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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Monday, March 3, 2014

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March 3, 2014

Guest: David Rohde, Nia-Malika Henderson, Mike Masterson; Greg Hampikian;
Steve McQueen

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: When may I shoot a student? That`s
the question a college professor asked in a "New York Times" op-ed last
week now that the legislature in his state wants to allow college students
on campus to have guns.

And Republicans have always blamed Russian invasions on Russian
leaders -- until now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We start with the fast-moving events out of

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The situation has not stopped lawmakers from
ratcheting up the criticism.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You do have a lot of criticism of the president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And pointing fingers.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: This is the ultimate result of a
feckless foreign policy.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Every time the president
goes on national television --

MCCAIN: Where nobody believes in America`s strength anymore.

GRAHAM: -- everybody`s eyes roll, including mine.

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R), MICHIGAN: Putin is playing chess.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER NYC MAYOR: Putin decides what he wants to
do, and he does it in half a day.

ROGERS: I think we`re playing marbles.

GIULIANI: That`s what you call a leader.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s what you call a dictator.

GIULIANI: That`s what you call a leader.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HARDBALL: Shoot first, ask questions later for Rudy

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You do have a lot of criticism of the president,
saying that he needs to take stronger action.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t believe that criticism is justified.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What conceivable stronger action could be taken?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tough sanctions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Economic sanctions. Aid to the Ukrainian people.
Talk about the expansion of NATO.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The last thing we need to do here is just talk
around in circles.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Obama is sending Secretary of State
John Kerry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Secretary of State John Kerry to Kiev tomorrow
as a show of support for the Ukrainian government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The real problem today is Vladimir Putin`s.

SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: What is happening today
is a dangerous military intervention.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vladimir Putin has a Ukraine that is coming apart.

POWER: It is an act of aggression. It must stop.


O`DONNELL: Today, it was the Obama administration and the Western
world versus Vladimir Putin.

President Obama just finished a meeting with his National Security
Council which included John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, and Susan Rice.

Earlier today, the president was carefully restrained in his public
assessment of the situation.


in Crimea are deeply troubling. And Russia has a large army that borders
Ukraine. But what is also true is that over time, this will be a costly
proposition for Russia. And now is the time for them to consider whether
they can serve their interests in a way that resorts to diplomacy as
opposed to force.


O`DONNELL: The president wisely left the tough talk to his foreign
policy team.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: You cannot behave this way in the
21st century and sit around the table of the normal entities and pretend
that life is as usual. It is not going to be as usual.

If Russia wants to be a G8 country it needs to behave like a G8

He is not going to have a Sochi G8. He may not even remain in the G8
if this continues. He may find himself with asset freezes on Russian
business, American business may pull back. There may be a further tumble
of the ruble. There`s a huge price to pay.

The United States is united. Russia is isolated. That is not a
position of strength.


O`DONNELL: At the United Nations today, Ambassador Samantha Power
spoke directly to her Russian counterpart.


POWER: Russia has every right to wish that events in Ukraine had
turned out differently, but it does not have the right to express that
unhappiness by using military force or by trying to convince the world
community that up is down and black is white. The bottom line is that for
all of the self-serving rhetoric we have heard from Russian officials in
recent days, there is nothing that justifies Russian conduct.

As I said in our last session, Russia`s actions speak much louder than
its words. What is happening today is not a human rights protection
mission, and it is not a consensual intervention. What is happening today
is a dangerous military intervention in Ukraine. It is an act of
aggression. It must stop.


O`DONNELL: Of course, some congressional Republicans who have nothing
constructive to say about what America should do in this situation found a
way to blame President Obama instead of president Putin for the invasion of


MCCAIN: This is the ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy
where nobody believes in America`s strength anymore.

GRAHAM: Every time the president goes on national television and
threatens Putin or anyone like Putin, everybody`s eyes roll, including
mine. We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression.


O`DONNELL: No word on whether Lindsey Graham`s eyes rolled today when
President Obama told Congress what it needs to do.


