I was a sophomore in high school when Hurricane Katrina struck, and we were in the midst of a media studies project that required us to watch a certain news program nightly to analyze the use of time slots and advertising. Needless to say, Katrina took up the majority of everyone’s different time slots, so everyone in my class got to learn a lot about the levees, the racial issues, and the reaction (or lack thereof) of the government. Katrina became a huge part of my class’s education throughout our high school education, and we even started a project to help raise money and send students down over breaks to help rebuild. In one of our senior seminar classes, we watched Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke, a four-plus hour documentary that highlighted every terrible aspect of the hurricane and often left people in tears when class let out.
The documentary is relevant to our class even though we haven’t discussed Katrina too much. Lee did an excellent job showing the absolute love New Orleans natives have for their hometown, and the hardship that came with having to start over after so much had been put into the city for years. The Mardi Gras Indians we read about march through the streets showing how important the passing on of New Orleans traditions is, has been, and will be, but NOLA citizens were faced with a huge challenge once they had to start over with nothing but their traditions and culture.
The film also relates to the class discussions and readings because its title refers directly to the blues song “When the Levee Breaks,” from the early 1900s, which once again shows the importance of blues music in New Orleans culture. Many of the people interviewed were/are involved in the music scene in New Orleans and what they had to say really highlighted the importance of music in the lives of NOLA people.
It’s long (and oftentimes very hard to get through because of the disheartening images and interviews), but When the Levees Broke is very interesting and worth viewing if you’re interested in what citizens had to say about the need to preserve New Orleans culture after Katrina.