TV Review - If God is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise

Spike Lee's sequel to his stunning documentary When the Levees Broke is just as important, just as powerful, just as timely and just as interesting and entertaining. Lee offers no narration, just real people in picture frames telling their stories and commenting on one of the biggest catastrophes in the United States' history, Hurricane Katrina. Actually, the people in this movie comment on not just one but two catastrophes. Lee started it with the intention of hearing about one catastrophe but by the end he had two on his hands.

This two part series was broadcast on HBO a week prior to the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. It also aired a couple weeks prior to the five-month anniversary of the rig explosion, which led to the BP oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico, an accident resulting in the biggest oil spill disaster the nation has ever seen. Lee said in an interview that because we're still in the thick of the oil spill that it's still too soon to truly judge the responses but the fact that New Orleans and its surrounding areas are facing a second catastrophe so soon after another simply couldn't be denied.

When asked about themes, Lee immediately brought up the idea of greed. This is an idea in line with one TV critic's assessment that this documentary like the last really goes to the narrative of class warfare. Lee interviewed CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and Lee asked Cooper if the response to either Katrina or the BP spill would have been the same if the catastrophes happened off the coast of the Hamptons.

Despite the actual disasters themselves and the run-up to them, what bothers people the most is how the aftermath of those disasters was handled. Everyone hated how the aftermath to Katrina was handled and many complaints are being lodged about the aftermath of the BP spill. Some people attribute the poor handling to the fact that it concerned areas dominated by poor African-Americans and that if it concerned areas like the Hamptons where wealthy white people lived, then the aftermath wouldn't have been as bad.

The first two hours of If God Is Willing And Da Creek Don't Rise is dedicated to the issues of housing and healthcare. In terms of housing, the first problem is all the displaced residents, people who lost their homes who went to other cities like Houston or took shelter in tent cities along Louisana highways. Some wanted to come back but couldn't afford it. Others had their public housing demolished. Lee incorporates a very emotional montage of stoops and walkways that lead to houses that are no longer there, and all that remains are empty lots in the New Orleans' now infamous Ninth Ward.

In terms of healthcare, Lee revisits families he interviewed for When the Levees Broke and has them speak about the stress that this whole situation has imposed on them, even five years later. People talk about their drinking and drug use, as well as the high rate of suicide. The very relevant tangent of the possible closing of Charity Hospital opens up doors of consequences maybe people probably hadn't conceived. There's a lot of criticism against the government and the so-called powers-that-be, but what Lee does like a good documentarian is that he does offer the other and often opposing side. In a great scene, he takes his cameras into a New Orleans restaurant and shows off their cuisine, which consists mainly of fried foods. The point is made that a lot of the health problems are self-inflicted because people don't have healthy eating habits.

The third hour focuses on education and crime. The effects of post-Katrina-life on young people have been particularly difficult. There's a brief yet interesting debate about charter schools and the influence, good or bad, of Paul Vallas. One thing, however, that cannot be debated is the murder rate in New Orleans, and how ridiculously high it is. Yet, it's even more damning when you learn that some of the people doing the murdering are cops. Not to condemn the entire New Orleans police department, but the corruption that's uncovered is unnerving.

The fourth and final hour deals with the BP oil spill and I think that the best thing about this section is a montage that Lee does. The montage is from the under water camera that showed the oil as it was spilling live. The montage cuts together shots from each of the eighty plus days of the oil gushing and each shot is cut to some very well composed music by Terence Blanchard. It's all that's really needed to be shown beyond the oil covered birds and Vietnamese fisherman who are losing work.

Lee's last documentary won three Emmys including one for Best Directing. I'm confident this one will again win prizes come next year.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14 for mature content and language.
Available on HBO on Demand.
Running Time: 4 hrs.


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