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Coronavirus Pandemic; Florida Gov. DeSantis, School Districts Clash Over Mask Mandates; Amanda Knox Blasts New Matt Damon Film; Some A-List Celebrities Get Boot After Obama Downsized Birthday Bash Amid Delta Surge. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 7, 2021 - 17:00   ET




JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: You are alive in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington on this Saturday. We are seeing the extremes of the COVID battle across the nation. The U.S. now is averaging over 100,000 new cases reported each day for the first time since February back before vaccines were widely available.

The worst of it is in Florida, where COVID hospitalization records are being shattered among both adults and kids. The state is also seeing the highest weekly number of new COVID cases ever. And what may be the ultimate example of the glass being half full or half empty, the nation's COVID vaccination rate finally stands at 50 percent. But it will be the unvaccinated who decide where the pandemic goes next from the frontlines of the vaccination fight.

In the current COVID Epicenter to a massive gathering of hundreds of thousands of bikers in a high risk area, we're looking at how the nation is again fighting to balance the pandemic and the hope of returning to normal.

Adrienne Broaddus is at the Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota for us, a rally that last year led to a massive outbreak. But we begin with Natasha Chen in Orlando. Natasha, are people there in Florida taking the reality of this seriously with Florida now the worst in the nation when it comes to this pandemic that just won't quit?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, I think people are definitely sensing urgency here. And that's because at the mobile vaccination clinic that we were at today at a shopping mall where there was a tax free weekend for back to school. There were double and triple the numbers that help staff had seen compared to earlier this summer. More than 20 people here at the Mexican consulate were vaccinated today.

And over at the mobile unit, we talked to one mom who brought her three children to get vaccinated with her. She says the reality really hit when two of her close friends passed away from COVID recently.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RUTH FLYNN, NEWLY VACCINATED FLORIDIAN: I thought now's the time because of just losing two close friends. And they're going back to school. I know every time you go back to school, they get sick. And I have no choice. But to sum them back face to face. I was like no, we have to do it right now. These are my kids, I have to protect them. So this is the next step to protecting them.


CHEN: And of course going back to school is controversial now too because the Orange County Public Schools begins class in person this coming week. They did institute a mask mandate that parents are allowed to opt out of because Governor DeSantis has ensured that parents can still have the choice whether their kids wear a mask at school.

But if you look at the seven-day average of new cases in Florida, you see the graph there it is just going way up more than 19,000 cases per day. In the past week, that is more than any other seven-day period in this pandemic. So Jim, a lot of people are sensing that urgency. They're hearing about personal stories of people being hospitalized and dying, and they are rolling up their sleeves.

ACOSTA: Let's hope they do and do more of it. All right, Natasha, thanks so much. Let's go to Adrienne Broaddus in South Dakota at the Sturgis motorcycle rally. Adrienne, great to see you. Thanks so much. This is the second rally that happen during this pandemic. Last year has led to an outbreak as everybody knows, is anything being done differently this year. What are you seen?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, the biggest difference is the vaccine. I spoke with a local doctor and he said there's some comfort knowing people here like me, are fully vaccinated. So that's number one. That's the big difference. This time last year, we didn't know if the FDA would even grant emergency use authorization for the vaccine.

Aside from the vaccine, the city has partnered with the state health department. They're offering free COVID tests. If you need a COVID test, a representative from the city will come to you drop it off, you take the test yourself and you can have the results within minutes.

But a lot is still the same from last year. There's no mask mandate here in South Dakota. And I spoke with a handful of riders who told me they will never get the vaccine.

We return to a campground nearby that we visited last year. I asked the owner of that campground if he had received the vaccine. He declined to comment. So I asked him if his perspective shifted. Here's what he said.


ROD WOODRUFF, OWNER, BUFFALO CHIP: And just like last year, I don't know of anybody that got sick from anything while they were here or afterwards. And so, yes, my attitude hasn't changed. We're outside. We're having an outdoor event. And people have chosen to come here and they choose to associate with other people that are here.


BROADDUS: 649 COVID cases linked to the Sturgis rally last year.

