Spike Lee discusses Katrina, oil spill

Gerald Rich

The 5-foot-6-inch outspoken director Spike Lee made his presence felt on the stage at the Lady Bird Johnson Auditorium on Sunday and focused on the ongoing corruption resulting from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to the more recent British Petroleum oil spill.

“We still forget [the catastrophe] wasn’t really a hurricane,” said Lee after screening a segment of his latest documentary “If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise.” “It was the faulty levees and the work of the United States of America. The whole infrastructure of this country needs help. When you cut corners, people die. It’s the same with BP. People are going to die and get hurt? Fuck it. Make the money. There has to be some morals and ethics that go into capitalism in this country.”

About 600 members of the UT community attended the screening, which previously aired on HBO on Aug. 23, and a heated roundtable discussion featuring history and film professors as well as New Orleans native Camille Pluck, a psychology junior.

“Politics, class and racism will always permeate [New Orleans’] society,” Pluck said. “People always ask, ‘How can you love New Orleans if it’s so corrupt?’ And I respond, ‘How can you love America?’”

Lee filmed his latest documentary as a follow-up to the Peabody Award-winning 2006 documentary “When the Levees Broke.” Initially, Lee says, he finished the four-hour documentary before the BP oil spill but then went back to the Big Easy eight more times to follow the story. Both documentaries feature a plethora of first-person accounts that humanize the events.

“These aren’t documentaries — these are now part of American history,” said Douglas Brinkley, a noted history professor from Rice University who introduced Lee. “His Katrina and BP spill archives are important parts of documented oral history. I see him less as a filmmaker and more as one of our great truth-tellers, and we have so few of them.”

Included in his latest documentary are reports of BP initially blocking fly-overs and questions about the toxicity of the oil dispersants used.

The hour-long segment concluded with a montage of underwater oil leak footage from nearly every day of the three-month spill, followed by images of the blue and grey corpses strewn across the city after Katrina.

“I had no idea about the entirety of the problems in New Orleans,” said studio art sophomore Tara Alavi. “The rhetoric is so censored and his documentary is incredibly moving. I teared up during it. It made me want to take action and do what I can. I don’t know where to begin, but it opened my eyes to the magnitude of the problem.”