John Oliver: It Doesn’t Come with the Territories

March 10, 2015

John Oliver
I got a voice message last week, from the rights manager at Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. He wanted to know if I would let them use some of The Insular Empire in their show – and could I please send them a high-resolution file ASAP?

It seemed crazy: the John Oliver wanted to use my film? Why? I kept thinking it must be some kind of prank. But I eventually got on the phone with the guy in New York, and the request was legit – the show was doing a segment on statehood and voting rights, and they needed some footage. ASAP.

So my next question was: ‘Which clip? And how are you going to use it?’ I explained to him that the territory issue was complicated – and that the people of the Insular Areas had yet to come to a consensus on their political status, partly because they’d never received unbiased education or support for a vote of self-determination. The last thing I wanted was for the people of Guam and the CNMI, who have been globally disrespected for centuries, to have their story mangled on national television.

The nice guy in New York assured me that the writers would watch my film, and that the story would be sympathetic to the islanders. But he didn’t have a script yet (this was on Thursday!), so I’d just have to trust them. I ran it by my colleagues at New Day Films, and got an overwhelmingly positive response. I figured if 100+ social issue documentary filmmakers thought John Oliver was OK, I might as well risk it – especially if it would bring national attention to this issue.

And so it was that last night, the John Oliver went on national TV with a brilliant 13-minute rant about American territories – and he started the segment off with a 30-second clip from The Insular Empire, featuring Dr. Anne Perez Hattori. I’m pretty happy with the results, especially given that they did it in under a week. He even made it funny! And the show is generating more discussion on this topic than I’ve seen, well, ever. But I’d like to hear from others – particularly Chamorus and Carolinians from the Marianas – about what they think. Please feel free to comment below, or on our Facebook page. You can watch the segment here: