Just some thoughts I had from conversation about Spike Lee handling spaces that are not his home New York City. From Chi-Raq to Levees, there is always critique of Lee when handling places that do not resemble his Brooklyn upbringing.
This article is old, but discusses am upcoming documentary on racial politics (assumingly) in Brazil that Lee is directin at the moment. It is set to release this year. I was wondering about people’s thoughts on how Spike Lee treats other places and, if yes, how does that treatmwnt further a particular directorial agenda?
I found it interesting how much Historical Memory played into the New Orleans citizen’s suspicion of their levee being blown by the government. There was a certainty among a number of people who were interviewed that there was an explosion that caused the Levee to break during Hurricane Katrina. Sylvester Francis was certain that “they bombed that sucker”(23:40), “they” one can presume to be the government.
Continue reading “Historical Memory in Levees”
Sunday was actually my first time watching When the Levees Broke. It was a powerful experience for a lot of reasons, and one I wished I had had ten years earlier when it was first released. The testimonies about Katrina and how it personally affected so many people drove me to tears several times. The most powerful moment for me, however, was when a citizen of New Orleans who was relocated after the storm commented about how offensive he thought it was to call the people of New Orleans ‘refugees.’ He asked the question: “Did when the storm hit our citizenship fly away with it?” I floored by this. Not because I thought it was an exaggeration of the situation, but by how demeaning and unhelpful the American people were to the residents of New Orleans. I don’t have a clear memory of the aftermath given my age at the time but I never imagined that the help the people of New Orleans received was so poor someone would think to question whether they were a citizen or not. The fact that these residents were receiving so little help from FEMA and their government in general that the media would have the audacity to call them a refugee is sickening.
Unsurprisingly, the people who were suffering the most in the aftermath of the hurricane were minorities, specifically Blacks, and many of these people were low-income. This being said, the argument can be made that the local and state governments’ views on the people of the Lower Ninth ward and surrounding areas already was questionable. When I say questionable, I mean that no one group of people get to that level of poverty without the state deeming it okay. Therefore, if the state deemed it okay for those residents to live so close to the levees (which we find out were never built properly) then they also thought it was okay for those people to suffer the most if a disaster ever did happen. The citizens of the Lower Ninth ward already had their citizenship questioned by the state, because the state had them in danger. The aftermath of Katrina only confirmed the government’s views on wealth and who deserved to be protected who did not. The interviewee’s line really stuck with me and maybe always will, because citizenship “flies away” all the time for the disadvantaged in this country. Whether it be with the police, a store owner, or a in a natural disaster.
According to the UNHCR, the 1951 Refugee Convention defines a refugee as someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” This describes citizens of countries with destabilized or oppressive states, underdeveloped countries, countries experiencing civil wars, and countries that do not have the infrastructure to withstand climate change. Continue reading “Refugee v. Evacuee”
The featured image for this blog post does not come from WTLB, but rather from the widely popular television show The Walking Dead. Although I am bringing a fictional, post-apocalyptic series into my consideration of Lee’s documentary, I cannot help but notice the striking similarities between this iconic image and some of the opening and concluding footage of WTLB. Continue reading “When The Levees Broke: The Walking Dead”
Although I know that the Gulf Coast represents a hotspot for hurricanes and other tropical storms, I did not have any knowledge of Hurricane Betsy in 1965. Although many of the older interviewees detailed their memories of this natural disaster as it ravaged the levees of New Orleans over 50 years ago, I found it striking that the younger generation of subjects chose to reference it with similar detail. Continue reading “When the Levees Broke: Dialing Zero”
“Zoom accents” is another term I have come up with to frame Lee’s acute utilization of camera mechanics. Typically, talking head interviews require a static camera that is trained on the subject from a fixed distance — whether that be a medium shot or up close and personal. Much like his early documentary Four Little Girls, Lee allows the intimate moments with his interviewees to explode from the screen with an application of the zoom technique. Continue reading “When The Levees Broke: Zoom Accents”
Early on in WTLB (I’m sticking with this acronym from now on), it became clear that the combination of talking-head interviews and found footage would represent the aesthetic crux of the documentary. Yet, with each passing interview, I noticed Lee’s particular attention to primary colors. Continue reading “When The Levees Broke: Off-Beat”
When the levees broke, I was twelve-years old and on my way to junior boarding school. Coming from the Springfield public school system, I was never challenged with the specificity of my biracial identity. In that system, I was just another dark face. Continue reading “When The Levees Broke: Cast Out”
Preface: This will be one of several blog posts that concern our screening of When the Levees Broke. Due to this film’s lengthy runtime and countless topics of discussion, I believe this serial response to be the most fitting way to frame my response. Continue reading “When The Levees Broke: A Blog Series”