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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  October 16, 2013 12:00am-12:31am PDT

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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight, a conversation with the rector steve mcqueen. his latest film is based on the real-life experience of a free man that spent more than a decade as a slave after being kidnapped from his home in new york state. the movie is touted as a front- runner for major awards this year and is being referenced with other films like the butler , about the complexity of the african-american experience. we are glad you have joined us with director steve mcqueen. coming up right now.
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>> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. directoritish-born steve mcqueen decided to tackle the story of a freeman forced into slavery after being kidnapped from his home in new york state because he felt that the horror of slavery would told from anen
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african-american point of view. it is generating outstanding reviews and is touted as a front-runner. >> we get traveling. or we are going to die trying. survival is not about certain death, it is about keeping your head down. we are lost. i want to survive. i want to live. tavis: there were so many
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questions that came to mind. in no particular order, how does a story like this get lost? i suspect there are tons of stories that we could see. such a powerful story to never have been told. i was actually upset with myself. states,wn in the united , i realized no one i knew read the book. had to make this book into a film. what made you believe that you could put on film such an uncompromising depiction of slavery i?
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>> it was just a case of doing it. i don't know. for me, it was a no-brainer that had to be done. behind the back to do it. storys is not the kind of that gets told by hollywood. i can list any number of other things for this kind of uncompromising depiction. slavery is just not on top of that list of film. >> i just did it. enough to seeky brad pitt. tavis: what is your sense at the moment of this film?
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>> i wanted to put it on the map. it seems like people in general turned a blind eye to it. holding the camera up and pointing in any direction. look at this. to court theeople debate. society.hing in believe yout you put on the table for us to debate? forget.again, never where we are, hopefully where we
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can go in the future. and with this sort of unfortunate situation, the one 50th anniversary of the march on washington. this sort of perfect storm, i think. you just ran a list like you are a black american. >> i am an internationalist. tavis: is this an indictment because it was made by someone who happens to not be african- american? >> i don't like to make the distinctions on nationalism.
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grenada is where malcolm x's mother was born. it is not american history. it is world history. tavis: this is one of the debates that take up on social media. we are all glad that steve mcqueen did it, but why didn't somebody stateside do this. >> i don't know and i don't really care. i think it is a waste of time.
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we can talk about something more tangible and more worthy and more practical. i was just reading in the new york times a piece where you recorded the subject of barack obama came up. thatnotion of the fact there have been any number of films from the help to the butler. the article for those that did not see it, the sense of how with obamaas to do allowing these films to be made at the timing of it. people wanting to talk.
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it allows authority. it doesn't stop. all kinds of problems and all kind of stories can be told. >> give me a sense of the way you chose to shoot this. two or three scenes come to mind on the face for a while. you wanted us to stay present.
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>> there is a one-shot sequence. it is much more interesting. you can sort of exhaled. i want to detention to be kept up at that moment until the end cuthe scene when she is down after she has been beaten. the whole idea for me of that technique is because it was hand and glove.
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it was swimming faster and faster until we got in the eye of the storm when she is being beaten. and to hold it, what she is holding on to, her life symbolized by a piece of soap. that is when we cut. it is about keeping the tension in the room and not letting go because that is what the scene really requires. >> is there a point where the story is this true and this risk --here you run the i am not critiquing, just asking a question. do you make it too difficult for the audience to swallow? >> you have to balance it both. are five or six sequences of actual physical violence.
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tavis: but you did not donate down. -- tone it down. >> a film about slavery. to make a film about slavery, o.u have two tavis: it is not rocket science, but it is in the midst of all of that drama and degradation and volatility. it is interesting to see the other characters that are socially redemptive in the way they behave.
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>> it is just not how it happened. when he is on the boat and his friend is set free, he can turn around to be able to see how he is and say goodbye. it is not about black-and-white. redundance and the situation of america. it is about the history of america. it is pretty important subject matter. also, at the same time, it is a
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film about love. undeniable love. we are sitting here because we had people survive. that situation for us to have that conversation, this is a story about love. tavis: when you first read this book, what did you make of this man? turn of the page, i was transfixed. that is what he is holding onto. i couldn't believe it. tavis: how did you discover the book? , theyre was this idea
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came up with the idea that when they got it, i could not believe it. i thought people would notice, but they didn't. she is a world hero. it is surprising and shocking. slavery of someone captured
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and released -- tavis: i am an african-american. scholars will tell you that it is a relatively well-known slave narrative amongst them. and why we have never heard frank?ut we know annnne >> when it came out, it was 27,000 copies. out. tom's cabin came there can be more than one narrative, but this one was a
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clip stand buried. tavis: you flipped on me. >> it is kind of astonishing. it is what we have, in some ways. i find it astonishing. in ascratching my head way. what is possible is how this can be put into schools as required reading.
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tavis: give me some sense of how the casting helps make this thing really work. >> [indiscernible] because there is some sort of genteelness, a certain kind of -- [indiscernible] guy?: you knew he was your -- he carried me me through the narrative.
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the actor out there, there was the hunt for patty. tavis: what were you looking for that you were desperately trying to find. >> and innocence and grace. it can be sort of weathered in a way. are openme time, you to look at any and everyone. a lot officult because those actors don't get a chance. it was tied up in that as well. lady who was just amazing.
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i brought her to new orleans and that was it. a star is born. she was absolutely incredible. ares: an actress that we rather familiar with. it takes you two seconds to realize who she is. >> yes, black people owned slaves. married to a slaver. and she owned slaves. she is the refuge. she is this made in character. -- maiden character. there is one line in the book. john ridley, i said, i really
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need this woman to have a voice. it is such an important character. partyke of having a tea and what was developed. was it like on the very difficult days of shooting certain scenes? how did you navigate that personally? that you needed to get what you needed to get. >> we had a wonderful family and community onset.
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tavis: i have had puaaul giamat. to see him play that role brilliantly, he is such an evil and ruthless person. >> there were a couple of things .o do
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and not particularly pleasant stuff. someone was asking me a question the other day. what was it like when you found out about slavery? i had some sort of conscience about it. shame and embarrassment. imagine as a child, having that in your psyche at such an early age. it is how your present today. they are in the context of where i am now. all this isrony of
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that we go back to the question about the era of obama. and what you have brilliantly done there. you now have an african-american president. we are past that now. >> we don't want it to happen again.
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the presence of mental health, and the case of doing something about it. the conversation doesn't have to go that way. done your part and everybody is talking about this project. you will do yourself a great disservice if you don't see "12 years a slave." i guarantee you there will be some chitchat about this. the director is steve mcqueen. >> thank you very much. tavis: that is our show for tonight. thank's for watching and 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 musician robbie robertson about his latest venture, a book about
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music changing the world. that is next time, we will see you then. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. pbs.
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