WOODRUFF: Well it depends on who you want to listen to. So I don't get into arguing about numbers.


BROADDUS: Numbers are a big part of the story. And numbers are people as we mentioned, CDC researchers said 649 COVID cases were linked to the Sturgis rally last year, including one death. But that data is not enough to stop these riders from writing and reuniting with their friends here, Jim.

ACOSTA: OK, Adrienne Broaddus you stay safe. Thanks so much for that report.

And joining me now, Dr. Bernard Ashby, a Miami based cardiologist who was once again on the front lines of this COVID surge. He is the Florida State lead for the Committee to Protect Health Care. Dr. Ashby, great having you on. Thanks so much.

Florida, as you know, leads the nation in New COVID-19 hospitalizations for both adults and children. That is so scary, at least 47 children were admitted with COVID-19 into Florida hospitals on Thursday. What's your message to Florida parents right now?

DR. BERNARD ASHBY, CARDIOLOGIST: Jim, thanks for having me. It's a pleasure to be here. And I just appreciate having a platform to communicate to our fellow Floridians, our community. So basically, the issue that we're dealing with right now is that we have a leader and leadership that just refuses to take this pandemic seriously. So really, it's up to us to bond together as a community to do what we have to do for ourselves.

I'm happy that many of the districts have defied the scientists and decided to institute their own mandates. But if you're a parent, and you're concerned about your child, consider putting them in an N95 mask if they can tolerate that. Also ensure that your school is taking the necessary mitigation measures to prevent further spread.

But, you know, there's only so much you can do as a parent, especially if you're a working parent and struggling to pay bills. I mean, you have to trust that the schools will go the extra step to protect their children. And I just can't say how concerning it is that we have leaders that are working against us while we're trying to deal with an emergency situation in which our hospitals are filling up.

And you quoted the statistics regarding hospitalization rates, which are number one in the country, for adults and children, which is unfortunate. And that will get worse when the schools go back into session next week.

ACOSTA: Yes, and you've expressed frustration with Governor Ron DeSantis's executive order that bans mask mandates in schools. You were just mentioning a few moments ago, you know, some of these schools are trying to defy that in their own way. But as you -- as your frustration that you've expressed, has that affected your job anywhere?

ASHBY: Well, besides some of the hate mail that I get, or messages, you know, that's all, you know, obviously concerning, but I'm just staying true to my mandate as a physician. I mean, when we -- when I decided to become a physician, I took the, you know, the Hippocratic oath. And it's more than a job, it's a calling.

And I stand by my patients. I stand by my community, and I will do whatever it takes to prevent anyone from dying anyone from getting infected with virus into having the long term implications or morbidity, and complications that are associated with the virus.

And if we just essentially just did this work together. I mean, I just can't really wrap my mind around the fact that my advocacy for my patients and my community is being met with a political stance. I mean, the stance is actually attacked. My median and my colleagues were speaking up about this. And, you know, this is not the time for politics. This is a time for us to actually do what we can to mitigate this damage.

I mean, you know, people are dying, unfortunately, and Florida's number one in the country, and really, nothing's being done. So, we're kind of left to fend for ourselves, so to speak, and, you know, we're trying our best.

ACOSTA: And how does this new wave of hospitalizations compared to the first peak that you saw? What are you seeing any similarities? Is this more concerning this time around? What do you think?

ASHBY: So there's several differences but I'd like to point out a few. I would like to say that the vaccines have worked. The fact that such a large portion of our 65 and older, 50 and older population have been vaccinated, we've seen a lot less of those individuals coming into the hospitals and they have an ICU ultimately passing away.

But on the downside, we now see a down shift in the age demographic where we're seeing younger patients come in, and unfortunately one- third of the patients that are in the hospital are in their 20s the 40s in Florida. And we're seeing 30-year olds, literally 30-year olds were in the ICU on vents and passing away.


I mean, my patients are dealing with the loss. I had a patient recently who got her vaccination, and couldn't convince her nephew to get his vaccination and he passed away. He's only 32. And so, you know, these stories are unfortunate because they don't need to happen. But again, we just have kind of a, this dynamic in our country where we just cannot come together and just to deal with something that is uniquely dependent on us, acting collectively.