OBAMA: I`ve heard a lot of talk from congress about what should be
done, what they want to do. One thing they can do right away is to work
with the administration to help provide a package of assistance to the
Ukrainians, to the people and that government. And my expectation is that
I`ll be able to get Congress to work with us in order to achieve that goal.


O`DONNELL: Some Republicans in Congress responded with traditional
bipartisan unity in the face of a foreign crisis. House Majority Leader
Eric Cantor issued a statement saying, "I have asked our house committee
chairman to develop plans to assist the government of Ukraine but put
pressure on Russia and reassure allies throughout the world that the United
States will not stand idly by. I have spoken to administration officials
to express our interest in working together to ensure that President Obama
has the appropriate tools to impose real consequences on Russia for this

Today on FOX News, Rudy Giuliani took time away from defending Chris
Christie to praise Vladimir Putin.


GIULIANI: Putin decides what he wants to do, and he does it in half a
day. He makes a decision, and he executes it. Quickly. Then everybody
reacts. That`s what you call a leader.

President Obama, got to think about it, he`s got to go over it again.
He`s got to talk to more people about it.


O`DONNELL: Ah, yes. A man whose governing jurisdiction never
extended beyond New York harbor, who doesn`t understand the difference
between a leader and a dictator.

Joining me now, Steve Clemons, Washington editor at large for "The
Atlantic" and an MSNBC contributor. And David Rohde, investigative
reporter for "Reuters".

Steve, on the political front I was struck by Eric Cantor today, whose
statement reads as if it was something issued in the 1970s or the 1980s in
congress whenever there would be a foreign crisis or hot spot involving the
Soviet Union, it had that bipartisan unity. It was exactly out of the old
playbook of the way Congress would support a president in this situation.

STEVE CLEMONS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I mean, we should applaud Eric
Cantor for that tone and posture that he set and send it over to John
McCain and Lindsey Graham to remind them that in these times of crisis,
with a nation that has near-term memory of being one of the world`s great
superpowers and wants to be again that there are real consequences.

Russia has nuclear weapons. Russia has a lot of pressure points in
this that, you know, we have little leverage over.

And I think what Eric Cantor said in terms of laying out the various
options and being supportive of the president was really terrific.

At the same time I think when Lindsey Graham said his eyes roll every
time the president begins to talk about these issues, it was really a
disservice and very disrespectful to the office of the president in a time
of national crisis when Obama is trying to be very levelheaded, not trying
to overreact but not trying to under-react either. And that`s when there
should be an opportunity for the executive branch and the legislature to
come together.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what the Ukrainian ambassador said today
at the U.N. Security Council about what Russia has told the Ukraine about
why they have invaded.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We still have not received any compelling answer
to the simple question, why are the military forces of Russian federation
illegally occupying Crimea and brutally violating international law and
bilateral agreements?


O`DONNELL: David Rohde, how hard is it for Russian diplomats to come
up with some form of an answer to this country about why they`ve rolled in?

just created this fiction about what`s happening in Ukraine, that Russians
are under threat, and there`s absolutely no evidence of that from
journalists on the ground. And it`s scary, this sort of Cold War rhetoric.

And this is really about Putinism. It`s a form of government. It`s a
mentality that actually sees democracy and sees all of our bickering as
evidence weakness. This is, you know, where I actually agree with Steve,
that we`re all dithering and divided in the West and when we get caught up
in partisan games in a crisis like that, it actually encourages people like

So, you know, he thinks we`re not going to respond. He thinks we`ll
pick fights with each other over short-term politics and he`ll get away
with this.

O`DONNELL: Steve, Richard Haass said something today that -- he said,
"Whenever you have a crisis like this, it`s important to take a step back
and recognize that you`re dealing with a square on a chess board, not the
entire board."

Some of the things that are on the entire board with Russia include
negotiations on Iran`s nuclear program, getting chemical weapons out of
Syria, getting North Korea back to the negotiating table, and talk about
the difficulty of concentrating on any one item on this chess board with
Russia at the possible expense of other items.

