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Tuesday, August 22, 2006A Requiem In Four Acts
I have come to the foregone conclusion that showing this documentary across two nights, while perhaps ratings prudent, was a huge disservice to both filmmaker Spike Lee but especially to the citizens of New Orleans. So now, after seeing all four parts, allow me to share my comments about it.
During the opening sequence of Part I there is a quote across the screen that reads:
"At the risk of being alarmist, we could be three-four days away from an unprecedented cataclysm that could kill as many as 100,000 people in New Orleans,"- Blogger Brendan Loy, August 26 2006Spike Lee felt the need to quote the blogger from Irishtrojan.com, who by the way resides in Indianna, as a way to start off his film to set the tone of the average citizen telling their story in their words. That is what blogging, or "citizen journalism", has become known for. While I have already told of my slight quirk regarding the title, I still anticipated this second night to continue the story of this nation's greatest natural disaster, and this nation's greatest disaster of a response to one with the same vigor as the first night.
I was greatly disappointed in that it basically regurgitated Parts I and II yet again. While the story moved on regarding the lack of help and support from FEMA in up to 9 months after Katrina hit, criticized the US Army Corps of Engineers, and highlighted the Reverend Al Sharpton's outrage at the use of the term "refugee" it failed on many fronts.
The film overlooked the massive response that FEMA DID organize. The film overlooked the actual logistics of the evacuation. The film never showed the schoolbuses that sat in that New Orleans parking lot... empty and unused. The film never mentioned the I-10 airlifts, the cruise ships brought in, or the outpouring of assistance that DID come from across the nation. It barely touched on the reunions, and seemed to frown upon the state of Texas for their hospitality.
It conveniently forgot to mention the debit cards issued and the criticism FEMA received because they were used for non-essentials (strippers, alcohol, and vacations amongst other things). In fact, considering Louisianna had once seceded from the United States over the volatile debate of State Rights vs. Centralized Government, any Federal assistance brought forth in the rebuilding should be looked upon as unfavorable.
The film did point out that the New Orleans educational system is apalling... such as the black woman who tried to say that nothing was being done for the "black" victims of the hurricane. Or the man who continually ranted on about the 9th Ward and how "nothing will ever happen to Bourbon Street". Unfortunately both of these people are well past 50 years old. Contrary to popular belief, FEMA does not keep track of victims by race... and that was a "white" victim living in a tent on what was left of her foundation. The reason nothing really will happen to Bourbon Street is because being one of the oldest parts of the city, it is also one of the highest.
The film was however utterly successful at pointing out the painfully obvious... New Orleans as it once was is dead. The city considers to flounder, and that is not something that the blame can be pointed at the Federal Government. Spike has failed to point out the failure of Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco to move the recovery effort forward. He failed to highlight the internal politics within New Orleans itself that keeps it from rising. While criticizing the government for not giving New Orleans citizens vouchers or some way home, he utterly overlooked the fact that should they come home the city services would not be able to handle the capacity.
I will say this for New Orleans and the people of Louisianna, they are probably some of the nicest and most considerate people on this planet. Why do I say this?
September 11, 2005 I spent in the Convention Center area of New Orleans. It was a day with a date that has an extremely special place in my heart and a day I normally use for self reflection and rememberance. That day was not the time for such things, since the waters were receding and more access was being gained to the city every day. I specifically remember being at the National Guard EOC based at the Harrah's Casino... which ironically enough is across the street from the New Orleans World Trade Center. My team was not used that day, so indeed I had plenty of time for self-reflection. Plenty of time to wonder what it would be like to work the streets of my home city... without a home to go back to.
That night upon returning I reported to the Tasking Office where I worked the overnight tour. There was a meeting called in the lobby of the Jimmy Swaggert Ministries by Tom Javin, the FEMA EMS Incident Commander. At the meeting he told everyone that the 2,000 mission milestone had been made that day. The waters were indeed receding and additional missions were being drawn up. The battle going for the city was going well but there was still a very long road ahead. Closing the meeting he made a promise to all those in the room, "There will be a Mardis Gras." As the room cheered and clapped he took the moment to point to the 20 or so of us standing in the corner, acknowledged us as being from New York, and asked for a moment of silence to remember the tragedy that had occurred 4 years prior.
So even then... in the midst of the destruction of everything they had... and the prospect of not knowing what tomorrow would bring... they had the compassion to remember the pain of others. This is why, regardless of how Spike Lee wants to portray the city, I believe New Orleans continues to live. I believe New Orleans will come back and probably better than ever... because the people (and when I say the people I don't mean the politicians, journalists, or professors from the University of Pennyslvannia that made up half of Spike's cast) there have compassion and the determination to keep it alive... and I for one would do anything I could to help them.
Now if only Spike had been able to show the world THAT side of New Orleans.