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Waiting For Asylum, Pesticide Ban, “The Central Park Five” Opera

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A new report describes what that wait is like for the 13,000 migrants stuck at various ports of entry along the border. Also, California will ban a common pesticide because of the effects on children, San Diego cannabis growers grapple with a changing market, an interview with the director of the new film, “Tolkien,” and a UC San Diego composer introduces “The Central Park Five” opera.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 The return to Mexico policy for asylum seekers will continue for the time being a ninth circuit court ruling last week allows the US to keep returning foreign nationals across the border to wait while their asylum claims are being processed. And a new report by Associated Press describes what that weight is like for the 13,000 migrants stuck at various ports of entry along the border that he won a border is the most congested with 4,800 people waiting to be allowed in to make their claim. Joining me is Elliot's [inaudible], a San Diego based AP reporter. And Elliot, welcome to the program. Thank you for the invitation. Now it seems that the eight border towns you and your AP colleagues visited, there are varying degrees of confusion about how this process is supposed to work. What did you find was happening specifically across the border in Tijuana?

Speaker 2: 00:51 In Tijuana, they have a waiting list. It's a tattered notebook that lists, it's a little confusing for each number. They have 10 people. Uh, so right now there are 4,800 people in this notebook. It's managed by, uh, the asylum seekers themselves. They every morning around between seven and nine o'clock, one of them gets up with a bullhorn and it starts reciting the names and numbers and then that notebook is kept overnight by Mexican immigration authorities.

Speaker 1: 01:18 How long is the wait expected to be?

Speaker 2: 01:21 I believe. Well, so there's you guys, you mentioned 4,800 names on the list. Now many of those people will probably give up and may cross illegally or just stay in Tijuana or go back home. But uh, they're calling at San Ysidro between 20 and 80. I was there a few days ago and they called 70 names. Uh, you know, it's months, probably two or three months.

Speaker 1: 01:41 No, the waiting process from your article, it really varies from city to city. Tell us more about how those lists are being managed elsewhere.

Speaker 2: 01:49 Yeah, and so I should clarify this, is that these lists are two to make your initial claim for asylum. There's also, in addition to that, the ninth circuit ruling that you mentioned. So these are, those are people, once they get in, they get turned back to Mexico right away. So these lists that I'm talking about are people who are just make, just trying to get in for the first time to claim asylum. And there really is what we found is that just a very haphazard mishmash of systems that vary by city. There's some, you know, they bear some similarities, but more than they're more different than they are similar.

Speaker 1: 02:19 And are they mostly handled by the migrants themselves?

Speaker 2: 02:23 Well, so in, uh, San Luis, Rio, Colorado, which is right near Yuma, Arizona, it's managed by a Venezuelan asylum seeker. Uh, and he just picked his successor who's a Mexican asylum seeker because his, his name is about to be called and he's going to go into the u s so that one is managed by asylum seekers. The one in Tijuana. The others? No, the others are managed by the shelter's migrant shelters. One is managed by a in Piedras Negras. It's managed by a, the owner of a local steakhouse who's also a, a local government official, uh, in Ciudad Juarez, which is a, an enormous waiting lists, 4,500 names. It's thereby the Chihuahua state government. So it varies by city. The people learn about their, their, their numbers coming up in different ways. In one town. Piedras Negras when they're, when they report to this local steakhouse owner, uh, that they're in town, they were waiting for their number, they find out through a, uh, through whatsapp what, what number they're on in another city. Ciudad Juarez. It was, it started off with the migrant shelter writing with black ink on people's arms, what their number was. That was replaced by a system where they would give it wristbands like you, like you would get an a for visiting a hospital. And then just recently they started taking digital photos and uh, people would, they created a f a closed Facebook page, a group that, uh, people could check in and it's updated twice a day with what the current number is and how many CBP people, CBP as, as is taking that day.

Speaker 1: 03:50 What sorts of stories did you hear from asylum seekers you talked with?

Speaker 2: 03:54 Well, I think, I think generally they were just exasperated, uh, just, just with the way, you know, they didn't know that it was going to be, they didn't know they were going to have to wait so long. Uh, and you know, this, they feel a little bit on safe, but we all ask, why, why did you come here instead of somewhere else along the border? And it usually had something to do with safety concerns and the speed with which you get through. But you know, that is so hard to predict these days. It's, you know, the Trump administration has sharply limited the number of asylum claims that process each day. But it's a mystery as to how many they let in and you know, how, how things, it's kind of a black box. So it's, so they picked based on what their friends tell them.

Speaker 1: 04:29 And you really have to be ready if you're waiting to go at a moment's notice.

Speaker 2: 04:33 Right, right. So in a couple of cities, I know I went to one that I've mentioned, San Luis, Rio, Colorado, uh, they had, they had the hundreds of people. These are predominantly families camping out in the street at the street that leads right up to the border crossing. There were lots of cars going by, lots of exhaust fumes. And the mayor there said enough is enough. And he, he basically kicked all of them out except for, I think it's about 15 families that he allowed to stay there when their number is about to be called you. You never know when your number's going to be called, you know, it's approaching, but you don't know exactly when it, so you have to have your suitcases backpacks ready to go.

Speaker 1: 05:09 There's an understandable frustration among migrants who are told to wait as, as we've been talking about two, three, sometimes five months to get their first interview. Are some entering the US illegally?

Speaker 2: 05:20 Oh yeah. A huge number. So other than the numbers came out last week, uh, for April it was about a hundred thousand border patrol arrests, uh, early in Trump's presidency. It was about 15,000 it low, it bottomed out at about 15,000, so they're up to a hundred thousand. A sizable majority is families. People who come as families and unaccompanied children,

Speaker 1: 05:39 as you said, the Trump administration, uh, and the border patrol as a reflection of that are severely limiting the number of people they let in for these daily interviews. How are customs and Border Protection officials responding when you asked why are they doing this?

Speaker 2: 05:55 They've said all along that this is a of queue management of, of managing the flows. It's not denying asylum. There was a hearing a Friday in federal court in San Diego on a lawsuit that was brought by a group called [inaudible] that says what the, what CBP is doing is illegal. And the response is, no, it's not illegal. We're not, we're not turning back asylum seekers. We're just asking them to wait, managing our line. Kind of just like you would in a restaurant, how

Speaker 1: 06:21 the ninth circuit ruling that allows the Trump administration returned to Mexico policy to go on pretty much indefinitely at this point. How is that impacting the whole situation of this weight?

Speaker 2: 06:32 Right. So, so you know, I mentioned that what we wrote about with 13,000 names on that list, that is in eight cities that we visited, that's just to get in the first time, but the administration is sending back mainly Central American families is what this is targeted at. They're turning them back to Mexico and they have to wait for the initial hearing and that those hearings here are held in downtown San Diego at the immigration court. Then they go back, they're taken back to Tijuana. So they're just shuttled back and forth whenever they have an immigration hearing. So far it's just been introduced in San Diego, in Calexico and El Paso, Texas. But the administration says it wants to rapidly expand it.

Speaker 1: 07:11 I'm in speaking with Elliot spag at San Diego based AP reporter Elliot. Thank you. Thank you.

Speaker 3: 07:17 [inaudible].

Speaker 1: 00:00 On Wednesday, California announced plans to ban the widely used pesticide clear, pure Pfos. That chemical has been linked to neurological problems in infants and children. State health official said their decision was prompted by growing evidence that core pyrophosphates, which is used on crops such as oranges, grapes and almonds causes serious health effects in children and other sensitive populations at lower levels of exposure than previously understood. Brady Dennis is an environmental and health reporter for the Washington Post. He's been covering this development and joins us with more. Brady. Welcome. Hi, how are you? Just find thanks. So tell us more about core pyrophosphate. What is it? Who uses it and um, and what does it do?

Speaker 2: 00:43 Sure. This is a widely used, as you said, pesticide that is, uh, you know, in California alone is used on I think about 60 crops, everything from oranges to grapes to almonds and, um, it's a pesticide is meant to kill certain kinds of pests. Um, and it has been used for decades, uh, probably half a century or so, uh, in different uses around, around the US. How widely used is that a, well, I think a couple of years ago in 2000 as recently as 2016, uh, you know, the, the EPA estimated that about five to 8 million pounds of this was applied, uh, on crops nationwide. Uh, so it's, it's, uh, exclusively an agricultural product. Now, there was a time in the past when people used it in their house, you know, for, um, to kill cockroaches and, and other things like that. But that was the, those kinds of uses were banned, um, in 2000, so about 20 years ago now. And it's primarily used as an agricultural pesticide.

Speaker 1: 01:45 So do California farmers use a lot of the pesticide? You know, we certainly grow the crops it's used on.

