George Clooney supported Meryl Streep’s politically charged Golden Globes speech tonight at an event he hosted in London with his wife, human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, to fete the release of Netflix documentary short The White Helmets. As he celebrated the work of the titular Syrian volunteer group who fight to rescue victims of the bombing campaigns of governments and terrorists in the country, he told Deadline that the fear of immigrants that fueled last year’s Presidential election was misplaced.
“What’s happened after an election that’s been very polarized is that suddenly people are conflating immigrants and refugees with terrorists,” he explained. “You want to change the word, in a way. Don’t call them ‘refugees’—call them ‘victims of war’. They didn’t stop being dentists and doctors and lawyers just so they could come to America.”
Truth, he said, and the lack thereof, was the key issue affecting American attitudes. “We have to get back to talking and telling the truth, understanding that not everybody is an enemy, and that not all people who voted for Donald Trump are bigots — not even the overwhelming number of people who voted for Donald Trump,” Clooney said. “They’re disenfranchised, they’re mad, they’re losing their jobs.”
He discussed the consequences of the fake news explosion around the election, warning that fake news itself wasn’t the problem, and that focusing on fact was essential. “My job when I’m in the public is to constantly hold onto the idea of facts,” he explained. “The danger with the fake news is that people now can look at true stories and say, ‘Oh, well that’s fake.’ So when Trump says, ‘I never said this,’ you go, ‘Well, I can show you the tape.’ We need the guy with the monitor, asking questions with the tape right there, and it should be everyday, all day, just so you go, ‘Don’t ask me. Ask you.’ “
He continued: “We go through these waves every once in a while, where we lose our minds. In America, we lose our minds every once in a while. We always right the ship.”
Clooney is in London for post-production on Suburbicon, which he directs and co-writes. It was 30 years in the making, he told me, as he hoped for a quicker path to the screen for a narrative adaptation of the White Helmets’ story. “I always love stories that reaffirm the idea that we are actually, at our best, good people. It’s good to get reminders of that, particularly after a year like this,” he said. “We just optioned the story, so we don’t have a script. Right now, we’re just trying to help [the documentary] out, and help get the story out. And then at some point, we’ll get started on a screenplay.”
Introducing the film to a crowd that included the actors Douglas Booth, Jason Isaacs and Bel Powley, Clooney said the White Helmets’ story was a story of hope. “If you look on the Internet, you think that the world is filled with hate,” he told guests. “It all just seems terrible. And the reality is, the vast majority of human beings are kind, and good. They want what’s best for themselves and their children and their family, but they also want what’s best for their neighbors, and for people that know them. What is extraordinary is these people put on these white helmets and go out there, where there is no other structure or society. They’re there to protect you, save you. They risked their lives a lot, and lost their lives a lot, and only because it’s the right thing to do.”
He stressed the importance of scrutiny and a free press. “The reality is that bad things happen when the lights get turned off,” Clooney said. You have to have the lights on, you have to be able to see what’s going on. When you turn the lights on, and you put the camera out there, and show what it really is—that these are human beings and not just names or numbers or statistics—then, what you’re doing is spectacular.”
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