CLEMONS: Well, I happen to agree with Richard Haass on everything
except this. I think Richard has it inverted, that the United States is
very good with dealing with squares on the chess board. It`s been much
less good at dealing with the larger strategic picture with Russia and the
fact that Vladimir Putin has been engaged with us for a long period of time
of testing the West on a great number of fronts and we simply haven`t had a
strategic plan.

We`ve been acting in an a la carte, ad hoc way, siloing these little
problems, whether it`s Syria or LGBT issues or Edward Snowden or any of the
number of other issues because we`ve been fearful that if we did kind of
play the broad strategic game on the chess board, we would find that that
struggle and contest was something that was much more severe than we were
willing to accept.

So, I disagree with Richard. I think we`ve got the thing inverted and
we can`t look at this as just Crimea or Ukraine, there`s something much
more fundamental and deep going on, and we need to have a broader, careful,
cautious, strategic response that deals with these many different issues.

O`DONNELL: David Rohde, how would playing the entire chess board
look? What would that overall kind of policy look like?

ROHDE: I think it would be a much more aggressive stance towards
Putin. And again, I agree with Steve. The stakes here are very large.
One key player that`s watching this is China. If you remember, in November
they declared on their own a unilateral air defense zone over thousands of
miles in the Pacific.

This is a very dangerous precedent that`s been setting. Iraq was a
disaster. This was an even lower precedent for military intervention.

Putin has sort of outplayed us over the last decade. Now, Germany
gets 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia. He knows that. He thinks
the Germans won`t back sanctions. It is Angela Merkel, the German
chancellor, who`s saying we should not kick Russia out of the G8.

So, it`s hurting him economically. It`s isolating him. You don`t
give him the Olympic games. You don`t allow him in the G8. You hold him

And I agree with Steve, you have a strategy to isolate Putin. Putin
is dangerous. Putinism is dangerous. This rise of authoritarianism is
something we need counter patiently, slowly, but consistently over time.

O`DONNELL: Steve, one of the problems in a situation like this is the
ultimate action no one is willing to take. There is no one saying we
should be willing to go to war with Russia over this incursion. And once
you eliminate getting into an actual shooting conflict, that eliminates an
awful lot of other negotiating postures that hold some kind of threat
behind them because the ultimate threat isn`t present and Putin knows that.

CLEMONS: Well, Lawrence, there are lots of layers in response that
can be brought to this short of military to military conflict. But it`s
disconcerting to me, for instance, that today the Department of Defense and
Chuck Hagel issued word that they`re suspended military to military
contact, training, exercises, all the kinds of things that we do to prevent
-- really to promote deep communication between our militaries.

Many people will applaud this as a strong step by the Obama
administration. I look at this as one of the crown jewels of contact that
ought to be one of the last things you suspend because there are economic
steps. We`ve been talking about the G8.

There`s simply the big spotlight that Obama can put on this saying,
you know, this is completely inappropriate. We need to kind of do some
things that are not so fast paced, that give Putin the opportunity to feel
the gravity of what he`s doing.

But suspending military contact the way Chuck Hagel has done today.
And I again, admire Chuck Hagel. What they`re, do it`s just too fast.
What are you doing tomorrow? What are the things in your toolkit tomorrow
that you haven`t done to continue to pressure Putin take a different

ROHDE: Lawrence, I think actually --

O`DONNELL: Go ahead, quickly, David.

ROHDE: -- it`s good to be aggressive. The key issue here, "The
Washington Post" wrote about this in an editorial this weekend, is
President Obama and the United States doesn`t know how to deal with people
that are not playing in the 21st century. Leaders like Putin who will use
military force, like Assad who will use force on his own people.

How do you respond to them if you`re not ready to go to war?

O`DONNELL: I haven`t heard how that response should be managed any
better than the way I`ve seen it managed. These are the difficult
questions of the 21st century. We will find out, Steve, what they`re going
to do tomorrow tomorrow. And we`ll be on it tomorrow.

