MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are writer and culture critic Jimi Izrael, with us from Cincinnati.
Here in Washington, D.C., civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar. Jeff Yang is a columnist and blogger, and he's joining us from New York City. And from Honolulu today, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Wesley Morris. Take it away, Jimi.
JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, Wesley, aloha, brother. How are you doing?
WESLEY MORRIS: Aloha. I'm good. How are you doing?
IZRAEL: Welcome to everybody. Fellas, welcome to the shop. How we doing?
ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey.
JEFF YANG: It's wet out here.
IZRAEL: OK. And thanks for that.
IZRAEL: OK, you know what? I want to get things started off with kind of some sad news out of Colorado. Michel?
MARTIN: It is; it is very sad. And I hate to start this way, but we really have to; that this is one of the most highly anticipated movie releases of the summer. And I bet a lot of people know people who were going to midnight screenings. Well, in Aurora, Colorado, a gunman opened fire during a midnight showing of the movie "The Dark Knight Rises." Of course, this is the last in the "Batman" trilogy.
It's still a developing story, but what we know now is that at least 12 people were killed. Many, many more were injured. The authorities have a suspect in custody. And I'll just play a short clip from what Isaac Ramos - who was in the theater next to the one where the shooting happened - said about what he heard.
ISAAC RAMOS: All of a sudden, we heard a couple of loud bangs, and it sounded like fireworks. There was a second set of loud bangs. And we turned around, and we kind of saw some of the flashes, and we saw some smoke. At that point, some people tried to leave the theater. Someone had been shot in the lobby.
MARTIN: Well, Jimi, just let me tie one - going - the suspect in custody has been identified as a man named James Eagan Holmes. Authorities say at this point, they have no evidence of a military or criminal record. And I don't know that there's been a motive identified so far, Jimi.
IZRAEL: You know, Michel, images caught on cellphone cameras at the theater are very disturbing. Some people covered in blood, and you can tell they're in total, total shock. Warner Brothers has already canceled the Paris premiere of "The Dark Knight Rising" - "Rises," which was scheduled for tonight. Arsalan...
IZRAEL: Do you think this will change people's plans to go see the movie...
IZRAEL: ...or should it?
IFTIKHAR: Yes because - it changed mine. And this is a movie that I have been hyped to see for months. I remember, you know, a few months ago when the trailer first came out, it said "Dark Knight Rises" premieres July 20th. And that was, you know, really poignant for me because that was the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. So I'm fasting today. And so one of the things I give up for Ramadan is movies.
And I couldn't - I was in a spiritual dilemma. I'm like, do I see the movie? Do I not see the movie? And I don't have a spiritual dilemma anymore. This was absolutely stunning, what happened. And I think for many people out there, you know, it's just, it's going to take away from the experience because we're going to be reminded of the tragedy that happened in Aurora, Colorado.
IZRAEL: Hmm. You know, what's interesting, both President Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney have offered condolence statements. President Obama canceled his event - his evening event in Florida. Jeff Yang, do you think theaters should suspend showings, at least for today?
YANG: You know, I've got to say, it's like if it were a different kind of a movie, I might think otherwise. But there's just going to be a lot of resonance - I mean, not because there's necessarily a link. There's no proven notion that the shooter was inspired by, or in any way directly attempting to kind of, you know, connect his modus operandi with what was being shown onscreen.
But there's a lot of gunfire, and there's a lot of mayhem. And I don't think that, you know, anybody - and I've seen the movie. I mean, I don't want to make Arsalan or anybody else, you know, jealous about this. But I did have a chance to see it on Tuesday, and it's a good movie. But it's a movie that if I were seeing it today in the context of what happened, I couldn't enjoy it. I wouldn't enjoy it.
IZRAEL: Hmm, OK. Well, Wesley Morris - you know, I remember back in the day, when there was gun violence at a few movie openings - "Boyz n the Hood" comes into mind, back in '91. Do you think theaters need to take extra security measures for dark and violent movies, or is this just kind of a random happenstance?
MORRIS: I think it's a random happenstance. I mean, I think - what's interesting to me is, you know, he came in through the - he allegedly came in through an exit door. He didn't walk through the lobby and give a whole speech or - you know, I mean, there - there appeared to be not a lot a security team necessarily could do, if that were the case.
