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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  June 27, 2017 6:00am-6:31am PDT

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good evening, from largest, i'm tavis smiley, this talented actor joins us to discuss his filled "the united kingdom." this story describes an african king who married a white person. we're glad you joined us. david ayellowah.
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and by contributions to your pbs station, from viewers like you. thank you. ♪ ♪ i am pleased for welcome david ayellowah to this program, the talented actor stars and produced united kingdom, based on the true story of an interracial marriage to an african prince to a white british clerk who became his queen and uproar they faced in a world of apartheid. more on what they faced in the
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united kingdom. >> i'm very pleased to meet you, sir. >> i would speak to my nephew alone. refreshments will be provided for you in the house. >> over two decades of preparing you to be our king. and this is how you face me. a white woman by your side? are you trying to tear us apart? >> we have heard so much. >> why would you do this to us? >> be something that makes no sense to you. be somewhere. look at them. they are fighting because of you. >> when, david, did you first
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learn of this story? >> about seven years ago now. a producer i was working with handed me a book called color bar. he had the rights to that book and it was literally their image on the cover of that book, it just so arrested me. you know, the very proud person from africa, i just felt i should have known this story, why did i not know about these people? i want to know more, i read the book and that is where my obsession of telling the story began. >> what caused you to tell the story? >> well, as a person of african descent, i know the pride of which i have seen my father, my cousins, walk, and i very rarely see that on film.
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so it is an example in terms of that. a leader who loved his people, a well educated man who was worthy of the right to lead and had that taken away from him because of who he fell in love with. so there were many things about the story that just made me feel like now is the time where i have just enough fame to help that kind of story get told. >> we should ask you to explain that clip just a bit, because the audience saw his uncle being the person speaking to him. but you were the prince. >> yes. >> so you may want to explain how the uncle ended up being the guy in charge? >> yes, well his parents died when he was very young and so his uncle effectively kept the throne warm as it were, while serepsa was away becoming of age to rule. and understandably, you know, turning up with a white wife who supposedly is now going to be queen of the people of botswana
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land, you can understand the discussion, that you see happening there in that scene. >> when you read a piece like this, let me preface it by saying, and you know this better than i do as an actor, the pieces that resonate with me, the stories that we can tap into humanity and revel in the character, how did you go about approaching bringing this character to life from the standpoint of us seeing his humanity? not the race part, but his humanity, does that make sense? >> it makes a lot of sense, absolutely what i gravitated towards, a man who has been married 18 years, a big lover of love itself, that is what drew me to this story. and i think the best of us as human beings is the ability to love especially when that love
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is demonstrated and defined by sacrifice. and that is what these two people had and that is what they did. they loved each other and they sacrificed for the sake of that love. and that is a transcendent thing to see, that is a rare thing to see. we see lust in the movies, but actual love is rare to see and this is what these two people had, and they showed that by example. >> what do you make of the thought there are stories as of late that had these interracial stories. you had no idea seven years ago when you saw this that loving was going to be out around the time this came out. loving did well, ruth negga nominated for an academy award. this is going to be a great story, give me a sense of how these type of story lines fit
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into the hollywood of 2017? >> it's a very good question, and i you know, normally you would say okay, maybe there is something in the air. i think it's coincidence. i really do. because these kind of stories, there is very real resistance still to see them be told. there is very real resistance and fear around the depiction of an interracial marriage. >> did you have trouble getting it made? >> absolutely, yeah. any time you have a black protoganist at the center of a movie, there is a certain amount of trepidation, are people going to be? it is not usually what we'll see. prejudice is borne out of a fear of the unknown. so films like this have to overcome prejudice. which we don't see much of this. this is guess who is coming to
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dinner 50 years ago? i don't know, and it literally was 50 years ago this year. and there are people still who find interracial relationships problematic. and so if you're a studio, or financing it, the notion is i'm not sure people want to see that. >> is that more problems for domestic box office, international box office or both? >> it's about gate keepers, i don't think it's the audience, but i think it's about the people who run our industry whether they're here or internationally and them keeping an eye on their bottom line and therefore, you know, constantly wanting to go back to the well of what works time and time again. so any time you do something a little bit different you're running a risk. but what is art if it's not the desire and the necessity to show me something i have not seen before or maybe i haven't seen it from this angle. and i can't think of the last time where you have seen a
