What is human nature?
Anna Deavere Smith is an actor, a teacher, a playwright, and the creator of an acclaimed series of one-woman plays based on her interviews with diverse voices from communities in crisis. She has won two Obie Awards, two Tony nominations for her play Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, and a MacArthur Fellowship.
She was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her play Fires in the Mirror. She has had roles in the films Philadelphia, An American President, The Human Stain, and Rent, and she has worked in television on The Practice, Presidio Med, and The West Wing. The founder and director of the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue, she teaches at New York University and lives in New York City.
Topic: Human Nature
Anna Deavere Smith: I’m working on a project now about the human body. And I’ve been interviewing people who are dying. And I’ve been interviewing doctors. And I went to Rwanda and talked to some people 10 years after the genocide. I went to South Africa and talked to people about the pandemic of HIV/AIDS there. And on the other hand, I talked to people who are very, very talented, vibrant people with their bodies, like Lance Armstrong, for example.
And I have come to the conclusion that, you know, it’s just not fair that some people get certain burdens, and some people get certain gifts; but that, as somebody said to me the other day, these gifts are randomly delivered.
And so then that leaves me with a bigger question. And it looks like we’ll be going into a period now where people who have resources will be able to genetically, through genetic therapies, enhance things that they may not have. But not everybody will do that.
And so that could set up how we started that.
The lens through which I’ve seen the world for so long is about making a level playing field. I think we’re going to move away from that very far.
And then, if it’s not fair, what do we do? What should we do? What should we do personally? Will the desire to have things be fair and be equal go away as a human enterprise? We look to the law to help us figure out about fairness. On the other hand, we see it all over the world. And we saw in this country [USA] that the law can justify misdeeds.
So I’ve learned about human nature. The good news is that throughout history, even though it hasn’t been fair, there have been people who have worked hard to try to make a situation where many people could thrive when they could have chosen to make a situation where nobody could thrive but them.
So it’s good news and it’s bad news. The bad news is that some are more vulnerable than others. The good news is that occasionally, powerful human beings have used their power to make it okay for everybody.
Recorded on: 08/22/2007
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