redskin idea that you have somehow purged yourself of racism. missing the larger idea. my senior year of high school there was a guy who had written books on the drum. he invited me to go to a reservation in wisconsin to coach lacrosse. i played in high school and .ollege the program didn't go as well as we hoped. we were there for a few weeks.
there were a lot of challenges there. challenges,nomic but it wasn't that the washington redskins existed that those challenges were there. there was a letter written by members of congress suggesting the term washington redskins has caused low self-esteem in native american youth. was an absencee of educational opportunities. there were land issues. there were housing issues that needed to be addressed. it was depressing. there was alcoholism. i am hoping folks are equally concerned with those issues as their ideas of what this language represents and their struggles with the language, struggle is well with
the social and economic challenges the communities are think youd then i would be much more impact full and would be convinced it's not just about political correctness . you see it in africa as well. cony 2012 thing the country went crazy over. you had all of these young idealistic kids rallying around this idea. 30 or 40 billion people on youtube viewing this. the idea was we were going to go to uganda and hunt down this criminal who was representative of a progressive political in africa of a mayor today. i couldn't believe what i was seeing. economic no talk of
challenges. rather, it was criminalizing this black outlaw figure who has done some heinous rings, but there is a much easier sell to a white liberal audience, demonize this black face over there. that is a much easier sell than to suggest african people are willing economic partners with you, that they actually don't want military intervention so much as they want your investment dollar. that's a much harder sell. i agree sometimes we let political practice and what seems to be a progressive step really mask the underlying realities. go on about the issue but never get to the real point, which is contestation of humanity of the people. that is another issue.
have three minutes left. we get going. let me ask you, speaking of controversy. i am a big "boardwalk empire" fan. there are people who are concerned about whether the are you play is taking some creative brother.rom our the social media is burning up with this. relation with w except for-- dubois facial hair. he had magnificent racial hair. there has been some criticism around that. other criticism that we were trampling on the legacy of marcus garvey because he had a relationship, but i think if
if you look at, it, he is using the public virtuousness to mask his criminality, and i think we have seen there is no question about where he stands. he is not a hero. he is not an antihero. he is more villainess. i read that new testament. how dare they associate judas with my jesus? i don't understand why there is a sensitivity in the african- american community to reveal our flaws through dramatic storytelling, and i don't think we should shy away from the idea of a villain. he is a villain. tavis: the answer is because we are still longing for that allen's. -- balance. \ >> i understand, but the
villain can be reflect those of virtue. denies our humanity. >> that is why i love having jeffrey wright on the program. i am just getting started, and our time is up. you have the easy the weekend. opening this weekend is "the hunger games." it is an amazing cast. to be busy this weekend. we will be watching you all weekend. good to see you. come back anytime. angst for watching. as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with
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