Steve Clemons and David Rohde, thank you both very much for joining me

ROHDE: Thank you.

CLEMONS: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, Chris Christie supported Medicaid expansion in
New Jersey, and now he is attacking a candidate for governor in another
state for supporting exactly the same thing.

And later, some of my interview last week at the United Nations with
Steve McQueen, the director of the Oscar-winning best picture "12 Years A

And in the "Rewrite" tonight, in her most important awards season
speech, which was not televised, Lupita Nyong`o tells us how she rewrote
her own definition of beauty.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A man in New Jersey has spent the past 30 days in
a pay it forward campaign, by doing kind deeds for random strangers, such
as paying for gas and giving out subway fare. Said the man, so we good?



O`DONNELL: One year ago in his annual budget address, New Jersey
Governor Chris Christie explained why he was agreeing to expand Medicaid
under the Affordable Care Act.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Expanding Medicaid will ensure
New Jersey taxpayers that they will see their dollars maximized. Federal
funding will cover 100 percent of the cost of this expansion for the first
three years, and then leveling off to 90 percent in 2020.

Let me be clear: refusing these federal dollars would not mean they
wouldn`t be spent. It just means that they would be spent to expand health
care access in New York or Connecticut or Ohio or somewhere else.


O`DONNELL: Chris Christie, of course, is now entangled in
multifaceted scandals in New Jersey and is trying to be the very first
invisible chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

And this is the ad that Chris Christie, the invisible chairman, has
decided to pay for in this year`s South Carolina gubernatorial campaign.


AD NARRATOR: Remember this guy Sheheen. Well, first, Sheheen
supported much of Obamacare. But then he refused to support the lawsuit to
stop it. Now, Vincent Sheheen wants to use Obamacare for a $2 million
expansion of Medicaid in South Carolina.


O`DONNELL: Joining me know, E.J. Dionne, MSNBC political analyst and
columnist for "The Washington Post." And Nia-Malika Henderson, also from
"The Washington Post".

Now, I`m looking at the screen trying to pick which one of you has the
most shocked look on your face. I`ll go with Nia on this.

You`re shocked probably beyond your ability to articulate it, that
Chris Christie would actually support the Medicaid expansion in his state
and then would use Republican Governors Association money to try to hit
candidates who have done the same thing.

the exact same playbook from 2010, it`s the exact same playbook we`re
seeing all over the country when it comes to Obamacare. On the one hand,
you have Democratic Senate candidates as well as gubernatorial candidates
either trying to run away from Obama, and not have him campaign in the
state, but then you have obviously Republicans trying to tie Obama to these
Democratic candidates.

What you haven`t seen a lot of, however, is a real full-throated
defense of Obamacare, and in some ways, you have to hand it to Sheheen for
writing to Chris Christie and calling him out on essentially what is a bit
of hypocrisy there by funding this ad that criticizes Sheheen for doing
exactly what Chris Christie and a number of other Republican governors have

O`DONNELL: E.J., if you`re going for any form of consistency here,
the Republican Governors Association would then have to run ads against
Republican candidates for governor like Christie last time around, running
for re-election, who support the Medicaid expansion.

E.J. DIONNE, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think there are eight of them
counting Christie who have taken the Medicaid expansion, including John
Kasich, who actually fought Republicans in the legislature to do it, and
governors in a number of other states.

Sheheen really wrote a wonderful letter calling Christie`s bluff. How
many jobs has New Jersey lost as a result of your decision to accept your
Medicaid dollars, he asked? How many businesses have been harmed by your
choice, and so on? I mean, it was really a great way to call his bluff.

There used to be a time in our country when you could say one thing in
one part of the country and a different thing elsewhere? Right before the
civil war, they printed up different campaign biographies for the north and
the south. You can`t get away with that anymore. You can show this ad on
your show and put Christie`s words right after it.

