Look closer. Think harder. Choose the sound argument over the clever one.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke

Last night and tonight I watched Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke.

I liked a lot about it.

The images and stories of the hurricane and early evacuations were powerful. Stories of those rejecting the denial and saying, "we're leaving now!"

The tangents he takes are often interesting. He spends a lot of time on New Orleans' history, music and culture. Scenes of celebration.

I liked the cinematography (though my taste is nothing to brag about).

The scenes of death and devastation were heart-wrenching, even sickening, but had to be shown. I commend him for showing them unflinchingly. (Maybe why this ended up on HBO, though the language would have landed it there, too.)

I was surprised to see Brendan Loy interviewed. He's a key hurricane blogger (and reasonably conservative politically).

With the images and stories, you hear a lot of things: early warnings ignored; people being told, "if you stay, you're on your own." "We rode out Bessie in 1965, we can ride this out."

I don't think it was obvious, but it occurred to me that the people showing up at the Superdome were expecting only to be there a few hours, then return home. A serious miscalculation.

Ray Nagin gets criticized, but seems to be granted forgiveness. Same for Governor Blanco.

The New Orleans police get bashed a bit.

Bush, FEMA, the Federal Government and the Army Corps of Engineers are hammered relentlessly. This seems to be Spike Lee's core message. And that's fine. It's his right.

My main problem with it is how anyone can get on and say just about anything, and then he moves on to the next thing. Celebrities, community leaders, "activists," and ordinary people say some pretty outrageous things. Though he spends time countering some claims (e.g., that the levees were intentionally dynamited), he lets lots of stuff pass unscrutinized.

The over-the-top quote of the first night: I didn't catch his name, but he's wearing a suit, looks like a community leader. He throws out a bunch of qualifiers then says that the way evacuees were separated from their families was just like slavery.

I couldn't believe my ears. But others heard it too: "And don’t even get me started on the outageous, and completely unchallenged, claim that rapidly evacuating people out of the airport — which necessitated, for the sake of efficiency, a somewhat inprecise process of shipping them off wholesale to far-flung cities — is equivalent to “slavery.” Cripes."

Reinforces the perception that whatever you do--including helping people evacuate--you'll be accused of racism.

I didn't have time or motivation to write down everything deserving scrutiny. Here are a few random ones [my comments interspersed].

Spike Lee's 40 Acres and A Mule Productions' tag-line: "By any means necessary. Ya dig. Sho 'nuf." "By any means necessary" is Malcom X's call (potentially) to violence, isn't it? What does Lee consider "necessary?" Distortions? False claims? Propaganda?

I got a big kick out of this. Brendan Loy (a hurricane Katrina blogger appearing in the film) gives us his web-site, "irishtrojan.com". I go there seconds later and see Fair and balanced - not.

Others weigh in:

Some of my previous Katrina posts:

Update 8/23: Looks like I'm one of Brendan Loy's 200 hits within minutes of him speaking his URL.

Update, 9/25: Star Parker: "He has produced a self-indulgent, deceitful and exploitive film about a tragedy."


(Please keep in mind that each commenter's opinions are only his/her own.)

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