And if everyone keeps going into their respective corners and not really communicating and working together, I don't think that we will kind of get to the Promised Land, because as far as going anywhere. The coronavirus will be here for our entire lives.

And so we need to figure out how we're going to deal with this in the short term during this emergency situation. But in the long term, because again, this is a existential --

ACOSTA: Right.

ASHBY: -- threat to our entire nation. And you know, particularly Florida as you can see.

ACOSTA: Absolutely. And we'll be talking about that later this hour. Dr. Bernard Ashby, thanks so much for those insights. We appreciate it. And keep at it. We appreciate the work you're doing as well. And thanks for joining us.

ASHBY: Thank you.

ACOSTA: All right, and after her case grabbed the world's attention Amanda Knox is speaking out again blasting a new movie starring Matt Damon she joins us live to explain why coming up.



ACOSTA: As the Delta variant is raging across the US, the nation remains divided between states fighting the virus and states fighting the science states led by politicians who know better. Case in point, Florida.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: What is he so upset about Florida? His solution is he wants to have the government force kindergarteners to wear masks in school.


ACOSTA: Florida's Republican governor Ron DeSantis is barring school districts in the state from enacting mask mandates. Nevermind that conservatives tend to support local control over their schools. That's only part of the problem.

The problem is that Florida has been one of the leaders in the U.S. in COVID cases just as kids too young to be vaccinated are heading back to the classroom. The Delta variant is slamming states where vaccination rates are lagging behind much of the country. The map is very clear there.

One of those Delta hotspots is Missouri where Senator Josh Hawley has been going after the Biden administration for requiring vaccinations for federal employees.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): What we're seeing is Joe Biden and the left using a campaign of fear and intimidation in order to try to keep the country in a perpetual state of crisis and ultimately, decentralize control and power over people's lives.


ACOSTA: He seemed OK with fear and intimidation on January 6. But I digress. Hawley understands the importance of the vaccine. He's already gotten his. The big reason for vaccines for federal employees, of course, is that vaccination rates are too low to end the pandemic in this country. We are now dealing with the consequences of our actions.

The virus mutated into the Delta variant, which is now unleashing misery all over the U.S. Hospitals are filling up the number of dead rising again. So yes, governments corporations, they're requiring vaccinations and yes, some local leaders are calling on masks to return so kids can safely go back to school so we can prevent more lockdowns.

As this pandemic grinds on our top scientists warned the virus could mutate into other variants. Dr. Anthony Fauci says the next variant could be more contagious and more lethal.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: You may soon relate to get another variant. And it is possible that that variant might be in some respects worse than the already very difficult variant we're dealing with now.


ACOSTA: Worse than the variant we're dealing with now. It makes sense then that some in the GOP have regrets. Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas says he now wishes he hadn't signed a law back in April, preventing local jurisdictions from enacting their own mask mandates.


GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R), ARKANSAS: And yes, in hindsight, I wish that had not become law. But it is the law and the only chance we have is either to amend it or for the courts to say that it has an unconstitutional foundation.


ACOSTA: Some Republicans have more than just regret. South Carolina congressman Ralph Norman tested positive for COVID. Norman and his GOP colleague, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene has sued House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over masking requirements up on Capitol Hill.

Other reports are coming in about GOP politicians dying from COVID complications after they mocked vaccinations. And speaking of Greene, listen to what she had to say about health care workers going door to door encouraging people to get vaccinated.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): In the south, we all love our 2nd Amendment rights. We're not really big on strangers showing up on our front door, aren't we? They might not like the welcome they get.


ACOSTA: DeSantis has put his own stamp in this anti-science crusade bashing Dr. Fauci, selling koozies and - shirts that say, Don't Fauci, my Florida. DeSantis had this to say to President Biden who urged GOP governors to get out of the way of the administration's COVID efforts.


DESANTIS: So why don't you do your job? Why don't you get this border secure? And until you do that, I don't want to hear a blip about COVID from you.