Speaker 2: 01:52 Yeah. I mean they use more than any other state in the nation. And that's not to say that they use it and higher percentages, but you know, California's such a large state was such a huge agricultural industry that this is, um, you know, this is one of the commonly used tools there to, to treat crops. So having, um, the state ban, this particular pesticide is, is a huge blow to the, to the company that produces it. And many farmers would say, uh, takes away a tool that, uh, they really need to fight the fight pests that can kill crops. Um, and on the other hand, you know, it's, it's a pesticide that environmental groups, health groups have said needs to no longer be on the market for health reasons. Do you know what other states have banned it? Yes. So recently, so last year, Hawaii became the first state to ban a core, purify us, although that, that band doesn't take effect until 2022, uh, New York, uh, lawmakers in New York recently approved legislation that would ban corporate or fos, and I think that would be set to take effect in 2021 and a handful of other states.

Speaker 2: 02:54 Um, Oregon, Connecticut, I think New Jersey are also taking look at, um, taking this pesticide off the market. So these bands haven't taken effect yet. And I think California's, uh, would take a couple of years as well. Uh, but more and more states are moving that direction. And what does the EPA say about Claire Pyrophosphate? Its, its stance on this, this pesticide is changed since the Obama administration, right? Yeah. It's got this interesting history. You know, as I, as I mentioned, you know, the EPA supported taking this off the market, banding it for indoor uses and residential uses a back 20 years ago. And there's been other changes along the way a couple of years after that. Um, it endorsed label changes that would, that were aimed at protecting, protecting the workers that apply these and fields and protecting wildlife, you know, putting in place like buffer zones where it could be sprayed and making sure workers were protective equipment.

Speaker 2: 03:48 But you know, there's, there's been an evolution and ongoing push to ban this product completely over the health concerns. And, uh, in 2015, the Obama administration had proposed revoking all the uses of core pure Pfos on food. Um, but that didn't get finalized before the Obama Administration left office. And, uh, uh, president Trump's first EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, uh, you declined to ban the pesticide and said that the evidence, uh, wasn't strong enough to endorse that band and sort of left the door open. So that's, that's where we are now that the fight continues on that and Claire Purifies is made by Dow chemical. What's been their response to all this? I mean, their response has, uh, you know, essentially been that this is a well studied, uh, decide, uh, I think when, when we wrote the other day about California's plan to ban this, they said, you know, that, that there had been some 4,000 studies examining, uh, this product in terms of health and safety and in the VR environment and that it was for the uses that it's approved for.

Speaker 2: 04:53 They thought it was still an important tool for farmers to have, um, and that it's well regulated, uh, and so that it should be able to stay on the market. And they said pretty clearly they're going to, you know, look for ways to challenge this proposal in California and I, and I assume elsewhere as well. And how are those environmental groups who have been working to get rid of this pesticide for years responding? I mean, they're thrilled by what California did last week and Hawaii and other states are doing. Uh, but I think the people who have really spent a lot of time and effort trying to get this pesticide band, you know, really want a federal ban, a nationwide ban that would make this, uh, the case across all states. Just as you know, the company wants, uh, the federal government not to be on it and states to, to allow it to remain on the market. But I think environmental groups, you know, they, they praise California and govern Newsome for that, but I think they're still pushing for the EPA itself. Um, uh, to make the band national and again, Woodenville California's take place.

Speaker 2: 05:58 Um, I think California's ban takes about two years to take place, if I remember correctly. So that would put us, uh, also in about 2021. So you would see this wave of states, uh, of the band taking effect in states, probably in 20, 21, 20, 22 something like something like that. And I should say also that a, that a federal court and you know, this has wound up in federal court and that the court has ordered the EPA to make a final decision on this, this coming summer. So you could get a, a decision either way on that, uh, in, in a, in just a couple of months time.

Speaker 1: 06:30 And that's, you know, when you mentioned court, and I was going to ask, especially since these environmental groups are, are thrilled to see this action take place, but isn't enough. I mean, has the damage been done and are there lawsuits?

Speaker 2: 06:41 There are any number of lawsuits, uh, you know, state, federal, uh, but I think, I think all eyes are kind of on the federal courts because, uh, at least for the folks who want this pesticide, a band, you know, the, the most thorough and, um, far ranging way to do that is to force the federal government to do that in every state. Um, so I, I don't think, I think we'll see that fight go on for some time.

Speaker 1: 07:09 I've been speaking with Brady, Dennis, and environmental and health reporter for the Washington Post. Brady, thank you so much for joining us. Thank you.

Speaker 3: 07:19 [inaudible].

Speaker 1: 00:00 Now that marijuana is legal in California, the economic realities of growing cannabis are changing. KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman tells us how growers in San Diego are trying to meet the demands of a new market.

