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Six for Susan Sarandon

Q&As reconsidered: A world class actress on Obama, Palin, and show biz


Susan Sarandon talked about Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, and the future of journalism during a question-and-answer session with several hundred Boston University students on September 18, 2008. Photo by Vernon Doucette

The art of the interview can be as subtle as any creative form, as complicated as any relationship. When an interview goes well, a question elicits a profound answer, an answer suggests the next thoughtful question, and like footsteps right and left, the alternating rhythm leads toward some fine place. This week we’re tracing back through some of the previous academic year’s interviews, revisiting Q&As that ricochet from person to person, angling through intriguing subjects.

Before she was ever cast in a film or nominated for an Academy Award, Susan Sarandon was a political activist. A vehement opponent of the Vietnam War, the actress best known for her politically charged roles in Thelma and Louise (1992) and Dead Man Walking (1995) has become only more outspoken with age. She has argued for reproductive rights and against capital punishment, and as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, she has traveled throughout Africa and India to relieve hunger, promote women’s rights, and help children with AIDS. Her activism led to her arrest in 1999 and a two-year ban from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1993.

On September 18, 2008, Sarandon came to Boston University to accept the Bette Davis Lifetime Achievement Award. The award was given by the Bette Davis Foundation on the occasion of the opening of the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center’s A Retrospective Exhibition of the Life and Work of Bette Davis, celebrating Davis’ 100th birthday. After the ceremony, she stuck around for a question-and-answer session with several hundred BU students. Excerpts from the session are below.

Did you initially support Senator Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential nominee?
No. I started out supporting Edwards because I thought he was the most authentic of the candidates. I liked that he hadn’t taken any money from outside sources, I liked his health-care plan, and I felt closest to his proposed policies. But I like Obama, too. He represents change, obviously. This is such an exciting year. In past elections, there were few differences between the candidates. But Kurt Vonnegut couldn’t have even written this one. This is the year, guys. This is the big stuff. The Supreme Court and reproductive rights and the economy and the war are all on the line. America is going to get, one way or another, what it deserves in this election, and the swing voters who are going to determine the election are sitting right here. There’s a lot at stake, and it’s up to you to save us.

What do you think of Sarah Palin?
Well, she doesn’t believe in evolution, and I think that’s a very serious clue. Ed Harris predicted that she’s going to be a really big footnote in the annals of moose hunting, and I hope that’s as far as she goes, because, quite frankly, she’s scary. John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate was divisive and cynical. Forget the fact that she’s inexperienced — her views are so limiting that they set the women’s movement back years. It infuriates me that the conservatives are using a woman to defeat all of the progress we’ve made, and I think it’s especially scary for young people because there’s no way we can stay on the track that McCain is talking about without ultimately reissuing the draft. And that’s another reason why this election is so important, particularly for young people. For you, it’s a do-or-die election.

Is Sarah Palin a feminist?
I don’t understand how anyone can claim that she’s a feminist. Is it because she’s cute and feisty and spunky? Is it because she carries a gun and shoots animals from a helicopter? That’s not feminism — that’s the worst aspect of violent male behavior. I think she completely compromises the idea of feminism. And I think it’s a cheap shot to compare her to Hillary Clinton. They don’t have anything in common. I mean, when you get a woman in government, you want the right woman. You don’t want just any vagina!

What do you think of the right’s political strategies?
As long as we’re divided, no one focuses on the real problems. The right has created a smoke screen to keep us busy hating immigrants or blaming the Mexicans for the problems in the economy or voting against our best interests because God forbid a lesbian buy the house next door to us. It’s crazy, but their strategy has worked every time. I mean, look at McCain’s choice in a running mate. Since he chose Palin, you haven’t heard anything about Obama because the media is too busy reporting on her.

What advice can you give to young journalists?
Unfortunately, the people who ultimately profit from the problems that need to be reported control the media. Since September 11, the message has been, “You’re either with us or against us, and you do not have the right to question anything.” I think the only thing that protects us now is speaking out. We need people like you to take to the streets. Make noise, boycott. I was recently on a talk show that was hosted by a very famous anchorwoman, and when the show was over, she covered her mike and said, “You don’t understand what we cannot say, what we cannot ask.” It’s not my imagination — there’s definitely a lockdown. So go write for something that’s not corporately owned. I’m glad you’re a journalist, and I hope you find a way to make changes. So keep asking the hard questions. Find those answers.

What role does showbiz play in politics?
As a citizen, you’re supposed to use democracy, and you don’t forfeit that privilege when you become a media figure. As a person connected to the media, I can be a little flashlight that gives people information that they won’t get from the mainstream media. So until the press turns out responsible journalists and starts covering issues that really matter, sometimes it’s helpful for someone like Mia Farrow go to Darfur or for someone like me go to India — because the newspapers will actually print our stories.

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.

This story originally ran September 23, 2008.


2 Comments on Six for Susan Sarandon

  • Geoff on 07.20.2009 at 11:00 am

    Scary Stuff

    Wow, apparently BU will give out awards to borderline crazies, eh? A “little flashlight”, indeed.

    Well, at least you have to respect her humanitarian work, even if she lives an angry delusion.

  • Anonymous on 07.22.2009 at 10:34 am


    Where is the “art” in this interview? One sentence softball questions with incomprehensible and angry responses? This reflects poorly on BU. And to make matters worse you are recycling something that happened before the election. Why so partisan?

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