And so, I`m very curious where this goes. I hope it`s not confined to
Sheheen in fighting back against this sort of thing.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what President Obama said last week about


OBAMA: You`ve got Republican governors here. I won`t name them in
front of the press because I don`t want to get you all in trouble, who`ve
chosen to cover more people through new options under Medicaid and as a
result, millions of people are going to get help. States that don`t expand
Medicaid are going to be leaving up to 5.4 million Americans uninsured.
And that doesn`t have to happen. Work with us to get this done.


O`DONNELL: Nia, big laugh when he says he doesn`t want to get
Republican governors in trouble for extending this benefit to so many
hundreds of thousands of people.

HENDERSON: Well, that`s right. And if you look at in South Carolina
specifically, about 500,000 uninsured adults would be covered under a
Medicaid expansion if Governor Nikki Haley decided to do that. But she has
said quite pointedly it`s something she would never, ever do. And Sheheen
has come out and said, listen, we`re leaving this money on the table.

And there`s a study from the University of Carolina that said if they
expanded Medicaid, it would mean revenues of something like $11 billion
into the states` coffer into 2020 and also about 40,000 jobs.

So, he`s pointing to that. This will be an interesting race.
Governor Haley, for instance, has also said she would welcome Chris
Christie down to that state to campaign for her. It will be interesting to
see if he actually comes and if this expansion of Medicaid comes up.

O`DONNELL: We have a new report tonight from the New Jersey scandal
desk involving Bill Stepien, who is, of course, Christie`s former campaign
manager and adviser who was forced to remove himself from the Christie
team. Stepien`s attorney filed a response to the New Jersey committee`s --
special committee`s motion to compel Stepien`s testimony and subpoenas
through documents and his response included this information for the

On February 2014 -- mid-February 2014, FBI specialist Arthur Durant
and DOJ criminal investigator James Oughton visited Mr. Stepien`s Mercer
County home, in his absence questioned his landlord about his conduct and
character. Was he married? Was he a rotten tenant? Did he pay his rent
on time in and left behind their calling cards which prominently identified
them as criminal investigators and left no doubt as to the nature of their

E.J. Dionne, that was all by way of saying another reason why he
shouldn`t comply with these subpoenas since he`s under criminal

DIONNE: Yes. And I think what you`re seeing there is one of the
difficulties that the legislative community is going to have, is there are
a lot of people who just don`t want to testify. And I think they`re going
to try to play the investigation by the U.S. attorney off against the
legislative inquiry.

You know, obviously they do -- everybody has a right not to
incriminate themselves, but it could be a good way for witnesses who don`t
want to expand our knowledge on this to kind of play the thing out so that
they don`t have to testify anytime soon. But it is interesting that they -
- agents visited his house.

O`DONNELL: Yes. The worst way you can have your political scandal
news of the day tamped down is by having the FBI going around to your
former associates` homes. It`s one way of doing it. But it is the worst

E.J. Dionne and Nia-Malika Henderson, thank you both for joining me

DIONNE: Good to be with you.

HENDERSON: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, the Idaho professor who wants to know who he
can shoot now that the Idaho legislature is trying to make it legal for
students to have guns on his campus.


O`DONNELL: In the "spotlight" tonight, when may I shoot a student?
That`s the question asked by my next guest, Greg Hempikian, a professor at
Boise State University. Also joining us now is Mike Masterson, the police
chief in Boise, Idaho.

Greg, tell us why you had to ask this question in this op-ed piece.
You`re asking it of your state legislator -- legislature there in Idaho.

the only way to fight farce is with farce. And this was a public safety
question. This is a right that the university presidents have had in the
law, to regulate guns on campus. And it`s being taken away. And the worst
insult, the reason it was farcical, was because they wouldn`t let our
police chief talk. They brought in someone from the NRA, gave him 40
minutes. Our police chief was there. And to me that really could only be
answered with satire.