Speaker 2: 00:14 Well, that's a good one. I mean, obviously there are a lot of questions. What strain is it? You know, what's the flavor going to be and so forth. But in Lincoln, fish is CEO of out colabs in east county, which grows hundreds of cannabis plants at a time. OUTCO isn't your typical cannabis business. It grows manufacturers and sales, cannabis products at its own dispensary's Outco also wholesales cannabis to retailers across southern California. We sell the 60 dispensary's plus. We'll be in over 200 by the end of the year. OUTCO has its own line of products including concentrates and vapes. Items that fish says are growing in demand. As you get new entrants to the market, they typically go to concentrates that go to vapes or other concentrated products or they go to edibles. That's, that's the direction that they're going to go. You're not going to create people who didn't smoke before and suddenly going to take up smoking because cannabis became legal, you know, and we're seeing that we're seeing the flower as a percentage of the total sales.

Speaker 2: 01:04 We're seeing that drop. So what you're gonna see is a lot of plants that are grown to maximize how they might come out in an extraction. For example, growing cannabis indoors allows for a higher quality product, but it's expensive. You're basically creating a natural environment in a highly controlled way. There's lighting, air circulation, filtering, water pest and labor considerations. Fish believes as more growers come in, the cannabis growing process will change. I think we're going to see a lot of price compression to grow indoors. And you'll hear different numbers from different people, but let's call it between five and $600 a pound. Is your cost to grow, to grow in a, uh, sophisticated light deprivation, light supplementation, greenhouse, where are you using the power of the sun is more like $250 a pound. Right? Um, I think that's the future of the industry.

Speaker 3: 01:49 [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 01:55 houses or how Mike Mulatto plants to grow cannabis where we will have hard walls, clear roof, uh, light deprivation. So we'll be able to block out the light completely. Well, I know his family owns and operates a flower farm in Oceanside. Two years ago Malano left his position as CEO to pursue growing cannabis. I just saw it as an opportunity that I don't think we'll see. Again, it's just a brand new industry and it intrigued me. It interested me. There's way more gross margin and cannabis than there is in couple of hours. Well, I know has been in the agriculture business for most of his life and says cannabis is just another crop. I have a background of running large scale ag operations, right? Cultivation of cannabis is just an ag operation, right? The fact that we're growing the taboo plant of cannabis is irrelevant. You just said it's the environmental controls, pest control, pest management, process management, labor managers,

Speaker 3: 02:51 man

Speaker 2: 02:53 taken two years, but Mulatto just received the permit from the city of Oceanside to start growing cannabis. It's been a challenge to, to work through the political process of all this. Now he faces a state licensing process. Belato says it's a huge investment to start a cannabis growing operation. I think it's really difficult for a smaller, uh, group that just wants to jump in now or just an individual's like, hey, I want to grow cannabis. I'm like, okay, well do you have seven or 8 million laying around to get it done? Or do you have a year or two to do the political process? It's when you start asking the questions around what it actually takes a good luck [inaudible] got to keep the air circulating. The air circulating helps really keep the plants healthy out. Coast fish agrees. He says the cannabis industry isn't the cash cow it's made out to be.

Speaker 2: 03:36 It's far more difficult to make money in cannabis than most people realize and ultimately it's going to be just like any other business in terms of, in terms of you have to, you know, you have to do things efficiently. You have to watch your margins. You have to, you know, create a, a real business infrastructure. Then there's the whole issue of competing with the black market. Illegal grows aren't under any regulation and are avoiding taxes that legal operators face. I'm happy to pay those taxes. I'm all for it, but it's gotta be, it's got to coincide with making it more difficult for the other guy. The problem with that whole black market pieces, they're using stuff all over the place where they're making products that don't care about things like how much lead is in a vape cartridge or you know what, what the pesticides when they wouldn't, they just don't care. Fish says he hasn't seen a lot of enforcement from the state on cannabis. Just recently, California found it received lower tax revenue than originally projected free assess to see that revenue grow illegal operators need to be shut down.

Speaker 1: 04:35 Joining me is KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman. Matt, welcome. Thanks Maureen. You know you say California received less tax revenue from cannabis sales than it was expecting. How much less.

Speaker 4: 04:47 So the, the canvas excise tax was forecast to generate $288 million in 2018, 2019 and another 359,000,020 19 and 20. Now that's a combined 223 million less than originally projected. Now, if you ask the governor or the state why that is, they say that's because there's some cities and counties that are not allowing for the sales or cultivation of canvas. So they're missing out on that revenue. There

Speaker 1: 05:10 are the entrepreneurs that you spoke with making less money than they expected to.