And you could have guys in the back of the theater, like, standing in a stairwell the entire time. But then - you know - that, too, would distract from the alleged escapist element of going to a movie. It's kind of unfortunate - I mean, in every way this is unfortunate.
MORRIS: But - I mean, it adds an extra element of misfortune, given how it makes something that everyone was looking forward to seeing, kind of unwatchable in a way. I mean, it really - every once in a while, you're reminded, you know, through some horrible circumstance, that what's going on in a movie theater is ultimately, only a movie. And I think...
IZRAEL: Well, you know...
MARTIN: Jimi, could I just ask, though...
MARTIN: Maybe I'll just, I'll ask you this. Do you remember that there's this ongoing question about how we should respond to terroristic episodes like this. I mean, I know that there will be some discussion about whether the word "terrorism" should be used here. I know some columnists have already weighed in to say - like David Sirota in Colorado; who is in Colorado, who is a talk show host, columnist and author, has already weighed in to say we should call this terrorism, whether he's connected to...
MARTIN: ...a movement or not. That's kind of what this is. But whatever we label it, isn't that - kind of the grandiosity, partly what people are seeking here? People who participate in this kind of conic, whatever motivates it, isn't it this idea that, I can control you; I can tell you what to do; I'm going to have an impact; I'm going to ruin your whole day and - obviously - take people's lives. But for everybody else - it's not so much about the people who are directly affected, it's the effect that they're seeking on everybody else. So if that's the case...
MARTIN: ...Jimi, would it...
MARTIN: ...is it the right response for everything to - obviously, one wants to stop and acknowledge the loss of life, right?
IZRAEL: Mm-hmm. Sure.
MARTIN: But then to - to - do you see my question? - to disrupt daily activities...
YANG: Yeah, I understand what you're saying.
MARTIN: Because to play into grandiosity...
IZRAEL: I guess - Mm-hmm.
MARTIN: ...is that the right idea?
IZRAEL: You know what? I guess for me, this is sad that this has happened. But to make it about the movie - I mean, it could have been the - you know, you know - "The Little Mermaid." I mean, it was happenstance, you know. We had an idiot with a gun, in a situation, who decided to get it off. And I don't think it has any connection with the film. And I...
IFTIKHAR: You mean, you don't think - Jimi, you don't think...
MARTIN: You know, the...
IZRAEL: I don't.
IFTIKHAR: You don't think a movie that revolves itself around a villain named Bane, who is bent on bringing anarchy - you know, it's sheer and utter anarchy - to Gotham City, has any kind of...
IZRAEL: You mean, like Rambo?
MARTIN: But how do we know? I mean, people have attacked...
IFTIKHAR: Rambo - that was not Rambo's philosophy. I mean...
MARTIN: People have been attacked at church.
IZRAEL: (LAUGHTER) So, so...
MARTIN: But I'm just saying, people have...
IZRAEL: So people that go into movies are concerned with the protagonist's philosophy? I don't think so.
IFTIKHAR: No, no. But I'm saying it's much more likely than if it were "Little Mermaid" or, you know, something like "The Lion King."
MARTIN: But people are going to attack it for...
IZRAEL: You know what this was?
YANG: I think it's a little early.
MARTIN: I don't know.
IZRAEL: You know what this was? Somebody went to the movie theater. They saw somebody that they didn't like, or there was a situation that they didn't like. They had a gun, and they decided to do what has become the American thing - to resolve your problem with violence as opposed to talk about it, and dialogue about it. And it's sad that we live in that country. Sadly.
MARTIN: Well, I don't know that we know that.
YANG: Well, I think early descriptions of this - yeah. The early descriptions of this...
IZRAEL: No, we don't. No, we don't.
YANG: ...do not suggest that this was some sort of like, revenge-motivated killing or something. I mean, it was clearly somebody who was trying to take out as many people as possible, and it was premeditated. I mean, the guy was dressed, apparently, in body armor. And he was armed to the teeth. He had a gas mask. I mean, there's - this was an act of terror. The thing is, I would agree that it's a little early for us to jump forward and say, you know, that there was a specific attachment to the themes of the movie, and so forth. It could have been any dark place with a lot of people in it, where people can't run away. At the same time, I mean, I think that we have a tendency to kind of, at this point in time, pivot from tragedy directly into, you know, opinion and ideology and perspectives along those lines. And I would say that this is not about stopping, but pausing. It's about pausing and being reflective.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us....