O`DONNELL: Well, you make some very serious points in the op-ed
piece. I`m going to read part of it. And you do do it with a wink most of
the way through. You say, "I have had encounters with disgruntled students
over the years, some of whom seemed quite upset. But I always assumed that
when they reached into their backpacks they were going for a pencil. Since
I carry a pen to lecture I did not feel outgunned, and because there are no
working sharpeners in the lecture hall the most they could get off is a
single point. But now that we`ll be all packing heat, I would like legal
instruction in the rules of classroom engagement. Now that lethal force is
an option, I need to know which infractions may be treated as de facto
capital crimes."

Chief Masterson, you know, those questions have a real basis to them
now with the legislature contemplating making it completely legal suddenly
for college kids to have guns.

reality that we`re facing. We think the law is going to go through. And
what it will require is the development of a whole new set of procedures,
how to contact people that are in classrooms that someone sees a gun on to
how can we do this being least disruptive in a learning environment. And
there`s a lot of work to be done that lies ahead of us.

O`DONNELL: There`s one estimate that that work`s going to cost over
$2 million including retraining of police officers involved. But now,
they`re going to have to distinguish between good guns and bad guns on
campus where before, all guns were bad on campus.

Greg, it seems to me that you might have some better educational
purposes for that $2 million.

HAMPIKIAN: Well, yes. And I think as a lot of letter writers have
pointed out, I don`t know nothing about guns, and I shouldn`t have one.
But with nine hours` training, I too can become a hobbyist police officer
and be authorized to bring a gun on campus and to use it according to my
nine hours of training.

I don`t want vigilantes protecting me in my classroom. I think
vigilante justice is best practiced at home. And I have nothing against
it. I just no, thanks, I don`t need them to have guns if they`re not
trained officers of the law or have extensive experience. And people
around them, professionals who will check on their mental health, who will
check on their ability to carry a gun every day. And that`s what police
officers do, and I`m very grateful for it.

O`DONNELL: College is that place where people are being kind of
guided into their adult maturity.

And Greg, you write about this bill. You are encouraging firearms
within a densely packed concentration of young people who are away from
home for the first time and are coincidentally the age associated with
alcohol and drug experimentation and the commission of felonies.

Chief Masterson, the ideas that drunk frat boys should have more
loaded weapons near them at that time in their lives seems particularly

MASTERSON: Well, it can be a dangerous combination. We found that
out a few years ago in Boise, where we had exactly that happen. Two young
men, good families, intoxicated, drinking, and then there was a use of a
firearm that led to the death of one individual. Two lives lost because
the other individual ended up spending time in prison. It`s just a deadly
combination. And we thinks that it`s a solution being posed where there`s
no problem.

O`DONNELL: Professor Greg Hampikian of Boise State University, and
Boise police chief Mike Masterson, thank you both very much for joining me

HAMPIKIAN: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, the most important awards season speech was not
televised. This is a deeply moving speech. Lupita Nyong`o told an
extraordinary story last week here in Los Angeles. It`s one that you must
hear. You will want your daughters to hear it, your granddaughters to hear
it. It`s next in "the rewrite."


O`DONNELL: We first heard Lupita Nyong`o`s eloquence and gratitude
when she accepted her screen actors guild award.


LUPITA NYONG`O, ACTRESS: Thank you, thank you, thank you, Steve
McQueen. Thank you for taking a flashlight and shining it underneath the
floorboards of this nation and reminding us what it is we stand on. You
are love personified.


O`DONNELL: Her eloquence graced the stage at the Oscars last night in
an historic speech. Historic because she is now only the seventh black
woman to win an academy award. Her win coming 75 years after Hattie
McDaniel was the first black woman to win an Oscar.

But the most important speech that Lupita Nyong`o gave during this
awards season was not televised. It was last week at "Essence" magazine`s
black women in Hollywood celebration, where she was given the award for
breakthrough performance. She decided to talk about something that is
almost never discussed publicly. She began her speech by saying she wanted
to talk about beauty. Black beauty. Dark beauty.

Black women in Hollywood and everywhere knew what she was talking
about, but they didn`t know the story she was about to tell. She revealed
that the starburst she has enjoyed in Hollywood carries with it something
more profound than new acting opportunities. Some women and girls now see
in her a new way of seeing themselves.