ACOSTA: What about the border? It sounds like I know you are but what am I? What's next? I'm rubber and you're glue. Nana booboo.


Not exactly a JFK profile encouraged moment. We're like Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana, another Delta variant hotspot, that Senator Kennedy recently told people in his state to vaccinate, or don't vaccinate, whatever.


SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): We need to spend all of our efforts, trying to convince folks that the costs of the vaccine are substantially less than the benefit. Let me say it again. If you don't want to take the vaccine, don't take it.


ACOSTA: Don't take it. Hold on. These politicians they know better. Take a look at this. DeSantis is a graduate of Harvard Law and Yale, Hawley went to Yale Law and Stanford, Kennedy studied at Oxford, UVA, and Vanderbilt. Anybody who's gone to an elite University not only passed a science class, but should also value expertise. And the experts are telling us to listen to the science, that it's better to be vaccinated, that masks will help in areas where COVID rates are soaring. And yet some of these GOP leaders won't say the science part out loud.

Just the other day and we've been talking about this, this afternoon, an 11-month-old girl in Texas, another heart had state had to be flown 150 miles away for treatment because hospital beds are full in her town. People should not have to die. So some politicians can own the lives. They're not owning anybody. But they may end up owning the pandemic. Because they're prolonging it.

Perhaps it's time to start naming these new variants that may be coming out after them. Instead of the Delta variant, why not call it the DeSantis variant? We could sell beer koozies that say don't Florida, my Fauci, and use the money to help pay for all the funerals that'll be coming in the days to come.

Coming up, a one-on-one interview with Amanda Knox years after her case captivated the world here why she's calling out a new movie starring Matt Damon, that's next.



ACOSTA: Amanda Knox is calling out a new movie starring Matt Damon claiming it's profiting off of her life story. Knox was convicted twice and eventually exonerated in Italy in the 2007 killing of her British roommate Meredith Kercher. But not before she spent four years in an Italian prison, and the movies still water Matt Damon plays the Midwestern father of a college student being held in a European prison for murder.

The director, Tom McCarthy has acknowledged he used Knox's case, as loose inspiration for the film. But Knox says she never gave her consent, and that the film makes her look guilty.

Amanda Knox joins me now. We're so thrilled to have you on with us this afternoon. We appreciate it. We just received a statement from the director, Amanda, which I'll read in a moment. But first, I want to ask you just, you know, right off the bat here, when you first heard the plot of this movie, what went through your mind? What were you thinking?

AMANDA KNOX, AUTHOR "WAITING TO BE HARD": Well, I was thinking, Oh dear, yet again, another retelling of my case, I wonder what they're going to do with it. And if they're going to tell this case responsibly, because, you know, the issue that I wanted to raise with my Twitter thread and then eventually with my Atlantic piece was that there is an issue with an ethics of storytelling.

And we're having conversations now that are about cultural appropriation and the problems of representing people in stories without getting their input and perspective in this -- in how their identities are being portrayed. But we haven't yet had the conversation of how individuals have been pulled from the Zeitgeist (ph), and treated like characters.

And honestly that has -- that's what happened to me here in Stillwater. They took the most traumatic experience of my life and used it as a plot device. And it's interesting because, you know, with Stillwater, McCarthy and Damon went out of their way to empathize with a group of people that they were going to represent in that film, who they've called Oklahoma roughnecks, but they did not extend that same effort and empathy to me. So I think the issue that I want to raise is a bigger one, one that is not just representative in this story of Stillwater, but in that when we decide how and when we're going to tell people's stories, how we're going to fictionalize them, and whether or not we are reinforcing horrible stereotypes and narratives that are the -- at the expense of the people who served as that inspiration.

ACOSTA: Well, let me ask you about that because we need to point out in this statement to CNN, Tom McCarthy is the director of the film he responded, and we can put this up on screen. It's a lengthy statement, but in fairness, we'll read it.

I really empathize with Amanda and what she went through. She was rightfully found innocent and acquitted in the Meredith Kercher case. She has platforms to speak her truth and engage with the media and she is exercising her absolute right to do so. But by her own account, she hasn't seen Stillwater and what she seems to be raising feels very removed from the film we actually made.