IZRAEL: I'll take that.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. And we're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop with writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Irsalan Iftikhar, columnist and blogger Jeff Yang, and film critic - Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Wesley Morris.
Back to you, Jimi. But before I do, Wesley, so it's forgive me but I just, in the wake of it, it's one doesn't - you still want to ask. I mean for people who feel they are moved to see this film, is it worth seeing? I just...
MORRIS: I mean...
MORRIS: Well - I mean, yes. There's two things. The thing number one is, who cares what I think? I mean, you're going to go anyway, because Warner Brothers is essentially, very good at their job. And it's a movie that you felt you had to see, if you were seeing a movie this summer. And you'd been looking forward to seeing this movie since the last movie, which was about four years ago - or five ago. The other interesting thing is that, you know - I mean, the movie itself works. I mean, it's got some problems. I think one of the things that sort of rescues it from this - this sort of movie villain narrative, in the context of the shooting, is that, you know, its sort of intellectual shortcomings, its sort of political vagueness, in a lot of ways...
MORRIS: ...alleviate it from having a very clear message about morality; while at the same time, sort of somewhat boringly following the very clear lines of good and evil.
MARTIN: Interesting. Interesting. I'll see your point. Well, before we move on, we do - once again - want to express our heartfelt sympathies to all of the people involved, you know; and their families, their loved ones. This is a very - a terrible tragedy, and we don't want to ever lose sight of that fact.
So Jimi, I know you wanted to talk about the George Zimmerman interview. The...
IZRAEL: Yeah. You know, George Zimmerman - you remember - the neighborhood watchman who shot and killed unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin last February, well, gave his first interview to Fox News, to Sean Hannity, this week.
Michel, we've got some clips, yes?
MARTIN: Yes. It was a long interview, so we just had to select something. And we've selected a couple of clips for you. And, of course, the full interview is available if you want to hear it. But this is part of it.
(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS SHOW "HANNITY")
SEAN HANNITY: Is there anything you regret? Do you regret getting out of the car to follow Trayvon that night?
GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: No, sir.
HANNITY: Do you regret that you had a gun that night?
ZIMMERMAN: No, sir.
HANNITY: Do you feel you wouldn't be here for this interview if you didn't have that gun?
ZIMMERMAN: No, sir. I ...
HANNITY: You feel you would not be here?
ZIMMERMAN: I feel that it was all God's plan, and for me to second-guess it or judge it, um...
HANNITY: Is there anything you might do differently, in retrospect, now that time has passed a little bit?
ZIMMERMAN: No, sir.
MARTIN: So, you know, toward the end of the interview - let me just point one thing - that when he - he said he wanted to revisit the question of whether he should have done something differently. And he said that he did wish, quote, "that there was something, anything, I could have done that would not have put me in the position where I had to take his life," unquote.
IFTIKHAR: Yeah. You know Sean Hannity's producers ran to him...
IFTIKHAR: ...during the commercial break and said, you might want to backtrack on that statement there. I mean, this was a - this absolutely gets the ridunkulous(ph) award of the week. From a legal perspective, what's interesting to note is that, as we all know, anything that George Zimmerman says on television can and will be used against him in the court of law. This is where "Law and Order's" chung-chung would come in.
IFTIKHAR: You know, this was - you know, for some - you know - they're talking about, you know, recent accusations of molestation by George Zimmerman's cousin, which can be brought into court if George Zimmerman tries to bring character witnesses, you know, on his behalf. So, I mean, his defense team - are doing some really, really bad lawyering right now.
MORRIS: Yeah. How does he - how is he allowed to be on TV? I mean...
YANG: That's what I was going ask. What? I mean...
MARTIN: Well, his attorney was sitting right next to him. So clearly, his attorney agreed with the decision - or at least, did not choose to stop it or object in some way. I understand, Arsalan - and you are an attorney here as well, but - although criminal defense is not your particular area of expertise.
MARTIN: But that he was also negotiating for an interview with Barbara Walters, the ABC News luminary....
YANG: Oh, this is ...
MARTIN: ...Barbara Walters, but that she ended the negotiations. Do you know why?
IFTIKHAR: Yeah. He apparently had some demands that she and ABC News where not willing to adhere to. And so that interview got canceled - which probably would have been even more of a train wreck for him, from a legal perspective. And so, you know, it's going to be interesting to see, you know, after the Hannity interview, if he's going to offer any more interviews moving forward.