Speaker 4: 05:14 You know, the one I talked to, um, outco of the CEO says, you know, every legal operated will tell you that they're hurting because of the black market. Um, it's unclear. You know what exactly that hurt is. I mean, it seems like they're still making money. Um, but just that black market, you know, they don't have to follow these regulations. They don't have to pay taxes. It's severely undercutting, uh, the legal market, especially when the canvas products are so much cheaper.

Speaker 1: 05:35 So how big a problem is this? I saw last week in the news authorities say three men were injured when a cannabis growing operation in a mere Mesa home caught fire. Are there any estimates on how many on authorize black market growers there are in San Diego?

Speaker 4: 05:52 We talked about black market growers. You know, I don't really think that there's an estimate for that. I mean they have these rates like that happen. That incident happened, there was that big fire. Then all of a sudden they found this one. I hear that it's a lot up in northern California, like up in humble, there's a lot of outdoor illegal grows, but it's not as prevalent as you would say. Like an illegal dispensary. Like where you see them. Like you go down to Chula Vista and you see them literally right there on the street. Um, these black market grows. They seem like they're more, you know, trying to keep way off the radar and they don't want anyone to know what they're doing.

Speaker 1: 06:20 Um, tell us a little bit more specifically about why they can sell for less. Is it because their overhead is really sort of a fraction of the legal growers? Is that right?

Speaker 4: 06:29 It, it's, it's, it's a few things really. I mean, the CEO that we talked to have outco Lincoln Fish. He says they cannot use certain pesticides. Um, when they do their, grows these black market people, they can do whatever they want. I mean, you don't know what, what exactly is going into the cannabis that you buy from them. That's one piece of it. Also the sales tax, I mean they, these guys have to pay state and local tax when they grow, when they sell these illegal growers that they don't have to pay at literally any, any tax. Um, and it's also an interesting note. I mean, uh, outco they have two dispensary's their medical only, um, the average age of their customers, 58 years old. Um, so that's, you know, that's kind of a telling thing. Or another girl we talked to WHO's hoping to start growing operation up in ocean side says he thinks that a lot of younger people are getting their weed or their cannabis from the black market so that they aren't paying high dollar and it shows at least to the medical side, the average age of the customer is 58 years old.

Speaker 1: 07:22 How has the state supposed to monitor illegal marijuana? Okay.

Speaker 4: 07:25 Variations, right. I mean, so there's, there's three state agencies that oversee all of the legal cannabis in California. They're supposed to be doing enforcement, whether it's on grows, whether it's on retail sales or what have you. But California Governor Gavin Newsom, we had a chance to talk to them last Friday. You know, he says that the state relies heavily on its partner agencies. So that's county law enforcement, city police. They rely heavily on them to do some enforcement. They say they want to see that enforcement step up. But there's also something called track and trace, which the state has implemented, but just not a lot of, uh, cannabis businesses are using that right now. And basically track and trace is supposed to um, help, uh, basically, you know, for when you grow a plant to when it winds up on the shelf, you know exactly where it came from. Um, and the goal of that is to reduce getting some illegal product on a shelf. We had a chance to ask, uh, the governor about that last Friday and he says that to get the whole legal system at this speed, it's gonna take a while.

Speaker 1: 08:17 I just got here, I'm inheriting this, we're going to fix this and it's going to take five to seven years. I've said this for the last two years. I said, everyone be patient here. No one is patient. No one is patient because their, their business is being undermined,

Speaker 4: 08:32 right? Yeah. I mean if you talk to guys like the management over at Outco, you know, they say, hey, we haven't seen a lot of enforcement. If any enforcement on, on the legal grows. Um, sometimes if you say, hey, there's an illegal dispensary over here, it'll take a month. They say to eventually go in and shut them down. So the State California Governor Gavin Newsome, he says he's working on and he said that he promises that there is going to be more enforcement on this. Um, I guess that's going to be yet to be seen though. Now the CEO of Outco says there are not a lot of new marijuana smokers, even though it's legal, but what kinds of cannabis products are they using instead? Right, so we're talking about vapes and concentrates. These are things that come from plants where you don't necessarily have to have the highest quality bud outco.

Speaker 4: 09:13 They'd grow cannabis, they grow hundreds of plants at a time and they have some that they use where they sell the actual flower, the bud, and then they do. But a lot more in concentrated as you heard in the story. And basically they say they only sell that the top bud, the highest quality bud that you're able to get. And he said that they're gonna start growing plants because they're seeing a trend in the market where people are buying a lot more concentrated and a lot more vapes than they are flowers, at least on the medical side. For them. And so they're going to start growing plants that maximize the amount, um, of, of like vapor amount, amount of juice that they can get out of it. Um, and it's just, it's a different process where they have to extract the juice in terms of, instead of just cutting the bud and using the buds.

