Upon hearing about Spike Lee’s new documentary, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, I hoped I’d get a chance to see it. I wasn’t sure it would make it to Indiana theatres. Fortunately, HBO came to the rescue, airing the first two parts last night and the last two tonight. Lee is a brilliant film maker and it shows in this documentary. The story is simply, but beautifully told through haunting images and matter-of-fact interviews with families, politicians, police officers, even poets. No sensationalism is necessary. The accounts are horrific enough.

Watching, I was furious and devastated all over again. I’m still in total shock at how poorly we responded to that crisis. I can’t believe Condoleeza Rice thought it was appropriate to buy Ferragamo shoes and attend Spamalot in the midst of one of the worst natural disasters our country has ever seen. I can’t believe Michael Chertoff refused to declare the storm an “incident of national significance,” dramatically slowing relief efforts and costing lives. I can’t believe Michael Brown appeared to have less information about the growing emergency than Soledad O’Brien‘s 22-year-old production assistant managed to gather in an hour. I can’t believe our asshole president thought he could fly over New Orleans in a helicopter for five minutes and give the impression he cared about what was going on.

There are so many heart-breaking accounts. One husband tried desperately to cling to his wife’s wheelchair in rising floodwater. He finally lost his grip and could only watch as she was swept away. A daughter watched as her father lay on the ground outside the Superdome, his body wracked with seizures, blistering in the oppressive Louisiana heat. A family of children was trapped in their house for days, unable to get oxygen for their sick mother. They eventually discovered their mother dead on her bed in the next room.

There are hopeful, heart-warming stories as well. Regular citizens pooled their resources to save lives and distribute supplies. The Coast Guard’s efforts were incredible, meaning 18+-hour shifts for many. A musician without other resources found a small but significant way to make a difference through song. Upon seeing the conditions in the Superdome, he broke into “This Little Light of Mine” to raise people’s spirits. Within minutes, citizens throughout the dome were singing and clapping, renewed hope stoking their fires. I also think it’s incredible how celebrities like Sean Penn, Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick, Jr., and Jamie Foxx, used their station and resources to help.

I’m watching the last two parts of the documentary tonight. Thank God Lean has HBO. Watch if you can. Everyone should see it. The images are unreal. You’ll think they were captured in a third world country fifty years ago. Unfortunately, it was here in America only a year ago. Let’s hope and pray we’re better-prepared in the future.


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