Years ago, I made a film about real-life events called 'Spotlight. And in that instance, we thoroughly researched and worked closely with the real-life subjects and used real names and events within the film."

"That was not the case with 'Stillwater' since it is a work of fiction."

"There were few entry points that sparked the narrative, but the narrative goes in a completely different direction and the character and stories are all invented."

"Another entry point for the screen writing is a relationship that a relative of mine had with her father who was absent and struggled with addiction."

"I had a series of phone interviews with her as she carefully laid out the painful dynamic and dysfunction of their relationship in those relations, which were core to the relationship between our central character Bill Baker in the film."

"Two relatives were incarcerated and explored how they cope with their situations and how they leaned on their spiritualities to sustain them."

"Ultimately, I think good films spark conversation in and around the story and I welcome audiences' engagement in that."

It's a lengthy statement, Amanda, but what is your reaction to all of that? What do you think of what the director is saying there?

KNOX: It sounds like he called everyone but me. I think that it is -- while I appreciate his good intentions, I do think that Tom McCarthy is being a bit evasive and disingenuous here.

Even in the very promotion of this film, they have talked about how it was directly inspired by the Amanda Knox saga. They have used my name.

And they have in their plot very, very clearly made obvious parallels to my case, such that anyone who's watching this film is going to recognize me in it.

And I think that it's not fair to say that it's out -- you know, that people wouldn't come away from this story having an impression of me, especially when an impression is not one that they justification fictional of nowhere.

What they're doing is presenting an Amanda Knox character who is indirectly involved in the murder of her roommate and who is, therefore, morally culpable in the murder of her roommate.

The reality is this is a false and pernicious narrative that I continue to combat as I reintegrate into society today.

I think that it's deeply irresponsible to present the story that way and to say that it's not going to impact me because it is fiction.

It is very, very clearly a reflection of my case. Anyone watching it recognizes that.

ACOSTA: Well, he even admits in that statement that he drew some inspiration from your case to put this film together.

You invited Matt Damon and Tom McCarthy to be guests on your podcast. Any movement on that? I suppose you'll have them on even now?

KNOX: I will -- oh, absolutely, because, again, I think that a lot of times harm happens not because someone had bad intent but really because they had good intent and they just overlooked the humanity of another human being.

I think that that has happened many, many times in my experience. I'm kind of used to it at this point.

If anything, I'm extending an olive branch to anyone involved in the film to have a discussion about these issues --


ACOSTA: Just to be clear, nobody from the film reached out to you?


ACOSTA: Just to be clear, nobody from the film has reached out to you about this at all?

KNOX: No. No, no. I found out about the film when the trailer came out, just like everybody else.


And will you see the movie? KNOX: You know, it's -- it's difficult for me to say because, again,

it's not like I can sit back in a movie theater with a bowl of popcorn and enjoy the entertainment product that has served -- or has used my worst experience of my life as inspiration.

You know, as much as they say that they took this -- my story and took it in a whole new direction, again, the problem, the plight of the Amanda Knox character is the inciting incident in this story.

Its resolution is essential to the plot of this story.

Whether or not the story is about the father's journey, no doubt there's a lot of judgment and character judgment towards the Amanda Knox character in this story.

So it really is difficult for me to just casually observe these strangers' takes on my own life experience.

ACOSTA: And you were eventually freed from all of this because of forensic evidence --

KNOX: Yes.

ACOSTA: -- that pointed to the person who was the actual culprit.

It's interesting to note you work with the Innocence Project and are a criminal justice reform activist.

KNOX: Mm-hmm.

ACOSTA: Let's talk about that. What is the main challenge for people coming back into society after they serve a sentence for a conviction that was unjustly handed out?

KNOX: Well, one of the major struggles is the stigma. It is having been accused of a crime, and whether or not you're exonerated, there still lingers this sense of, well, maybe there's something about them that is guilty.


Maybe it was their fault for being wrongfully convicted. Maybe there's something shady about them and they were involved somehow. It's the same kind of problem that I'm dealing with today.

