*Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi, the daughter of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), spoke to EUR/Electronic Urban Report about her latest HBO documentary that brings together all of the living U.S. presidents and vice presidents, senators and A-list celebrities in an unabridged reading of The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Narrated by David McCullough, Pelosi’s documentary special titled “The Words That Built America” received a truly bipartisan show of support and, and as she pointed out, “is the only document that every living politician would agree to read.”
Those agreeing to participate in a reading of the documents that created our democracy include: Samuel L. Jackson, Meryl Streep, Jack Black, Common, Anderson Cooper, Bryan Cranston, Robert De Niro, America Ferrera, Morgan Freeman, Sean Hannity, Neil Patrick Harris, Caitlyn Jenner, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Toby Keith, Megyn Kelly, Kid Rock, Yo-Yo Ma, Rosie O’Donnell, Vince Vaughn and Kerry Washington.
EUR contributor Ny MaGee chatted with Pelosi about how she was able to get more than 50 senators, Donald Trump and several other influential media personalities to participate.
“Samuel Jackson showed up and read the whole thing — recited the Declaration of Independence from beginning to end,” Pelosi shares.
Adding, “It’s obvious that it’s easy to find a Hollywood liberal. It’s not so easy to find a Hollywood conservative.”
Check out the rest of our conversation below.
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How challenging was it to finagle these various personalities from across the political spectrum?
Alexandra: This was a very broadcasting call. I sent out an email to all the living presidents — just a formal letter: To Who It May Concern, I’m doing a reading of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. If you want to participate, we’re filming at the HBO studio in New York, we’re filming on Capitol Hill, we’re filming in Los Angeles, you could come and show up and read. For the Hollywood types, the Declaration of Independence — for the Constitution, the Senators and the presidents, and everybody agreed. Everybody who showed up is in the show. Some people were like, “Why did you pick The Rock and Meryl Streep and Caitlyn Jenner?” Because that’s who showed up. We asked them and they showed up. I guess they all share the same love of the document. We were very broad. We sent it to all the publicists of all the big stars and they had the liberty to ask all their clients and that’s who wanted to participate. So I think the people who did show up had a real interest in the subject. The material spoke to them.
That was part of what was interesting to me, was to see who‘d show up. We really wanted it to be balanced politically. I didn’t want it to be a laundry list of folks who spoke at the Democratic Convention. I wanted to have other types that you wouldn’t expect, like Vince Vaughn. He could teach a Master Class in American politics. He’s so knowledgeable about politics and he’s on the conservative spectrum.
It was easy to do all the living presidents and vice presidents, The senators, I did 25 and 25 and then I cut it off. But I do have equal distribution per party and I had to go for the leadership of the party, like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. And as far as the celebrity factor, there are some that are not political like Jack Black, he’s not political at all. Hopefully, everyone will feel represented. It’s not a Democrat or Republican thing. This is the connective tissue, This document is what connects them all.
The one thing I kept saying when I was in the Senate was I couldn’t get 50 U.S. Senators to agree to read the menu at the Senate cafeteria. You can’t get 50 U.S. Senators to agree on anything. The one thing they all agreed on was the Constitution. That’s the one thing that brings them all together. Which is funny because I had them lined up to come in and read. Democrat, Republican, one back-to-back, and it was funny to me how they all got along. People have this impression of Washington D.C. like they walk through the hall sitting on each other, but they’re colleagues and there’s a real beautiful spirit. If you’re around Washington, it’s not as nasty as it looks on cable news. There is really much more of a bond between colleagues when you’re working in the Senate.
Why is now, more than ever, the perfect time to reexamine the words that built America?
Alexandra: Because I feel like America is at war with itself. It feels like we’re on the verge of a civil war and after the election, it felt like, no matter who won, half the country was going to be disappointed. The county has become so polarized. So the idea here was to try to bring people together. What do we have in common still? What do we all still agree on? What do we love about this country? That was the mission here.
And your decision to use kids to recite the amendments.
Alexandra: It didn’t start that way. I had Gabby Giffords reading the Second Amendment but then it became too political. I was gonna have Eminem read the First Amendment and Gabby Giffords read the Second Amendment and then it became too political. I don’t know that Mitch McConnell would want to be in a documentary with Eminem. I didn’t want there to be any tricks. I promised people that we’re doing a straight read in earnest — this is an honest reading. I didn’t want to end it with a trick. The amendments are the most controversial part. That’s the part that everybody fights on and is still being disputed in the Supreme Court every day. So I think it was the easiest way because they are America’s next generation of leaders. I think it was just the easiest way to communicate the information without politicizing the amendments.
