Why do you think people are so upset by the fact that you adopted a Malawian child?
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.
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!'
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... 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.
TIME's full interview with Madonna will be posted on TIME.com on Sunday, November 5 and will appear in the issue of TIME hitting newsstands Monday, November 6.