August 14, 2006

Spike Lee: The Next Michael Moore

Get ready for Spike's "Fahrenheit 9/11"-ish "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts," a film about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. Now, you may ask "How do you know it'll be like "Fahrenheit 9/11, Felix?" Call it a hunch:

... the 49-year-old director visited the Gulf Coast region nine times and interviewed more than 100 people, including the mayor of New Orleans, the governor of Louisiana, Sean Penn, Soledad O'Brien, Kanye West, engineers, historians, journalists, radio DJs—even the guy who spotted the vice president during a post-Katrina photo-op and told him, "Go f--- yourself, Mr. Cheney."

His first stop was the office of embattled New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, whose handling of Katrina ranged from inept to impassioned. "Nagin was in a tough spot," Lee says now. "A lot of people say, 'It's similar to New York and look how [the then Mayor Rudy] Giuliani handled 9/11'." But you can't compare the two at all. One event was man-made, the other wasn't."

Ah. Nagin was in a "tough spot." So, in other words, Nagin, since he was in a "tough spot," gets a pass because, well, again, he was in a "tough spot," and the event he faced was not man-made. Right. OK.

Remarkably, we're then told that "Lee is careful in his film not to carve out a pie chart of accountability. He seems to share the view of the regular folks down in New Orleans: the failure was systemwide." Well gee, we already now know that Mayor Nagin isn't accountable because he was in a "tough spot!"

But then the truth flickers through:

Still, the Bush administration takes plenty of lumps—especially Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, whose Manhattan shoe-shopping trip while New Orleans drowned is recalled in vivid detail. Lee says he spent months searching for the woman who approached Rice in a Ferragamo store and chastised her for her insensitivity. "I did my best to find her—talking about her in the media, hoping she'd see it or somebody would tell her," he says, "but I don't think she wanted to be found." (Lee has joked that she's probably in Guantánamo Bay.)

Yeah, "ha ha," Spike. Funny how you couldn't track down the folks "Tough Spot" Ray Nagin allowed to escape from relative luxury (Hyatt hotel tourists and employees) -- ahead of thousands of others who were waiting anxiously (you know, like at the Superdome?) -- on buses to evacuate the danger. (Nagin also had all his "ranking officials" located that Hyatt.) I also wonder if Spike asked Nagin about his comments that "the CIA might take him out" because of his criticism of federal officials. Probably not, since it's likely Spike already believes such a claim. More on that in a sec.

In her place, the Rev. Al Sharpton and the social critic and author Michael Eric Dyson take turns chopping down Rice. "I knew that what I had to say about this administration would see the light of day with Spike," says Sharpton. "Many times the mainstream news will cut you off when you have something negative to say about the White House. This documentary will make up for all those times."

Sharpton and Dyson. Uh huh. But remember Spike "is careful in his film not to carve out a pie chart of accountability." Gag me with a turkey baster.

Spike also lends credence to the Louis Farrakhan-hyped story that the New Orleans levees were deliberately destroyed. And why not? Spike said about a year ago that the idea was "not far-fetched":

"Presidents have been assassinated. So why is that so far-fetched?" To hearty applause from the Los Angeles audience, Lee asked: "Do you think that election in 2000 was fair? You don't think that was rigged?" Lee argued: “If they can rig an election, they can do anything!"

Just so you know the mind-set Spike is coming from!

Onscreen, Lee gives the boldfaced names—the Kanyes and the Sharptons—their fair share of face time. Right after the storm, Sean Penn raced to New Orleans, hired a boat and began hunting for survivors. He appears briefly in the film, looking askance at the camera, smoking a cigarette with studied nonchalance and proving forever that you can love the deed and still roll your eyes at the guy who did it. Other A-listers didn't wait for an invitation from Spike. On Election Day in May, while the director filmed Nagin campaigning on a busy street, the Rev. Jesse Jackson arrived out of nowhere in a black SUV.

Now THAT'S sure hard to believe, huh? The Rev. Jackson -- seeking out a camera??

And again, just so it's perfectly clear -- keep in mind that despite the more-than-obvious views of the disaster kept by those noted above, Spike "is careful in his film not to carve out a pie chart of accountability."

Posted by Felix at August 14, 2006 10:18 AM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

Spike Lee can only be a Rovian plant. Nothing else makes sense.

Posted by: Duffy at August 14, 2006 02:14 PM

He's not going to assign blame. But he might tell us everyone whose fault it wasn't and allow us to do the math...

Posted by: Paul Smith at August 14, 2006 03:47 PM

My vote for title track? Chocolate City by P-Funk!

Posted by: G Rex at August 15, 2006 09:21 AM