MARTIN: Jeff Yang?
YANG: Isn't this tainting the jury pool, though? I mean...
YANG: I can't imagine this does not impact the actual, you know, process of the trial. And given that, I mean, why isn't there any kind of censure? He was already smacked down for, you know, running a website to, you know, secure donations for his original bail. I mean...
MORRIS: Have you guys seen that, by the way, his - the footage from his site?
IZRAEL: I have.
IFTIKHAR: Oh, what happened?
MORRIS: It's kind of - I mean, it's - he's sort of - on the site, he's basically an evangelist. He's got these, you know - he's speaking to followers and supporters, and it's just a - it's a fascinating - what is happening with this case right now is really fascinating, only insofar as it seems to have - be controlled by him. And - I think that, to me, it seems like he's just trying to make a case for himself - not, you know, not - I don't mean merely, but he wants to sort of speak - well, instead of people speaking for him, and trying to divine his motives on that day. I think - I don't know - he's trying to add some sort of clarity on his own behalf. I just think it's the wrong time to do it.
MARTIN: Jimi, what do you think? Because I would confess that if the opportunity to interview him arose, I would certainly take it. I find it, you know, I find it noteworthy - again...
YANG: That's right; your problem, Michel.
MARTIN: ...that, you know, Sean Hannity is the choice when the issue here is this person. I found it an interesting piece. Remember when Trent Lott had to step down as Senate majority leader? He was trying to save his job because of his comments he made, praising the arch segregationist Strom Thurmond...
MARTIN: ...that, you know, Fox News, of course, was the interview location of choice. Sean Hannity was the interviewer of choice. But then he had to go back and find an African-American interviewer because no one was persuaded by it. So Jimi, I don't know...
YANG: You're just putting it out there?
MARTIN: I'm just putting it out there. Well, but I'm just saying that I, as a journalist, I am interested in his point of view. He is the principal figure in this, who was there.
MORRIS: Of course you are.
IZRAEL: I agree. I agree with that.
MARTIN: Jimi? And now that I know...
MORRIS: The media isn't the problem here.
IZRAEL: And now...
IZRAEL: And now, we know he's a psychopath. So moving on, you know, I'm...
MARTIN: Why do you say that?
IZRAEL: Anybody that's suggesting to you that it's God's plan that you pull a gun out and murder a young man, I don't - yeah, it - I don't know. He just said it with such calm. It was just like, shades of Jim Jones. I mean, he's not right, clearly. Clearly, not right in the head.
IFTIKHAR: Let's just say that George Zimmerman should not be allowed to see a photograph of a microphone, let alone get near one.
IZRAEL: And his lawyer...
MARTIN: Why? Why, though? Why, though?
IFTIKHAR: From a lawyering perspective, Michel.
MARTIN: From a lawyering perspective.
IFTIKHAR: What I'm saying, he still has to go to trial. And I don't want - as a lawyer, I don't want anything to impugn his likelihood of trying - you know, of getting acquitted. And the more times he steps in front of a mic, the more unlikely that's going to be.
YANG: But do you think this might be some sort of weird strategy to get like, a mistrial called because...
IFTIKHAR: Yeah, that's a good point. And, you know, what some people are saying is that, you know, he's - like you said, trying to taint the jury pool, maybe try for a venue - location change; you know, trying to do these sorts of things. But I think it's going to ultimately backfire.
MARTIN: Well, I don't know. But it could be that he just wants to be heard, and his attorney felt that he's going to find some way to be heard, and he at least better be there to contain the damage, because...
IFTIKHAR: Good luck to him at trial.
MARTIN: ...George Zimmerman is the client. The attorney is the attorney. That's all I have to say. Well, it's - obviously - a story we'll continue to follow. Thank you all.
IZRAEL: Jimi Izrael is a writer and culture critic. He's also an adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College. He was with us from Cincinnati today. Wesley Morris is a Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic at the Boston Globe. He joined us from Hawaii Public Radio today. Jeff Yang is a columnist with the Wall Street Journal online, and a blogger for NPR member station WNYC; with us from our studios in New York. Arsalan Iftikhar is an author, civil rights attorney, and founder of themuslimguy.com; here with me in Washington, D.C. Thank you all.
YANG: Thank you.
MORRIS: Thank you.
MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.