I have to say that I believe that When the Levees Broke is Spike Lee’s best work in the past 15 years. It saddens me that he makes movies like Inside Man and Chi-Raq (so BAD) to satisfy the desires of the studios. His earlier, smaller budget movies are so provocative and layered because he was more invested in them as both a director and writer. But at the same time this is one of the few times that he is absent, both physically and as a mastermind force. While there certainly is a bias to the film, nearly all the participants are black. Yes, the population of New Orleans is predominantly black, but there are people of other races! The only time white people were interviewed were Sean Penn, the pretentious couple who were in pompeii, and the drunk woman with the thick accent: Not great examples of diversity. But despite that caveat he steps back and lets other people tell their story for once (ok, yes, he has done other documentaries). For once his message is not idealistic or unrealistic; he is rooted in reality.
For me the most heartbreaking moment is when the old woman returns to her destroyed home for the first time. I can’t imagine that happening to me and I felt so emotional when she truly realized it was all gone.
One thing I did not particularly appreciate is how Lee made a montage of photographs of drowned bodies. I had seem them before on the news, but only the ones of people floating face down. Lee went too far when he showed faces and severely bloated bodies. He needs to remember that these were people. They have families and histories, and they met a tragic end. He should have been much more respectful.
Also its a sad but cool coincedence that Wendell Pierce was interviewed as he has appeared in two other Lee movies: Get on The Bus and Malcolm X
A while ago I attended Jessica Johnson’s presentation on history and memory in the digital age, and struggled to think about what her presentation meant to me, and how I may interpret it in the context of this course. Levees has really been a turning point for me in Lee’s filmography, and has provided a way to think through a lot of concepts I’ve struggled with throughout the semester, including some of Johnson’s conclusions.
One of the most interesting concepts posed by Johnson is the role of statistics and data in understanding history and shaping memory of slavery. She discussed how statistics, to
A few weeks ago, I attended the presentation of poems and music by the organization Sing Our Rivers Red to raise awareness of missing and murdered Native American women across the continent. Every performance was incredibly powerful and meaningful, and I really showed how space can be made to talk about what is painful, what is forgotten, and what feels otherwise invisible through art– the presentation also set up an exhibit of earrings to represented the missing women. (I’d really recommend everyone looking up this organization and learning more about their message, by the way).
While watching Levees, I was reminded of Sing Our Rivers Red in that Lee uses his documentary, as an art form, to raise awareness of what is otherwise forgotten and covered up– the suffering of those neglected by the state. Obviously the contexts and
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.