NYONG`O: I received a letter from a girl. And I`d like to share just
a small part of it with you. "Dear Lupita," it reads. "I think you`re
really lucky to be this black but yet this successful in Hollywood
overnight. I was just about to buy dentures, whitening cream to lighten my
skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me."

My heart bled a little when I read those words. I could not guess my
first job out of school would be so powerful in and of itself in that it
would propel me to be such an image of hope in the same way that the women
of "the color purple" were to me. I remember a time when I too felt
unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin. I got teased and
taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle
worker, was that I would wake up lighter skinned.

The morning would come, and I would be so excited about seeing my new
skin that I would refuse to look down at myself until I was in front of a
mirror because I wanted to see my fair face first. And every day I
experienced the same disappointment of being just as dark as I had been the
day before.

I tried to negotiate with God. I told him I would stop stealing sugar
cubes at night if he gave me what I wanted. I would listen to my mother`s
every word sitting right there, and never lose my school sweater again if
he just made me a little lighter. But I guess God was unimpressed with my
bargaining chips because he never listened.

And when I was a teenager, my self-hate grew worse. As you can
imagine happens with adolescents, my mother reminded me often that she
thought I was beautiful. But that was no consolation. She`s my mother.
Of course she`s supposed to think I`m beautiful.

And then Alec Wick came on the international scene, a celebrated
model. She was dark as night. She was in all the runways and in every
magazine. And everyone was talking about how beautiful she was. Even
Oprah called her beautiful. And that made it a fact.

I couldn`t believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so
much like me as beautiful. My complexion had always been an obstacle to
overcome. And all of a sudden Oprah was telling me it wasn`t. It was
perplexing. And I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the
seduction of inadequacy.


NYONG`O: But a flower couldn`t help but bloom inside me. When I saw
Alec, I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny.
Now I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by
the far-away gatekeepers of beauty. But around me the preference for light
skin prevailed.

To the beholders that I thought mattered I was still unbeautiful. And
my mother again would say to me, "you can`t eat beauty. It doesn`t feed
you." And these words played and bothered me. I didn`t really understand
them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could
acquire or consume. It was something that I just had to be. And what my
mother meant when she said "you can`t eat beauty" was that you can`t rely
on how you look to sustain you.

NYONG`O: What actually sustains us, what is fundamentally beautiful,
is compassion. For yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty
-- excuse me. That kind of beauty inflames the heart and enchants the
soul. It is what got patsy in so much trouble with her master. But it is
also what has kept her story alive to this day. We remember the beauty of
her spirit, even after the beauty of her body has faded away.

And so, I hope that my presence on your screens and in your magazines
may lead you young girls on a similar journey, that you will feel the
validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of
being beautiful inside.

That there is no shade in that beauty. Thank you.



O`DONNELL: There is much more urgent business going on at the United
Nations tonight. But last week, Steve McQueen and I went to the United
Nations to discuss what became the Oscar-winning film for best picture.
That`s next.


O`DONNELL: Long before their acceptance speeches last night, a couple
of the big Oscar winners dropped by "the Last Word," beginning with my
friend John Ridley.


O`DONNELL: John Ridley, dust off the tuxedo. You`re going to be very
busy during awards season. This is just a fantastic piece of work.


O`DONNELL: I`m very, very, very happy to have you here tonight.
Thank you, John.

Whatever happens on Oscar night, it is one of the greatest
contributions to our understandings of ourselves in this country through
film. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Forgive me, not just to this country
but to the world because there were other countries that were involved in
it. So it`s not just America`s history. It`s the world history,


O`DONNELL: Last night screenwriter John Ridley shared the praise, as
he always does, with the author of the book he had the honor of adapting.


JOHN RIDLEY, SCREENWRITER: All the praise goes to Solomon Northrup.
Those are his words. That is his life.


O`DONNELL: And Steve McQueen reminded us once again that slavery is
not yet a thing of the past.


deserves not just to survive but to live. This is the most important
legacy of Solomon Northup. I dedicate this award to all the people who
have endured slavery. And the 21 million people who still suffer slavery
today. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you.



