Two weeks from now marks the third anniversary of the mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, during which 17 teenagers were tragically killed. On Sunday night (Jan. 31), Academy Award-winning actress, singer and activist Cher and activist Emma Gonzalez — a Parkland survivor — continued the conversation with a virtual screening of Kim A. Snyder’s 2020 documentary, “Us Kids,” followed by a live question and answer session.
“I was happy to see that Emma’s passion has not diminished a drop since the making of this profound documentary,” Cher tells Variety. “As I said during the conversation, I think our generations working together can make great progress addressing gun violence and other important issues”.
The talk, which was capped with a Cher singalong of her 1998 hit, “Believe,” centered not only on the film, but on other issues plaguing the U.S. and the world. “What’s going on in our country and how the youth movement is going forward, because as the song says, the beat goes on,” said Snyder, who had previously directed 2016’s “Newtown” about parents grieving the deaths of 26 people (including 20 first-graders) at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012.
“Us Kids,” which had a limited release prior to the November presidential election, and debuted at Sundance last year, is set for a global theatrical release this Spring, with a postscript: the turnout for youth on Nov. 6 was the highest in U.S. history, exceeding 53%. Snyder added: “I think the common denominator here is two people who exemplify the power of example, through using the power of their authenticity and of autonomy in a world that’s perhaps more challenging than ever.”
Cher and Gonzalez first connected when Cher called from Australia not long after Gonzalez had given her “We Call BS” speech at a gun control rally in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Gonzalez remembered talking to the icon as she sat in her car alongside fellow activist David Hogg, trying to stay “mature and professional,” despite being distracted by a stray cat idling beside the vehicle to “take a shit.”
If Gonzalez was frazzled then, Cher did not notice, as she was more focused and compelled to reach out to speak to Gonzalez personally. Said Cher: “I just had to. I was calling, but I just didn’t know how it would be received. I was hoping that everyone would understand my feelings, but I knew Emma would. I just felt a connection.”
Weeks after, Cher was in the audience to the left side of the podium for the March for Our Lives rally — the largest youth protest in American history.
The “Us Kids” screening was billed as a “post-apocalyptic quarantine movie night” — named for the iconic Sonny and Cher song, “The Beat Goes On” — and was moderated by Snyder, who introduced Gonzales, sporting curly auburn hair, Cher, and surprise guest, Parkland survivor Samantha Fuentes, to share inter-generational insights on activism, gun control, the power of voting and how to proceed despite the obstacles of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“If we didn’t have COVID, we’d see a lot more protesting constantly and in huge numbers and taking risks,” Cher said.
Fuentes, who praised the Grammy winner “not just as a musician, not just as an activist, not just as a philanthropist, but as a woman,” suggested that her generation and Cher’s had a lot in common. “If we find the right balance with each other, because not everybody’s going to be suited, but if we find the right balance, we could do a lot together,” she said. “I would hope that at some point when this COVID is over, we can come together again. I feel we’re a good match.”
The film chronicles the days after the shooting, the March For Our Lives rally, protests against Publix and the Road to Change bus tour in the summer of 2108 leading up to the mid-term elections.
“In regards to the bus tour and being on the bus: I only did it for one summer and Cher, I am so amazed that you’re alive,” Gonzalez said.
“You know what? I have a really nice bus,” Cher quipped. “I started out in a really crappy bus, and now I have a beautiful bus.”
The revealing chat also touched on the recently released 2019 video of U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga) “stalking our dear David [Hogg],” said Snyder.
“I saw it, and I just wanted to rip her throat out,” Cher added. “It might be a little excessive, but if you’ve ever been on my Twitter, you know there’s lots of fucks, and, you know what? I never thought I was a violent person, but I might have missed that part of me up until now, because it just makes me really want to be, you know, ‘Bitch, come here.’”
Gonzalez noted that while on the bus tour and in her daily life, she deals with opposition on a regular basis. Nevertheless, she has hopes that the continuing conversation will move the country in a more positive direction. “When we were filming, we were out there on the Road to Change tour and would go out of our way to talk to the people who were protesting us, because they were saying things like, ‘These people want to take away your guns.’ … This has nothing to do with taking away guns and has everything to do with gun legislation and gun violence prevention. We want there to be background checks.”
“Everybody has the capability to change and change for the better. And that’s awesome. And we should be supporting that. And yes, there is a chance for neo-Nazis to realize what they’re doing is wrong, incorrect, offensive, and hurtful and murderous and fascistic, and that they should change their minds and change their behavior and switch around who they are and become a better person,” Gonzalez continued. “But it shouldn’t be on the victims of gun violence and violence in general, to make that change happen. And to convince them to see the error of their ways. It should be on them and the people around them to make that change, which is why I personally feel like I wouldn’t go out of my way to try to convince anybody to change their behavior right now, I don’t go up to people at the store and say, Hey, cover your nose with your mask.”
Asked if she were to write a new variation of her “We Call BS” speech, Gonzalez, who states in the film she is majoring in “activism” (even though there is no such major at her school) with a concentration in “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” said it would not be aimed at a different audience. “I didn’t originally call it the ‘We Call BS’ speech; I had it labeled ‘speech’ all lowercase in my Google drive because I wrote it in three hours and then woke up at 8 am to get to the protest,” Gonzalez elaborated. “But if I were to do one now, I think it would be directed at the people, not even at the lawmakers, because they ‘ain’t going to listen.’ I mean, we’ve definitely seen how much power people have, especially with the Black Lives Matter protests that happened recently. … I don’t even think I would need to say anything or make a speech because I think everybody gets it at this point. I think personal conversation, more than anything is, is more useful.”