What is it about the human condition that you enjoy exploring through your work?
Alexandra: I was born in San Francisco, I live in Manhattan. That’s my worldview. So it’s not a secret where my politics are. I enjoy going out into what Sarah Palin called ‘real America.’ I’ve found it much more interesting than staying in my liberal bubble. I like going out into America and hearing other people’s perspectives. I don’t need to live inside my own bubble. The 11 films I’ve made for HBO show that. I made a film about the Tea Party before the Tea Party was the Tea Party. It’s called “Right America Feeling Wrong.” And I was genuinely giving the Tea Party a microphone before they had one. I have felt a responsibility to go listen to people that live outside my liberal bubble. I try to unite and not divide. I’m not a provocateur. I’m not a bomb-thrower. I’m genuinely trying to bring other people’s perspectives to HBO, and not just what people think in Greenwich Village.
I love Greenwich Village but I don’t think all my neighbors are the most… New York is supposed to be the intelligentsia of the world but people ask me so many questions about the Constitution I’m amused. People say, “Oh, Trump is going to be impeached.” And I say, “Read the Constitution. Do you know what you’re saying? Impeach, that’s a big word for you to throw out there. Do you even know how that works? Go read the Constitution.” I think everybody could learn from a good read of the Constitution. And, because my husband’s an immigrant who came here legally, he would tell you it’s each person’s responsibility. You should have to read the Constitution. I made a film called “Citizen USA” a few years ago about my husband becoming a U.S. citizen and I’ll tell you, the people that I met being naturalized as Americans are so loyal to the founding documents. They read them at 4th of July parties. Most people born in America take this for granted. They’re spoiled. They don’t realize how good we have it here.
My husband is a Dutch television correspondent and he spends a lot of time in what they call ‘real America,’ and he says to every person living in New York City, “You can not comment unless you go spend a day at a Trump rally. Go to a tailgate party. Hang out and talk to people and then you’re allowed to have your opinions.” My husband has dragged my kids, who are 9 and 10-years-old, to more Trump rallies than probably most Trump supporters. He loves to go because he thinks you need to understand this country by going to Trump rallies and meeting people — understating why they love Trump and why they support Trump, even now after all the crazy things he’s said and done as president. So I think that there’s a real divide between the two political parties and I would like to have a role somewhere in the middle of all that.
Considering how critical Trump has been of your mother, describe your experience interviewing him for this project.
Alexandra: I don’t think he knew my last name. I was invited to the White House. I’d made 11 films for HBO, so I don’t know if they read the email that closely. My husband was with me as my producer and he said, “They had no idea who you were. Because he would have said something to you.” The day I filmed was the day after the State of the Union. Nancy Pelosi was calling for Jeff Sessions to resign and I was standing with Donald Trump in the East Room. There’s no way, if he knew my last name, he would have let the moment go. So I think he was very professional because he didn’t bring it up. Either he knew and he didn’t say anything, which was very professional, or he didn’t know and I didn’t go out of my way to say it to him. I mean, I introduced myself but I don’t think he listens very closely. He doesn’t pay attention to women. He didn’t pay attention to me. I was the director of the film and I was giving direction but he didn’t really pay attention to me. If he did he would have heard my last name and maybe kicked me out. I’m just happy he didn’t know who I was.
With social media, the internet, blogs, and 24/7 media coverage, how is the evolution of journalism affecting how you cover the news?
Alexandra: I spent 10 years as an NBC producer. My first job out of school. I started out as an AP then moved up to a field producer. I have a lot of experience as an actual professional journalist so I have a lot of respect for the institution of journalism. That said, I do think President Trump has a valid point when he mocks fake news because the mainstream media invented Donald Trump. I really think that they needed clicks and he was good for clicks and if they hadn’t given him so much attention for being the bully, for being the big-mouth, we wouldn’t have him as president. So I feel like he’s their Frankenstein. They invited him and now they’re complaining that he’s “destroying us.” Yes, you invented him and now he’s eating you alive. Don’t be so surprised, he never respected you — but you knew that. It was a very incestuous relationship when he was running for president and they were going for the clicks.
What do you hope viewers take away from “The Words That Built America”?
Alexandra: Because it’s 4th of July, I’m hoping that everyone can just exhale for a minute and remember what they do live about this country. And maybe it will make people feel a little more positive about their government. I think we’ve gotten to such a nasty place. I feel like our politics have gone to such a toxic place and the environment in Washington is so toxic. My goal here is to unite people and maybe not feel so bad about their government. For one day a least.
“The Words That Built America” premieres July 4th at 7:00 pm on HBO.