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character like seretse at the center of his own narrative. if it was not for the director, i can almost guarantee the scene would be from ruth's point of view or a white person's point of view. a journalist who happen s to be covering the marriage of the two. but we'll go to the heart of the story with no apolog and that sometimes is a bit scary for people. >> i am a big fan, so honored and delighted to know that she was helping to helm this thing. how did your producer on the story, how did that come to be? >> i had worked with amma 18, 19 years ago. one of my first jobs out of drama was a show she had written called brothers and sisters. i had become friendly with her, i went off and did my thing, she went off and did her thing and
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seeing how brilliantly she directed belle, very, very powerful film. again, a kind of narrative that we very rarely get to see. that was a real struggle for her to get that film made. what i was so impressed by in that film was the balancing act she managed with the love and the politics. and how the politics never overwhelmed the love and that is what you need for united kingdom. but also i am a big advocate for female directors. i just don't understand why not enough of them are getting to have their voice heard through film. and so you know everything about her as a potential director for this spoke to me, and thankfully when i made the call she said yes. >> speaking of female directors, your friend, ava, from selma, now nominated for a documentary. >> brilliant. >> yes, speaking of which, when we had this oscar so white year just one year ago you were outspoken, and i was glad that
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you were. >> uh-huh. >> i really appreciate it. i can tell you now face to face i really appreciated so much what you had to say, because it is so difficult for people and you understand this, and that is why i n -- know it was a risk f you to say, because it's one thing for me to say it. i'm not looking for a job from a director or agent or casting director. but it's so difficult often times for people in the industry who may feel how you feel to be outspoken in the industry, so thank you for having the courage to speak out. what do you think of the academy awards this year? >> i'm encouraged, but i would appeal to anyone and everyone not to get complacent, because i think infrastructurely, the changes that need to happen in order for this not to be an anomaly, haven't taken place, when i said it was a struggle to
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get it made, remain. the captains of industry all are of a certain demographic, and we are all unfortunately, it's just human nature, we are all subject to our own bias on what we want to see on the basis of who you are. and unless you have enough of a variety of people who are captains of industry, the pipeline will still be of a certain type. and until there is very real change in terms of the decision makers, years like this year are going to be i think a knonomola the thing i'm encouraged by, i just love that octavia spencer is going to be playing a nasa scientist. there is a narrative around the kind of things we tend to get celebrated for. you know, you can entertain, be a sports star, a musician, or be
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in a state of serving, a slave. the nasa scientist is black and female, that is great. not to denigrate anybody else, but that is progress. with films doing well, on paper, three african-american protagonists, that story, those faces, that is exactly the lie we have been fed for so long. who is going to watch it? who is going to be in it? the audience is talking to us. and we refuse to listen to them at our own peril. >> why do you think to your point, david, refusing to hear them at your own peril, why is it that no matter how often, and i say often, i know it's infrequent. it's infrequent that we get projects like these, when it happens and the audience speaks so loudly and boldly it it seems to me it would then get heard.
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apparently they didn't hear it. how do you have a successful film like hidden figures and in hollywood not hear that so that we can see more of that in the years to come? >> well, prejudice and bias doesn't make any sense, it's not rooted in common sense. it's rooted in fear, or you're either operating in fear or faith. i don't think there is any middle ground. the filmmakers, the people who really push these narratives towards getting made have to operate on faith. it's faith on the fact i would get to play dr. king eventually that meant i would start with that project for seven years. it's faith in this narrative, the united kingdom that we got it done in six years. and faith i do think is a more powerful force than fear. i'm optimistic for the future, but you know, there is a very ugly marriage between commerce and the creative.
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and to have what we do, and especially specific voices like amma's, like ava's, to have their voices and their platform requires not just faith but support and advocacy. and if you don't have people who it is incumbent upon them to platform those voices they're just going to turn the other way and do what they know to be true. so i feel very blessed and very privileged to be someone who has just enough notoriety, just enough faith to push for these stories to be told. and that there are filmmakers like ava and amma who can meet without faith and produce such great work. >> so into what is your faith rooted, or put another way, how do you sustain your hope? >> well, i'm a christian. and you know my life is very much built on the rock that is jesus christ.
