Madonna: Hi, Ingrid.
Ingrid Sischy: Hello, Madonna. It’s our seven-year anniversary. The last interview we did together for this magazine was in March 2001, of all things. We’ve spoken since, but our last on-the-record conversation for Interview was before the whole world changed.
Madonna: Oh, goodness. That was ages ago. Well, I hope I’ve got something interesting to talk about since then. [laughs]
Ingrid: Me too. [laughs] But seriously, thank you so much for doing this. I know you’re in the middle of a lot of things.
Madonna: You’re welcome. I hear you’re leasing the magazine.
Ingrid: I am.
Madonna: What are you going to do? [The two of them chat for a while]
Ingrid: I’d like to start by talking about your involvement with Malawi. The event and benefit you did with Gucci at the U.N. on February 6 was really something [raising roughly $5.5 million]. I was thinking about it while I listened to your new album [scheduled to be released on April 29, with no firm title as yet], and the urgency I heard on the record, especially the song “Four Minutes,” brought the evening back. It seemed to be a vivid example of where your head is now. The piece of the intensely powerful documentary, I Am Because We Ire, that you produced and was shown that ;light pretty much answers all the people who say the problems with AIDS in Africa are so overwhelming that nothing can help.
It’s the opposite, in fact. Every little bit helps. In the film [directed by Nathan Rissman] you say: “People always ask me why I chose Malawi. And I tell them I didn’t. It chose me.” Why did you decide to document your involvement?
Madonna: It was that I found out about the situation there. And when I went there for the first time, I saw that I needed to document my journey. More specifically, I wanted to go on a journey with these children to find out for myself what was going to make a difference in their lives and document that. Was it just about giving them a roof over their heads? Was it just about giving them food and clothes? Was it just about giving them available and accessible RAV’s [antivirals]? Was it all of those things? Or was it about dealing with what was going on inside their heads and their hearts and tapping into their own sense of empowerment and resiliency? The more I went to Malawi and observed things, the more I realized that people are layered, so solving their problems is layered. The worst thing you can do to help a person is to just throw a bunch of stuff at them and run away.
Ingrid: Right, and that’s never worked with Africa, or any place for that matter.
Madonna: No. That doesn’t work with anybody.
Ingrid: Tell us more about the film.
Madonna: There were so many ways it could have turned out. We shot so much footage and we had so many stories to tell. And there were so many versions of the movie before we ended up with the version we now have. Some of the earlier versions were no chilling and heartbreaking that I think people felt paralyzed after watching it, and that’s the last thing I wanted to do. The other reason I wanted to make the movie–and it’s what I said at the fundraising event [at the U.N.]–is that people have become immune to the idea of raising awareness for something and getting involved. They can make a difference but you know, people are like, “Oh, there are so many problems in the world, what could I possibly do? We’re fucked. . . . Africa’s fucked. The environment’s fucked. Whatever.” People are bombarded with problems, and they’ve become paralyzed by them. So I wanted to offer simple solutions and to illustrate how simple things really do make a difference in a person’s life. It is easy for us to be involved with the solution.
Ingrid: The film begins with a simple thing. A woman phones you. She says something like, “You’re a person with resources. People will pay attention to you. You can help.” You then say you felt embarrassed because you didn’t know where Malawi was. And she tells you to look it up on a map and hangs up.
Madonna: Yeah. And then I went there.
Ingrid: So that call happened before you adopted your son, David?
Madonna: Oh, yeah. All those things happened way before that. Yeah, it was a long journey. And then after I went there, I brought eight teachers from Malawi to Los Angeles, put them through a teachers’ training course, and then brought them back to Malawi. At that point I started to meet the children and befriend them, which is how I met my son. It was a process of many journeys. All the teachers you see teaching in the movie are teachers who went through that training. Many of them have formed a network that looks after people now. I continue to stay in touch with them and they continue to teach psycho-social support to these kids and their parents. It’s amazing the difference it’s made, not only in the children’s lives but in the teachers’ as well.