Katrina Refugees

One of the parts that stunned me about the film was the labeling of the hurricane victims as refugees. While some may attempt to make it a matter of semantics, I found it to be one of the more alienating and disrespectful media portrayals in recent memory. While the “nicest” definition I found of a refugee was “one seeking refugee” the majority of the definitions I came across contained some form of transnational travel due to war or persecution. Spike certainly did an excellent job in showcasing the outrage and backlash by individuals of New Orleans and other prominent figures ( Al Sharpton), but I couldn’t help but be moderately shocked by the lack of reaction of the audience. It was clear at this point of the film that the citizens of New Orleans were surviving in unbearable conditions but to be labeled in a manner that practically “un-Americanizes” a city and class of people was a lot to handle. What made me particularly upset is that the media became another system or institution that hindered the city’s recovery efforts. It is clear that the media is an incredibly powerful force in society but if they were to have covered this catastrophe differently would the city have been better off?  I have attached a small graph on Americans views on refugees over time. While none of these refugee groups are Americans, it shows how the general American public usually dislikes or is adverse to helping or supporting groups of individuals that are labeled refugees. Thus, while political actors and governmental agencies were extremely detrimental, I believe the media is equally as responsible for the negligence in handling this situation.

US Public Opinion Graph


  1. This is such an interesting analysis of media representation regarding Katrina and definitely provided a perspective I hadn’t thought of. I recently took a course about the dynamics between media and politics, and wonder if the term “refugees” came directly from politicians and was only further perpetrated by the media. I think if we’re evaluating the media’s role during the crisis, it is important to keep in mind the initial prejudice politicians/government agencies may have had prior to any media coverage.

  2. I was really interested in the use of “refugee” as well, and didn’t realize all that is implied by the term until watching Levees. I think this conversation will only become more relevant with the increasingly apparent onset of climate change in the United States and across the world, particularly in relation to the way many nations are constructed so that the poorest people will feel the effects the hardest in the beginning.

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