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i mean, you know when i talk about love being sacrifice, that, to me is where that flows from. i mean, no force before now or in the future is going to come close to what i believe jesus did on the cross. and so you know, for me, personally that is my example. that is where it flows from. that is where i listen, you know. and so what you said earlier about stepping out and speaking my truth is borne out of the fact that what is for me will be for me. >> when i first read the script in 2007 and god told me i would play that role on 24th of july, 2007, the director attached to that film at that point said no,
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not dr. king and rejected me, but god had spoken to me and said that is partly why i was able to stick with it and it went from a situation i couldn't have said being the first director to having select the director who actually made it. when you have had that happen in your life it encourages you to speak your truth, to be in your truth because you know what is for you will be for you. >> how does your faith, david, or other factors impact the choices that it's the stuff you don't do early in your career that determines how you will be minted or not in this town, i think he is absolutely right about that. yet one of the things i celebrate about your work is that the just that you're a brilliant thespian, but the choices you have made and one
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can hear now the thoughtful nature of the process you go through to get to these decisions. tell me more about what you go about making these choices and why your resume looks as stellar as it does. >> thank you for that. there are a few filters which the choices i make have to go through. like i say, my faith is one. i'm a father of four. and i want to be able to have the choices i make be synonymous with what i teach my children. and so you know they tend to i hope be meaningful about something. i'm very happy to be in films that are purely entertainment. but i won't knowingly do anything that i deem to be damaging to society. damaging to a young mind that glamorizes the darker side of life. i do think that the cultural impact of movies is undeniala e
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undeniable. i think the fear that i have to be fed by, does the project say something? and very important to me. the people, who is involved, who do i have the opportunity to learn from on this project. because being an actor you never arrive. there is no destination, there is only the learning because at the end of the day you're portraying the most complex thing on earth. the human being. and that -- you can be a student of humanity forever and not truly arrive at a conclusion. and so i look to work with people who are better than me in order to consistently improve. >> in fairness, you're not just playing human beings although indeed you have. you're playing some iconic human
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beings in this country, martin king, across the globe. and you don't seem to be intimidated by playing these larger than life real life figures. >> no, because at the end of the day they are just human beings. you know, dr. king never thought of himself as an icon. quite the opposite. and that, to me, is what is so fascinating about him and about playing him. if you go into playing dr. king, and in your mind you think i'm playing an icon you will fail. because at the end of the day what the audience is looking for is how is he like me? what is it about his choices, his journey, that i can tether myself to and stick with for a two-hour narrative. and so everything i tried to do with playing dr. king or in playing suetse kama, what is the
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humanity behind this sort of larger than life scenario that these people find themselves in. that is what warrants a movie. otherwise make a documentary, if that is what documentaries can do, i think people go to the movies to see themselves. that is to show you what is in the movie. >> how much deeper into producing will you get? again, is this a project you just wanted to act and produce because you just got it done, how much more will coming years? a lot more, i refuse to be someone who just complains about the representation of black people or the lack of representation of female directors or the misconstrued representation of african movies. if i have a plrm atform to chan
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it i'm going to do the best i can and that means producing and being in the driving seat, fortunately i have great relationships with filmmakers who worked with me and want to work with me again. movies i have done have made money. and that's a part of it. it helps, yeah, and also look, as an actor you're going to blow hot sometimes and cold sometimes. but i love story telling so at a point where people are less interested in seeing me behind screen i'll be behind the scenes still trying to get stuff made. >> speaking of loving, to tell the story, what do you think will help make the story lines, that people will talk about once they see a united kingdom. >> i really hope that people come away recognizing and relating to the power of love. you know, that can sound a little corny, but it is a force that is undeniable. and with these two people it cut through prejudice, and nations
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and tribes. it cut through their own families and their resistance to them. and it made botswana a better nation. i've been there. and they don't recognize race in the same way that just over the border in south africa, as we know, it's so much about race. that just goes to show the power of love. the power of changing the perception around who should be together and who should not. >> the son of this relationship is the current president of bostwana. >> he is. >> you have seen the film. >> i had an incredible experience. but we were shooting the film and we were in the middle of it doing a scene, i was behind the monitor. and rosamund was shooting a
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scene with terry fetter, and we hear this pop, pop, pop, pop. and it's a helicopter landing. i thought what is going on? before we know it, the president steps out of his helicopter and has a certain bearing, he is the president after all. he watches rosamund do this scene, and he just melts, we greet him. and he said i never thought i would see my parents again. and he just literally before our eyes became like this 8-year-old boy. and thankfully he loves the film and loves that he gets to see his parents again, but also the love that they shared. very truthfully depicted. people who know them and the writer did a lot of study in terms 6 research. what you see in the film is very close to what happens. >> this is why i love hollywood
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at its best, i love the work of david ayello, a big-time actor and producer as well. congratulations on this film, david, it is about the power of love, you are right. i'm honored to have you on the program. that's our show tonight. thank you for joining us, and as always, keep the faith. for more information on tedted today's show, visit tavis smiley. >> hi, i'm tavis smiley, visit us on the show next time with niklas benedditti. thank you, we'll see you then.
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and by contradictiibutions r pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
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>> good evening from los angeles. i'm tavis smiley. we have a conversation with trevor noah from the daily show. stories from a south african childhood. we are glad you have joined us. trevor noah is here in just a moment. >> and by


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