O`DONNELL: Last week at the United Nations I moderated a discussion
of the now Oscar-winning film "12 years a slave" with director Steve
McQueen. Immediately after the film was shown secretary-general of the
United Nations Ban Ki Moon said it had left him speechless.

Steve McQueen and I then began our discussion. And since the U.N.
doesn`t do this sort of thing every night, there was a brief technical
problem that you will see where the lights were briefly dimmed. Here is
some of my discussion at the U.N. with Steve McQueen.


O`DONNELL: You wrote on the United Nations blog, "slavery is a huge
hole in the canvas of cinema, and for me it had to be visualized." What do
you think is the power that the film delivers beyond what the experience of
reading the book can deliver?

MCQUEEN: Well, what it does is it brings it to life. What it does,
it makes it real. What it does, it isn`t a myth. It`s a reality. And
with that reality comes one`s own response. And with that comes empathy.
With that comes understanding. I mean, I can`t count how many times I`ve
heard or -- I mean, OK. I`ll come back to what I want to say.

I mean, for example, a friend of mine, a producer, was in a cinema in
Toronto when we first showed the film in the Toronto film festival. And
he`s a white guy from Britain. He was sitting down. And this middle-aged
African-American woman sat down next to him. They started talking before
the movie. Towards the end of the movie he said he felt a hand slip over
his hand and they held hands towards the end of the movie. And when the
end credits began, they sort of fell into each other`s arms in tears. And
it`s just one of those things where that wouldn`t have happened without
that experience of a movie and that sort of common -- that commonality,
that sort of -- that community of people watching that movie. And it`s the
power of cinema. It`s just the power of cinema.

O`DONNELL: Knowing that slavery is a huge hole in the canvas of cinema,
something that has been largely absent from cinema, especially in realistic
depictions, did you feel an enormous responsibility that you were going to
be given two hours, what turns out to be two hours and 15 minutes of film,
to tell the entire story?

MCQUEEN: For me it wasn`t a responsibility. It was a privilege to do
that. Because I just feel there`s a lot of -- there`s an ambivalence
toward slavery, a huge ambivalence to American slavery. But also it was
about not just what happened in the past, it was about what`s happening now
with 21 million people who are in modern-day slavery and giving that
attention too by having Solomon Northup in this movie and people knowing
him and knowing his family, understanding who he is, obviously that
translate to someone else who, you know, wherever they are in the world,
who was kidnapped and sort of brought into sort of servitude in a similar

I`m sorry, I`m getting a bit excited there. But it was just -- what
I`m trying to say is for me it was always a parallel. This was a mirror.
This was a mirror of what`s actually happening in our reality. And that`s
what cinema is about. So it`s not about 1841 when Solomon was kidnapped.
It`s actually about 2014.

O`DONNELL: I just have one final question for Steve, which is we have
all had the amazing experience of watching this film, being in the audience
and having that audience experience.

When you watch it now, do you get to have that audience experience
where you simply let the film take you away, or are you still sitting there
as a director and editor and thinking about, mm, I wish I`d had the light a
little different in that scene? Or do you get to have that collective
audience experience that we all have?

MCQUEEN: I still -- yes, I do. And when you`ve -- it`s funny, when
you finish a film, after editing it, and I watched it with the audience for
the first time when we finished it, yes, it was like a roller coaster ride.
It was -- because you do distance yourself from it. You can look at it in
the way that it`s -- you`re not involved in it. And it becomes a story
because, you know, I had amazing actors like Michael Fassbender (ph) and
Chiwetel Ejiofor (ph), obviously Brad Pitt. So you get lost in the

So yes, it had its effect. But it`s the Solomon Northup story. You
know, all I was doing was representing Solomon Northup`s story. So Solomon
is the one who is the actual author really.


O`DONNELL: You can see our complete discussion at the United Nations
on our Web site,

Chris Hayes is up next.


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