Speaker 4: 09:49 Now I understand it was difficult for you to find legal cannabis growers who we talk with you. Yeah. Um, you know, we, we sit on the story a few months ago and we put out a lot of feelers. Just really didn't hear back from a lot of people. Um, had to rely on some other contexts that had worked in the PR business to kind of get us in. And we talked to a couple of dispensaries that we'd done stories with in the past who said, hey, try this person died, this person. So it's just hard to find those businesses. I mean, they're not, you know, most of them outco being the, one of the exceptions here locally, they don't really have a strong web presence. You know, they don't say, here's our website, here's where we're located. Come by and say hi. Um, I think a lot of them want to stay kind of in the shadows.

Speaker 4: 10:26 You know, there's various reasons for why that could possibly be, but I don't think a lot of them want to say like, Hey, we had this big warehouse and put a sign outside saying we're growing cannabis perhaps because it's still a cash business. Right? Yeah. It is a cash business, especially on the retail side. I'm not sure exactly how the growers handle that, but yeah, definitely on the retail side it is still a cash business. Another thing that to touch on as well too, um, when we talk about growing cannabis in general, outkast fish, the CEO, he said it pretty well. Um, he says, you know, the market's changing and he's the, he thinks that indoor cannabis growers aren't just going to be feasible to do. It's so expensive to replicate basically outdoor environment and the highly controlled way, and he thinks that it's going to be a lot more of these, like greenhouse kind of grows where they can grow it for cheaper and sell it for, you know, a little bit cheaper as well. He thinks that is going to be the future of cannabis. I've been speaking with KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman. Matt. Thank you. Thanks Maureen.

Speaker 1: 00:00 The story of the Central Park Five, a group of black and Latino teenagers wrongfully convicted of rape and their eventual exoneration is as relevant today as it was when had happened 30 years ago. In addition to a forthcoming feature film, the young men's experience of false confessions and years behind bars is being retold and what might be an unexpected genre as an opera, Uc San Diego Music Professor Anthony Davis compose the central park five, his eighth opera, this one based on a Libretto by Richard Wesley and Anthony Davis joins me now to talk about it. Anthony, welcome. Oh, hello? Yes. What makes this story still so relevant now?

Speaker 2: 00:41 Well, I think it's relevant because it's a recurring story. I mean the idea of African American and use being falsely accused and their harassment by police and the excesses of police violence and police brutality as well as the rush to judgment. And I think that that's still pertinent today. And that's also how African Americans and Latinos have to always be in a defensive position. And, and now we see with the what's going on, it's even getting worse in terms of government intervention. And with, with immigrants, et cetera. So I think that, uh, this is a real issue and something that's really relevant to people who are often described as the other.

Speaker 1: 01:22 And you lived in New York when this was going on. What do you remember from that time?

Speaker 2: 01:27 I had a bit of a memory of it, you know, of their trial and conviction and the fewer about what happened to the central park jogger. And I remember Donald Trump's, uh, taking out ads, calling for the death penalty for these five teenagers. The reaction Patrick could be candidate among others. You know, talking about lynching them in central park. The invective was horrifying. It was horrifying to me because they also represented an attack on the, on the black community, particularly a collision of culture between, you know, the idea of the emerging hip hop culture, which was happening in Harlem with the emergence of, of hip hop in the Bronx. You know, in the late 1980s it was symbolic of a kind of cultural war and the, and the idea of trying to suppress the use enthusiasm about hip hop into a new music in a new culture.

Speaker 1: 02:17 And you know, as you said, Donald Trump became a central figure in the story. Here he is at the time in a clip from a Ken Burns film on the subject, you better believe that I hate the people that took this girl and raped her brutally. You better believe it. Now he took out an ad in several New York newspapers calling for the death penalty to be reinstated. Why include him as a character and the opera? What role does he play in the larger story?

Speaker 2: 02:45 Actually, the central park five was I think the beginning of his political career and all the hallmarks of his career are in, are evident in here. The idea of exploiting racial tensions, the idea of exploring that for his own personal gain. So I think that he was getting attention from the media and becoming a spokesperson for all of these people, horrified by the, the violent act. And then all the people who would condemn and vilify these young men. So I see him as it. Yeah. As playing a pivotal role because in a way, in a way, one of the things, fascinations of opera is with evil and with what, what happens when people are obsessed with power and people are willing to condemn and bill by others. Originally in the original version of the Libretto, he did not appear in the opera. When I read it I said I have to have Donald Trump in it.

