01.24.2020

How Tim Robbins’ New Play Confronts Xenophobia

From “The Shawshank Redemption” to “Dark Waters,” Tim Robbins’ career has been a constant dialogue between advocacy and artistic expression. His most recent play, “The New Colossus,” pays homage to the immigrants and refugees who came to America to find a better life, and in the end shaped the nation. He joins the program to discuss this endeavor and his wider career.

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: It’s really quite moving particularly in this age where suddenly the fear and the hatred of the foreigner is dominant in our culture and in our democracies even. What made you want to do that, and now?

TIM ROBBINS, ACTOR: Well, we started about four years ago. We were — it was during — five years ago around the Syrian crisis. We started talking amongst ourselves, because at the time, I remember, there’s a lot of rhetoric in the media about these are potential terrorists. And so the play “New Colossus” is 12 actors speaking in 12 different languages from 12 different time periods telling the story of their immigration. And, yes, it is a story that unifies us. It is our story. Every time we do it in Los Angeles, at our theater, we have a little map in the lobby, and we ask people to put magnetic pins in this map of the world to where their ancestors came from, and every night in our small theater in Los Angeles, the entire world is represented. And it started to — we started to understand how incredibly diverse our audiences were, but how — what a gift that was and how, probably only place in the world that you could see that. And so then, you know, at the end of the play, I come out and then I ask, will you share a story with us of a relative. And the stories we hear are incredible. Incredible. A woman says I want to tell you the story about an American soldier. He was part of a troop liberating concentration camp at Buchenwald. And he sees this woman start to falter, and so he starts to run towards her to catch her before she falls. I mean, the Sergeant yelled at him. Stand down, soldier. No. He didn’t listen. And he caught the woman before she fell and carried her to the field hospital, got in trouble. And then when he was out of trouble, went and visited this woman, and this woman at our theater tells me that was my mother and my father.

AMANPOUR: Wow.

ROBBINS: These stories are out there. This story — and at this divisive time, a time when we’re finding so many reasons to have differences, to be able to be in an audience and to have the audience share this experience with us, but then to share their own experience, and to understand that the people they’ve been sitting with for the last hour and a half, share a story with them. Whether it’s this generation or five generations ago, we all have this common DNA.

About This Episode EXPAND

Scott Jennings and Alec MacGillis analyze Senator Mitch McConnell’s political journey and imprint on the United States. “Shawshank Redemption” actor Tim Robbins tells Christiane about his career and most recent play “The New Colossus.” Four-time Grammy Award-winning musician Esperanza Spalding tells Walter Isaacson about her newest solo album “12 Little Spells.”

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