"When the Levees Broke"
Seymour D. Fair points out that there is a potentially well-done documentary on Katrina out there on LPB right now. However, the rest of the country probably won't see it. I probably won't, living in Mid-America, unless my local public broadcasting affiliate picks it up.
But never fear. The "mainstream" media can tell the story instead for the rest of us. The rest of us can see Spike Lee's new documentary about Katrina.
Now look, Spike. I appreciate that you were "moved" by what happened to New Orleans. I even like some of your films. But I'm sorry if I'm not sure that your film will help the city's cause. There are many problems I have with your documentary.
1. First, you are a New Yorker. We can make our own history without you carpetbaggers coming down and telling us the story that needs to be told. Would it have been acceptable if a New Orleanian was given the first chance to make a documentary about 9/11?
2. The network airing your documentary, HBO, wisely decided to air the first half of your documentary opposite a nationally-televised New Orleans Saints football game.
3. The people who really need to see this documentary and see what really happened (the "Red States" or "Jesusland") have a built-in excuse not to watch. They'll say "It's made by Spike Lee. It probably has a 'black agenda.'" So the people who should be helping us will be turned off even more.
4. Apparently the film does have a "black agenda." I'm not trying to say that African-Americans weren't catastrophically affected by Katrina. I'm just saying that concentrating on that story or by trying to say that "we were affected more than you were" will only further divide a community that needs to unite if it wants to rebuild properly.
5. The film apparently also spends a lot of time pushing the theory that "they blew up the levees." Look, I'm not ignoring history. And I wouldn't put it past the government to do things like this. But when you have more evidence than "It sounded like an explosion, but I didn't see it," then we'll talk. And, by the way, I'm thinking that millions of gallons of water crashing through a levee would sound like an explosion. I'm just saying.
6. It further feeds the national perception that New Orleans was the only victim of Katrina. Just like New York City was the only victim of 9/11. The people of Plaquemines Parish, St. Bernard Parish, Slidell and the Mississippi Gulf Coast still aren't getting their stories told (not to mention the Rita victims). I don't blame New Orleanians for this. I blame the media, who need to make a simpler, more poignant story that the average person can understand. Of course, telling the story outside of New Orleans would also force Spike Lee to throw away his "the response was poor because all the victims were black" theory. But that's another story.
7. Spike Lee apparently worked with Douglas Brinkley on the documentary. As many of you recall, "The Great Deluge" created a lot of controversy when some people accused it of having a political agenda. Again, the connection will turn off a lot of people. By the way, I am not a Nagin supporter by any means. And I have read more than half of "The Great Deluge." And while I agree that Nagin was an idiot before, during and after the response, Brinkley does have a tendency to overstate the point (while simultaneously giving Blanco and Landrieu the "at least they tried" excuse).
But, with that all being said. I hope to catch the documentary when HBO re-airs it. I'll give it a chance, in spite of my reservations. I won't be one of those people who says it's crap and never watch it. I'll be as open-minded as possible.
But I'd also like to remind the people at HBO, MSNBC, CNN, The Weather Channel, The History Channel, and anyone else interested in telling our story of one thing: We can tell our own story just as well as some Hollywood or New York filmmaker.
EDITOR'S NOTE (Seymour D. Fair): The documentary will air on PBS nationally on 7 September 2006 at 8pm Central Time. Set that TIVO, Mr. Dar Dar.
WRITER'S POST-SCRIPT (Fitch): The Wet Bank Guide has a great commentary on the same topic. It's not about race. It's about levees.
TAGS: Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Spike Lee, When The Levees Broke, Documentary