Speaker 1: 03:34 How do you convey on stage what those then teens lost in their wrongful convictions?

Speaker 2: 03:39 Well, I think that you have to think about the time they lost the also their self esteem and what they went through as young men. I mean the four of them were in a juvenile detention for seven years, but carry wise was in an adult prison for 13 years. I mean in spite of human beings and you're getting exonerated and, and the settlement the city made it still haunts him and I think still haunts the others too. It's something that they have to live with every day. And also to restore their reputations.

Speaker 1: 04:10 And there's an Aria Sung by a masked character. Let's take a listen.

Speaker 3: 04:36 [inaudible] [inaudible]

Speaker 4: 04:42 [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 04:46 he says, the way they talk, the way they walk, acting like they don't care in Harlem, they're always angry than music. The lyrics certainly convey emotion. The mast character is a reporter and there were lots of ways the boys were misrepresented by the media at the time. How critical are those examples of sensationalism spin and stereotypes to telling the story now?

Speaker 2: 05:09 Well, I think they are critical because it's a kind of way in the invective works, you know, the way that rumors are spread, the weight reputations are destroyed and the feeding frenzy that always happens with media and the willingness of people to believe things on the surface. And I think in their case, the Basque plays various different characters in the opera. He starts as a reporter and then he becomes a policeman. Then it becomes part of the legal team that's prosecuting the boys, but also he's kind of symbolic of the many forms of racism, maybe forms of prejudice and bias that exists in our society. And the threat that that is to the very existence of African American and Hispanic young men. And there's a connection

Speaker 1: 05:58 between this story and the black lives matter movement. Tell me that.

Speaker 2: 06:02 Well, I think that, uh, many respects to the black lives matters movement grew out of the, the protests that began after the boys were incarcerated and the call for their release. And then eventually when the, you know, they, they found my ts Reyes who was actual a salient confessed to the crime. This really brought to light the sense of the injustice in the ongoing sense of injustice and the fact that it keeps going, it keeps happening, whether it's in Saint Louis or, or Milwaukee or these incidents keep happening in African American, Hispanic, young men have to be always on guard.

Speaker 1: 06:37 Hmm. And many of the operas you've composed had been stories of social significance really, that, that focus on the black experience in America. You know, the life and times of Malcolm Max Omnistar, the slave ship revolts and the trial that followed. Um, why is it important to tell these stories and why use opera as a tool to do it?

Speaker 2: 06:56 I think it's very important to tell these stories because, uh, in a way to own them, particularly as an African American myself, I think it's important to, to, to tell those stories from our point of view, a lot of times things get buried. And for me, opera is almost, is a very interesting form because there's not a realistic form. It's not a form that's about realism or action in real time. And opera time is suspended. And so you can actually look at what's behind everything. You know, this psychological forces, the also political and social forces that the movements that create the situation, you can look at all the things that all the forces that influence what's going on.

Speaker 1: 07:40 I've been speaking with composer and UC San Diego, Professor Anthony Davis. You can catch a special performance from the central park five opera and a talk tonight at seven at Uc San Diego Mandeville Auditorium. Anthony, thank you so much for joining us.

Speaker 2: 07:55 Well, thank you. I appreciate it.

Speaker 4: 07:57 [inaudible].

Speaker 1: 00:00 J R r Tolkien famously wrote the Hobbit and the Lord of rings books that inspired Peter Jackson's recent films now of film biography about the author hits theaters in the new episode of the KPBS podcast, cinema junky host Beth og, Mondo speaks with the film's director Domain Chorico ski about making connections between the man and his books.

Speaker 2: 00:24 What do you remember as your first introduction to toll keen,

Speaker 3: 00:32 miserable kid being bullied? Uh, I was at that time growing up without a father who I got to know in the later teens and then I think it was the teacher who gave me the Lord of rings to read. And I remember that, you know, ready read the trilogy. I remember I cried then when Sam is back home. And because partly because for me at that time was an escape. And then I cried not just because the beautiful story, but because the adventure kind of escape ended. So that actually affected me very highly. It was very instrumental probably as a storyteller because then I started making my own fantasy stories. I've got it playing dungeons, dragons, board games, and creating my own stories in that. So I remember that emotion very well.

Speaker 2: 01:19 And at what point did you become aware of the author's story? Like he, his own story and became interested in him?