Further problems that people face is, you know, total lack of societal support coming out of that kind of experience.

I mean, it seems like people who actually were guilty of crimes get more support when they get out than actual people who are in that and exonerated.

So really, it's a deep ongoing problem, and everyone experiences it differently. But the stigma is felt by everyone.

ACOSTA: Well, perhaps you're going to continue to give a focus to that issue. It's a very important issue.

Amanda Knox, we should offer our congratulations to you. We understand you're expecting a child. It is good to see that your life is moving in a positive direction after everything that you've been through.

Thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it.

KNOX: Thank you.

ACOSTA: Thanks for being on with us.

KNOX: Thank you. And thanks for listening to my podcast.

ACOSTA: Sounds good.

Check it out.

Amanda Knox, thanks for your time. We appreciate it.

Coming up next, scaled back but full of star power. The Delta surge forces former President Barack Obama to trim down the guest list for his 60th birthday party. We'll talk about that.



ACOSTA: Former President Barack Obama is celebrating his 60th birthday with a party on Martha's Vineyard today.

But concerns about the Delta variant meant the original guest list of several hundred people had to be dramatically scaled back, meaning even some A-list celebrities got the boot.

Joining me now to talk about this is the White House correspondent for "The New York Times," Annie Karni.

Annie, great to see you.

You've been reporting on this party all week that's gotten a lot of attention. Give us the latest. I guess this party is going to go on.

ANNIE KARNI, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": The party -- sorry, I'm getting an echo here.

ACOSTA: Try again. Maybe it's gone away.

KARNI: The party has gone through a few phases. It was on. It was a 475-person guest list. It looked really over the top given the moment we're in with the Delta variant surging, with the White House trying to send a message that people need to get vaccinated and take extra precautions again.

Obama was hearing from aides that they should significantly scale this back. That happened on Wednesday.

A lot of people in Obama's circle still thought that was late. In fact, many people were already traveling to the island for the party.

But what we're seeing today is that a lot of -- there was kind of a two-tier system.

A lot of the celebrities kept their invites. And a lot of the former administration officials who really credit themselves with helping the former president having built this legacy that allows him to fit in so comfortably with the A-list stars were cut.

There's some hard feelings and some disappointment this is the way it's turning out.

As we've seen, celebrities arrive on the island, the tabloids have some pictures of the tent in the back. Obamas' $12 million mansion. It looks quite large.

When they say they scaled it back to be family and close friends -- it's not a 12-person gathering. It looks like it could be a few hundred.

We'll see who actually shows up tonight.

But this whole back and forth with the party, is it going to carry on, is it not.

It's really -- I've been hearing from a lot of people today who are supportive of the former president, who like him.

Democrats who think just the optics of this in this moment with the message the White House is trying to send is off, is not helpful to progressives or to Democrats to be watching this glitzy party unfold.

ACOSTA: What safety precautions are they taking? And what are people saying on the island, on Martha's Vineyard about this?

KARNI: Well, first of all, to be clear, this party is outdoors. All the guests had to submit negative COVID tests to a COVID coordinator. And were encouraged to be vaccinated.

They were not required to be vaccinated. But most of this crowd is assumed to be vaccinated. So they are following all CDC precautions.

The feeling on the island, I heard mixed things from people I interviewed.

There were people who were legitimately upset that there was going to be hundreds of people traveling from across the country, showing up on the island, a small community of summer residents who are nervous about getting together at all.

I quoted Rose Stiren saying she really was upset about this, even though she was invited to one of the Obama pre-parties.

Other people said, you know, this is really being overblown. They're following all the safety precautions. People are going to sporting events that are bigger than this. This is going to be safe. This is a sophisticated, vaccinated crowd.

And this is just about optics. It's not about safety.

ACOSTA: All right. Annie Karni, thanks so much. We'll see how it plays out. Good to talk to you.


Coming up next, the CNN short film spotlighting divers documenting history under water. We'll speak to the director, next.


ACOSTA: Tonight a special presentation, a series of all new CNN film shorts. One of them, "LESSONS FROM THE WATER: DIVING WITH A PURPOSE."

