Madonna knows contraversy – you don’t become the world’s most famous pop singer without ruffling a few feathers. But this time, just about everyone from tabloid reporters to adoption groups seems to be weighing in on her decision to make David Banda, a young boy from Malawi, part of her family
TIME: Why do you think people are so upset by the fact that you adopted a Malawian child?
Madonna: People or the media? Because I don’t think people really give a shit. But when you throw in things like, I’m a celebrity and I somehow got special treatment, or make the implication of kidnapping, it gets mixed into a stew and it sells lots of papers. But care? People don’t care and the media certainly doesn’t care. What they should care about is that there are over a million orphans in Malawi, and following me around is just a gross misappropriation of attention and money. But I do think there’s a certain amount of nationalism and racism thrown in there. I mean, there’s a lot of Brits – reporters on the street – who’ve said, “Why don’t you adopt a kid from Britain?” Or, “Why did you adopt a black child?” So a lot of people’s hangups and ‘isms’ are sort of mixed into this, too. It’s just kind of a cocktail for disaster in terms of media perception.
One of the ‘isms’ that you’re frequently accused of is dilletantism. You’re new to Africa and these issues and there’s a perception that you’re jumping on a bandwagon, and bringing a child into it, too.
Well that’s not my problem. I don’t care. I could know about the situation for two weeks and want to do something about it or I could know about it for years and deliberate on a plan of action. Which is better? That I found out about an issue and instantly wanted to take action, or that it took me years to get my shit together? Look, I could have joined the U.N. and become an ambassador and visited various countries and just kind of showed up and smiled and looked concerned. But that’s not getting to the root of the problem – and by the way, neither is building orphan care centers and giving people food and medicine. But it’s a start. I’m saving people’s lives. And whether I have earned the right to do it, or the respect of people who think I may not have the right to do it, is completely and utterly irrelevant. And in any event, no, I’m not interested in going in there like a dilettante and being an idiot and going ‘Ok, I’m going to build 10 orphanages and I’ll see you guys later!’
So this is a lifetime commitment?
Absolutely. I’m starting with Malawi. It’s a small, peaceful country, so I feel like it’s a safe place to start. And if it works, I’ll expand. But it is the beginning and I know I’m going to get a lot of criticism and take a lot of shit for it, and it’s kind of like, Go ahead, haze me, have a laugh, and come back and talk to me in five years.
You’ve been through other hazing periods in your career. Is this one different than…
Yeah, because a life is at stake. And in all those other hazing periods people were just trying to f*ck with me. Now they’re going into a village and terrorizing innocent people who live simple lives, terrorizing the father, terrorizing the children that I already have. There are a lot of people who are indirectly being effected by it. That’s the difference.
You met Mr. Banda once, in a courtroom. What did you say to him?
Obviously when you’re sitting across from the father it’s really heart wrenching. He was looking down at the ground all the time and I felt so bad for him. I said, ‘I feel for you and I want what’s best for David. So if you want him, I don’t want to take your son from you. I just want to save his life. I can’t live in Malawi. I can’t move my family here. He would have to come and live with me and I would raise him as a son. But there’s another option. I can just give you money, and you can raise him.’ And he said no. But he still had a very hangdog expression, which crushed me. It was very confusing, and I’m sure he was very confused. Look, his wife dies, his other three children die, the guy’s been grieving and been through hell. He gives his last son to an orphanage at the age of two weeks… to a certain extent he was ready to move on with his life. Then suddenly I show up and someone from the village says ‘Hey, this white woman’ – he didn’t know who I was – ‘wants to adopt your child!’ And once the press got involved everyone said Oh God, now we better cross our t’s and dot our i’s to make sure we actually aren’t jumping queues, because we’re going to be scrutinized. So the process became extremely tedious and the court dates kept changing and we kept getting conflicting information. It became so difficult that every day I thought, ‘Ok, forget it. We’ll find a family here to look after him.’ Meanwhile I had been given permission to take him to my hotel because I had to take him to a clinic to get chest x-rays and a proper medical examination to see why he wasn’t breathing properly. And I just keep thinking, ‘Oh god, I don’t want to get too attached because what if it doesn’t happen?’ It was all very strange and weird, and I’d go to bed every night and think ok, whether someone else ends up looking after him or you end up looking after him, he’s better off now than he was. But it was one f*cking thing after the next, everywhere we went. So the idea that people think I got a shortcut or an easy ride is absolutely ludicrous. I have never worked so hard for anything in my life, and I’ve never been given such a hard time. And my celebrity has worked against me in every way… And by the way, say I did cut the queue? Say I did cheat and not have to wait two years to adopt a child? Well good for me! Do you know how many children are going to die in the next two years? It’s a stupid law. Change the law.
Do you worry at all that you’ve saved this child from physical misery…
From death. Death. He would not have lived.
Ok. But do you worry that you’ve saved him only to introduce him to a much more abstract kind of misery? There were hordes of photographers documenting his arrival in England.
Well my other children are exposed to that and they’re not miserable. I think I have a very good life, and a good life to offer David. You know, it’s like the old saying, civil rights don’t mean shit if you’re dead. Even if I’m the worst mother in the world, I’m still better than death! [laughs]
Is being Madonna still as fun as it used to be?
Fun? Oh, I don’t know. Fun. [Several second pause] Fun’s kind of an overrated word. I’m not sure what you mean by that. Do I enjoy aspects of my life? Because what being Madonna is – are you talking about my professional career?
All of it.
Well, I do get joy out of it. It’s not smooth sailing by any means, but I enjoy a great deal of it, otherwise I wouldn’t do it. But I also know that if you’re going to try and change things – change anything really – you’d better be prepared to find yourself in the headquarters of hell. That’s just how it works. But with resistance comes growth. If you go to a gym and lift weights and its easy then your muscles aren’t going to grow. Your muscles grow because you’re struggling against something.
Do you enjoy the resistance as much as you used to?
Sometimes. Sometimes I do. There is a part of me that is secretly enjoying pissing people off, because I know that when you’re pissing people off you’re often doing the right thing. What I hope I’m doing better now than I used to do is picking the right battles to fight, and not just being provocative for the sake of being provocative.
© Time Magazine