Speaker 3: 01:27 I think most of us know kind of the CS Lewis and the increased air, the Oxford area. And that was also my picture of him, you know, in a certain way. I was, I was a very poor kid also. So you didn't have running water. So you, you look at him, the privilege almost elitist character in Oxford. And then when you realize this story that, you know, he came out of poverty, he was orphaned, you know, he had to really struggle and fight to be who he was. In a way. There's a certain, I appreciate appreciation against him even more. You kind of admire it. And even more after hearing of this specific era that we're depicting the film.

Speaker 2: 02:05 And when did you become involved in this project and in, what was it that attracted you to trying to tell his story?

Speaker 3: 02:12 Uh, I have good folks just a couple of years ago, everything was 2014 and they had seen some of my older films and kind of liked the voice that I have as a director and express that they would be very keen on working with me on something. And I was sent the script and of course this script is several drafts ago and what struck me most is the sense of destiny. So this time that it's based on his life, he's actually an outsider. He becomes orphaned, is the need to find friends and is so vital. And even in a manual level that I felt somehow destined that I did. That was, those were the emotions that I had when I was learning about these stories. And so it felt like, okay, there's something here, there's something, definitely hear that I want make the story. And we started developing, rewriting, reshaping and several, several script draft that's ready later and shooting. Here we are.

Speaker 2: 03:08 And what kind of research did you do into his life to try and find out what his childhood was like and what kind of things influenced his writing?

Speaker 3: 03:17 Well, the difficulty of course is that there's not that much documentation of this era that we're depicting. So how would you sweet everything? I would listen to all the interviews. I would meet so many talking experts that uh, I could, and it was tricky is that one expert will be saying one thing and the other experts expert will be saying the other thing and everybody will have an opinion what should be involved in the film. And when you're doing an iconic character like talking, that's your biggest challenge as a filmmaker. So what happens to your biggest research is just listening, listening, listening, and then kind of finding through those voices your own infiltration of the cat and, and what you want to tell, what is the main emotion you want to tell about them, their growth. And, and if you look at this era of why, you know, after reading about in, the more I read about the mortar researched, it felt it's so instrumental in his mythologies. No, not necessarily as direct inspiration, but more like it really shaped him as an artist to create these stories.

Speaker 2: 04:16 And in making this film, what did you feel was the most important thing that you wanted to convey about him?

Speaker 3: 04:22 I think there were two things. One is that what was very important for me from what I read the first draft and then you know kind of developing new Wesley, how do we delve into the mind of a genius regardless of your talking fan or regardless about that you want to see by talking movie you want to see how he's mindful or she said that was something I took very much care of. And the second thing is also the beautiful story of friendship and fellowship that the film have, you know, and the inspiration that you're the [inaudible], how they, how they embrace life. The beauty of life. That was very important that to bear, have some people walk, walk into the cinema even though accidentally walking in, not knowing anything about talking, they can walk out feelings by feeling love and feeling this like excitement and then you know, perhaps call a friend and go have a cup of tea with them and told us to tell stories.

Speaker 2: 05:15 You mentioned doing research and looking for things about him. One thing told keen is famous for having said is that you know you shouldn't, that the book is just the book. It's, it's nothing more. It's not about war, it's not about politics. How do you kind of take what an artist says about themselves? Can we always believe like what the artist says or do you think you have to kind of dig below what they're presenting their work as? Well,

Speaker 3: 05:46 I think he said that that specific line he said in regards of the Nazis and then at that time, you know, so many people were trying to find, you know, allegories in the world war. Of course I do, but he also said there were several things that inspiring directly one on one, like when Edith office and in the forest that inspired him to write the better nucleon than they are. There are different elements that he admitted that were inspirations that I do agree with him. That is not a direct analogy. Arbeit launderings a very capitalistic work. You know, it's, it's very religious and Todd and core. But again, it's not directly coming out of, you know, the Bible. Uh, it's more of like who we are as artists. We use the emotions, the feelings that we have post. He would mention the war. It's not more done. And I agree that it's not one on one or more as an inspiration to is more, more door, but in a way, it's an emotional journey into Mordor and emotional experience. Him as an innocent, so innocent men going to war and then confronting this turmoil and that we wanted to show that those emotions that you felt and experienced, and I'm pretty sure he used those emotions and writing his art

Speaker 1: 07:01 that was still may, director of the new film biography of Tolkien speaking with Beth, a commando host of the KPBS podcasts that I'm a junkie. You can listen to the entire episode@kpbs.org or wherever you get your podcasts.

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KPBS Midday Edition

KPBS Midday Edition is a daily talk show hosted by Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon, keeping San Diegans in the know on everything from politics to the arts.