When the Levees Broke

When The Levees Broke | Katrina & Social Death

I wanted to start this post with a link to another documentary about Katrina and the Ninth Ward. During our discussion in class, some people were mentioning how they were shocked there hadn’t been more (either films or documentaries) released about this catastrophe and it made me remember this documentary. It illustrates a lot of what we spoke about: government indifference toward black life, institutional barriers blacks are faced with, etc. Definitely check it out- it’s funny yet raw, I loved it!


In the next part of this post I wanted to explore this unwillingness of the government to aid those most desperately in need, coupled with a complete indifference toward the loss of housing and lives after Katrina hit. The realization that those who lost everything after Katrina, didn’t have help in rebuilding their lives reiterated for me the truth in the concept of social death. Immediately after the storm these communities failed to receive the necessary means of help and even today have seen an incredibly slow movement to rebuild this area. Most of the money that has been dedicated to the Ninth Ward have been from private resources rather than government.

This article  also further illuminates this manifestation of “non-belonging” and “non-citizenship” from the point of view of some one who lived in the Ninth Ward prior to Katrina.

“… nearly seven years later, the French Quarter and other areas of tourism and affluence are sparkling, while few improvements have been made in the Lower Ninth… Black residents of the Lower Ninth were deemed expendable long before Katrina.”




Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 6.36.20 PM.pngSpike Lee broke up his documentary into four acts. At first, I thought that he split up the four parts based on chronology– beginning with preparation for the storm, then people’s experiences during the the storm, then moving into the aftermath and finally the political stakes of the consequences. I do still think that the way that Lee broke up the acts was somewhat chronological, but I’m not sure if that was his only intention. In thinking about other factors that influenced how he broke up the acts of the documentary, I noticed that the narrative of the film was not just unfolding the timeline of the storm, but also the process of realization of the political-economic causes and effects of the storm, as well as how they intermingled with history, oppression, notions of citizenship. Does anyone else have any ideas about how Lee decided to split up his acts, or did most people think it was simply chronological?

Why is Spike Lee not listed? | Film Analysis | When The Levees Broke

When The Levees Broke is by far the best documentary I have ever seen. So, when Professor Drabinski mentioned that Lee was regarded as one of the best documentary directors, I thought that he made perfect sense! But,I guess IMDB, Taste of Cinema, and even Documentary.Org don’t agree. Paste Magazine even has When The Levees Broke listed as number 61 on the top 100 documentaries. Seriously, SIXTY ONE?!? That’s just ridiculous. So, over the next few days, I’ll conduct a film analysis of When The Levees Broke to prove why it should be highly revered among the best!

It’s despicable how representations of race and gender are still problematic issues in the film industry. Why do you guys think that Spike Lee doesn’t appear in the list of documentary directors below, which was produced by IMDB?


One to FiveNine to Ten

Spike Lee’s Voice | When The Levees Broke

This will probably be my shortest blog post, but I just wanted to talk about my personal experience with watching When The Levees Broke. I’m a big fan of documentaries, so I’ve watched about fifty or so. But none have ever affected me as much as When The Levees Broke. In fact, I don’t think that I’ve ever experienced such an intense emotional connection with any other film, regardless of genre. This documentary was truly exceptional, because it didn’t leave any questions unanswered. In addition, I found myself experiencing an unusual reaction to the brief moments when Spike Lee allowed his voice to be heard on screen.

I can’t recall the first time we heard Spike’s voice, but I distinctly remember that I broke down in tears. I was honestly crying from the very beginning of the film, but this exact moment was different, because my tears had nothing to do with what was being illustrated in the documentary. The familiarity in Spike Lee’s voice gave me an “Oh Shit” moment, because it brought me back to reality. Up until then, everything in the film seemed so surreal, because I couldn’t fathom how this could have happened in the United States of America. While growing up in Kenya, I believed that the fucked up things that my government did to us only happened in “third world” countries. But the moment I heard Spike Lee’s voice, I was awakened to the reality in the atrocities portrayed on screen. I was woke, and now I can’t go back to sleep. What did you guys think of the appearance of Spike Lee’s voice?

When the Levees Broke | Soledad O’Brien

soledad o'brien

It’s fitting that we discussed Soledad O’Brien’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina in class on World Press Freedom Day (Tuesday, May 3, 2016). O’Brien’s coverage of the horrific events during and following Katrina proved to be one of the most refreshing aspects of the documentary. Her commitment to holding officials accountable and gaining justice for victims of the hurricane was incredibly remarkable, and for me, someone heavily involved in and interested in journalism, made her one of my favorite people in the documentary.

That’s why it was troubling to hear today about the halt her coverage put on her career. As the article above shows, rights of journalists are becoming increasingly restricted. While Soledad’s work was done over 10 years ago, the downward trend of rights for journalists has sadly continued. The article shows how surveillance of journalists and control of media has reached terrifying extremes, with many countries seeing declines in press freedom. The article also delves deeper into other issues journalists face, such as increased exposure to sexual violence.

Thinking particularly about O’Brien’s work, it’s upsetting that a responsible, upstanding journalist would be punished for the work she carried out. Speaking out against injustice and giving voices to true victims jeopardized her career trajectory. O’Brien still stands by her work today, being interviewed last year and speaking about how important her coverage of Katrina was to her.

“Personally it made me realize what the actual roots of what reporting was. I felt like we were really providing a service for the people of New Orleans, for the people in the rest of the country, for CNN globally. I felt like this is exactly what reporters are supposed to be. You’re supposed to be grilling people, pushing them, holding people accountable, connecting families that are lost,” O’Brien said. “It helped me realize that reporting can be all of those things. Did I help humanity, if even for a moment.”

O’Brien’s notions of journalism are something we should expect of all of our media correspondents. “When the Levees Broke” highlighted the role the media played in relaying the story, whether it be the noble work of demanding information from authorities or by spreading unconfirmed rumors. Media plays a crucial role in shaping the narrative surrounding events such as this and ultimately shaping the historical memory of them. Committed journalists like O’Brien are so critical to the national narrative and restricting their ability to do this important work is incredibly dangerous.


In our discussions of Chiraq, 4LG, and When the Levees Broke, we discuss data and the impact on loss and grievance by statistics. We often feel numb to numbers and Lee’s films emphasize personal narratives to humanize mass tragedies.

I went to a resource that our Library has called Social Explorer. It’s really cool because it visualizes census data from any year on a map. What I have found particularly powerful (or abhorrent) is how it often displays how blatant socio-economic and racial segregation still is.

I encourage other people to check it out and play with it a little @ socialexplorer.com, but I also included some screenshots from my own research.

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Now combine the above images with the one below (tracking income) to demonstrate the intense disparities. We are all aware (to different extents) how disproportionate things in this country are, but it is quite compelling to see these actual, substantial numbers as images and appearing right in front of you. (Though, in my opinion,  films > maps )

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Today, we discussed the New Orleans “diaspora” and I went back to Social Explorer to try to find census data on the displacement. Unfortunately there was not much data provided from any year 2001-2005 so I had a bit of trouble. Professor Parham did pull up a New York Times article, however, which does an amazing job of mapping the disaster and visually communicating the magnitude of devastation.