2006, TV

When the Levees Broke (2006)

This is a detail and devastating miniseries about Hurricane Katrina and what happened in New Orleans that I have been meaning to watch for a decade and a half. It is essential viewing, even all these years later. (I might say especially all these years later given how many more serious hurricanes have hit the US in the intervening years.)

When Katrina hit, I had just graduated from grad school and was literally sitting around, unemployed, trying to decide what to do with my life. I was aware of it – the destruction, the failure to act quickly from the US federal government, the conspiracy theories about blowing the levees – but I can’t say I paid a ton of attention. It was just yet another awful thing happening in the US during the Bush administration. I think I felt like it was just further proof of that president’s ineffectiveness and I cant’ say I thought much more about the whole thing. I paid some attention to the recovery efforts – particularly the attempts to buy up the land from those who lost their homes – and I watched Treme, but I can tell you I didn’t know the whole story.

This film is both a heart-wrenching depiction of a terrible human tragedy and a damning, devastating indictment of a country that continues to refuse to care about some of its citizens as much as it does others.

What Hurricane Katrina did to New Orleans is not actually the story of a hurricane, which is something that I can say I honestly didn’t fully realize, despite watching a TV show set in post-Katrina New Orleans. Instead, it’s the story of failures of government, at all three levels, but especially at the federal level, failures that are representative of the attitude of enough other Americans to the black and poor that the city wasn’t ready for the storm, it wasn’t helped quickly enough and it wasn’t helped well enough.

Lee’s mastery of film is on full display here. The film is almost entirely interviews and montages (way more interviews than montages) but we couldn’t stop watching it. And, if I had the emotional bandwidth for it and there wasn’t playoff baseball on, we might have watched the Epilogue, which is a full other film in itself, because it’s that well made.

I’m sure there’s something awful in Canada’s recent history that I am unaware of that would make me feel this way but, watching this, it’s so hard for me to understand how Americans tolerate their government. During this disaster, the neglect was naked, or nearly naked, hidden only behind some photo ops and sound bites. And yet, Louisiana has voted Republican in every presidential election since.

Essential viewing.

9/10

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