A film that introduces us to a pioneering group of black scuba divers seeking to find and honor the ships and lives lost during the transatlantic slave trade.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are so many histories in the ocean that have yet to be acknowledged, especially with ships involved in the trans transatlantic slave trade.

A lot of ships went missing and there's not a lot of documentation of where those ships are.

The process of actually locating these vessels, it really comes down to who was in the water.

For years, the number of African-American archeologists in this country has remained under 1 percent. That is shifting. Diving with a purpose shifts that.


#: And joining me now, Charles Todd, the director of "LESSONS FROM THE WATER: DIVING WITH A PURPOSE."

Charles, this looks terrific. What inspired this group of black divers and what role does searching for these wrecked slave trips play in exploring black identity?

I would never think of doing something like this, but it's such a fascinating idea.

CHARLES TODD, DIRECTOR: Yes, definitely. "DIVING WITH A PURPOSE" began in 2003 with a phone call. It was a founder, Ken Stewart, he was having a conversation with a woman by the name of Brenda Lanzenworth. She was an archeologist.

He was a member of the Organization of Black Scuba Divers. They were searching for a Spanish slave ship called "The Guerrero."

She asked if there was anybody in the organization that would be interested in the documentation for the search for this ship.

For Ken, it was a no-brainer because, on one hand, obviously, that program and that organization, they have such a fond love of diving in general.

And also, you couple that with, you know, this purpose driven work.

I think so much of art history, you know, being black individuals, it's fragmented, it's lost. It leaves more questions than answers.

This group is shifting the narrative, giving us the opportunity to tell the stories of these Africans that were on board these sunken slave ships.

#: What would you like viewers to take away from watching this remarkable film?

CHARLES: Yes, you know, it's threefold. I think the first is that -- listen, it's not easy to have a conversation that involves the transatlantic slave trade. But it's important to understand and revel in the complexity of our history, our black experience.

And only in reveling in that complexity do we find a way forward and grow from it in a macro, humanity level.

It's also the story of overcoming fear, right? These scuba divers are beginning with various levels of experience.

One person in particular, Riyanne (ph), she was almost drowned from being trapped under a jet ski, to saying, you know what, I'm going to face my fear, I'm going to take dive lessons, I'm going to become a dive instructor. She is now a leader in the program.

Seeing that journey, understanding that, hey, instead of overcoming -- you know, instead of having -- staying away or shying away from your fear, embrace it head on.

Then you start to realize how powerful you are, how resilient, and I think that's beautiful.

ACOSTA: It is beautiful. The images are beautiful. We'll all be watching later tonight.

Charles Todd, thanks so much for your time.

And be sure to tune in, our all-new series of CNN film shorts, featuring "LESSONS FROM THE WATER: DIVING WITH A PURPOSE." That airs tonight right here on CNN.

Charles, great talking to you. Great subject matter, we're all looking forward to it. We appreciate it.

TODD: Thank you. You as well, Jim. Have a great day. ACOSTA: You, too.

This week's "CNN Hero" was saved by a heart transplant 12 years. Now Eva Kaufman has turned her good luck into a mission to help others get their second chance at life.


AVA KAUFMAN, CNN HERO: This is your new home for now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, wow. This is beautiful.

KAUFMAN: It's a very scary feeling not to know that you're going to have a roof over your head to recover, or that you're going to go broke.

I understand that feeling, and my life changed on a dime. I went from living this big life to not knowing how I was going to survive.

The bed is going to go there, plus the black dresser here.

We have two homes now.

It's not just a place to live. It's a place to recover. It's a place to heal. It's a place to feel supported and loved. You know, not just by me, but by a family of people.

And this is your bedroom.


The last 12 years of my life have been the most challenging and the most happiest. I feel like I was chosen to do this.

When I can talk to a family and make them feel better, there's absolutely nothing like it.


ACOSTA: And to see Eva's full story, go to right now.

That's the news. Reporting from Washington, I'm Jim Acosta. I'll see you back here tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

Pamela Brown takes over the CNN NEWSROOM," live, after a quick break.

Have a good night.