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When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, Spike Lee (2006)

This is a terrific documentary about Hurricane Katrina’s effects on the residents of New Orleans. It’s not about storm surges and categorization systems and engineering failures (though those things come up); rather, it’s about the people. The people who came home to find their mothers drowned in their kitchens; the people who were put on planes and flown helter-skelter to all corners of the country with no idea of where their families were; the people at the convention center who waited days and days for fresh water.

This is also a terrific documentary about the way money and power work in the United States. Lee shows us–clearly, irrefutably, calmly–that while the storm was bad, the real tragedy was–is–America’s utter failure to respond to the storm with anything approaching efficiency or sufficiency. We weren’t there the day after the storm, and we weren’t there a year after the storm, and, for thousands and thousands of people, we’re still not there.

Is it impossible to rebuild New Orleans? Of course not. Is it impossible to provide the residents of New Orleans with food, water, power, and sewage? Of course not. So why isn’t it happening? None of our politicians can explain it. It takes a pop star.

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