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Spike Lee plans Katrina documentary

It will be interesting to see his take on Katrina (it will be produced for HBO). Most people think of Lee’s work as controversial. That’s generally true, as in the case of Do The Right Thing. It provoked discussion on the state of race relations with his portrayal of and ethinically diverse Brooklyn neighborhood in conflict. But the film was also seen as a work that would incite violence (none occurred), primarily because the movie made white people really uncomfortable – no clear resolution at the end, no reconciliation.

That said, I find Spike Lee’s work mixed; he’s often overly self-indulgent stylistically, and some of his films are annoyingly uneven. Man, I fell asleep in Mo’ Better Blues (1991), and I thought School Daze (1988), which was smart from a political standpoint — he addressed colorism in the black community quite humorously — it really could have been a lot tighter.

However, Do The Right Thing‘s a masterpiece of straight fiction from the perspective of that filmmaker. Spike’s Academy Award nominated documentary, Four Little Girls (1997), was a highly acclaimed film about the church bombing in Birmingham in the 1963. It was straightforward and generally apolitical in its perspective (outside of the obvious context of why the bombing occurred). There was time and distance between the actual events and when the film was release, and that is a major factor. It’s easy to see that black and white footage and the racist crackers and think “that was then, this is now.”

I expect that the Katrina documentary will fall somewhere in between the two films. I don’t see how he’s going to be able to make a film about this without it raising hackles because so little time will have passed since these raw events occurred, and the issues of race and class together are nuclear.

I have no doubt Spike is also going to cover the tin foil hat ground — that the flooding of the Ninth Ward was purposefully done to rid the city of the poor, black population. The Guardian article alludes to that.

How can he not? It’s too “good” a thread not to weave in there with the chaos, bigotry, incompetence and disaster if you want to raise hackles, and accurately portray the range of views held in New Orleans at the time — Spike Lee will take the heat.


Also see my post, Hate, race and class in a deep Blue city – NY.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding