If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise, Part Two

Say what you will about Spike Lee’s polemics; the man knows how to craft a powerful narrative. Whereas Part One of If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise opened with the excitement of the Saint’s Superbowl win, the opening montage of Part Two—filled with footage of the havoc wreaked by the oil spill—set the somber tone for the final chapter of the two-part documentary series.  The footage especially set the tone for the last hour of Lee’s documentary, which serves as a scathing indictment of British Petroleum and the government’s handling of the crisis.

At the beginning of Creek, Lee focuses on the broken New Orleans school system.  There is a brief, uplifting story of community activism, in which citizens got together and gutted Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School themselves to begin restoration.  Sadly, this is one of the few uplifting moments in Part Two. Using the story of this school as a springboard, Lee begins interviewing people who have contradicting opinions about Paul Vallas, the man brought in to revamp the school system, and the man largely responsible for all of the charter schools that have sprung up in the years following Katrina.

It is painfully apparent that more high-quality schools are needed; Part One of Creek touched on this fact when Catherine Montana Gordon mentioned how she couldn’t go back to New Orleans because of the lack of educational programs for her autistic son.  However, it is also clear that school employees are currently ill-equipped to handle the students who are still struggling to cope with their psychological trauma.  Several interviewees emphasized the need for teachers who aren’t afraid of the students and the community, especially of their black male students. They also emphasized the need for teachers to put emphasis on their students’ self-worth.

Violence has also skyrocketed in New Orleans, compounding the effects of the psychological trauma its citizens are experiences. The murder rate is 20% higher rate than the rest of the country, with 210 murders in 2007 alone.

Those who watched When the Levees Broke may recall Dinerral Shavers, the bright-eyed young man who give a tour of his devastated neighborhood while recounting the horrors of all the dead bodies left to rot in homes. In the years after Katrina, Shavers was a positive role model for his community, teaching at Robert Wayne High School and creating the Hot 8 Brass Band. In 2006, Shavers was shot in the back of the head and killed by a 15 year old.

Another person that viewers may recall from Levees is Donnell Harrington, one of the victims of a violent racial hate crime in Algiers Point committed by white men just days after Katrina hit. Though the man who shot him has since been convicted and sentenced, Harrington is still traumatized by the gunshots. Since Levees, Harrington was shot again, this time by a black man with an AK-47; it was a random act of violence, and Harrington lost part of his leg as a result.

Lee then segues into a section on police brutality, focusing on the murder of Henry Glover and subsequent police cover-up.  He then turns his focus to the incident at Danziger Bridge. On September 4, 2005, just six days after Katrina struck, seven cops shot at several unarmed civilians, murdering 19-year-old James Brissette and 40-year-old Ronald Madison, a mentally disabled man who was shot in the back. The police were charged for murder and a massive cover-up that included falsified witness statements.

In wrapping up his post-Katrina narratives, Lee turned the focus back on Mayor Nagin. Though Part One of Creek had seemed to go easier on him, Part Two was mostly negative. Some of the interviewees came to his defense, though others were far more scathing; M. Endesha Juakali, for instance, alleged that Nagin’s post-Katrina economic plan excluded majority of black and poor people. As for Nagin himself, he quietly reflected that there had been an eight hour window the night before Katrina struck, and that he often wonders if the outcome would have been any different had he called a mandatory evacuation earlier.

In the second half of part two, Lee turns a scathing eye on the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and its devastating aftermath. Much was made of how, in the months following the explosion, BP and the Coast Guard bedfellows became strange bedfellows; suddenly the Coast Guard was taking orders from BP, refusing to allow fishermen and the media access to oil-covered areas.

Lee astutely makes the argument that the BP spill is just another incident in a long line of disasters in which corporations take advantaged of disenfranchised communities. Parallels are drawn to other oil-related ecological disasters, particularly in Alaska and Nigeria. The problems of coal mining in West Virginia are also noted; all of these disasters are attributed to the lack of government regulations.

In the case of the oil spill, one of the biggest areas of concern is the use of Corexit, the chemical dispersant being used to break up the oil slicks in the ocean. The dispersant contains high toxicity levels and is not even completely effective, only working to break up about 50% of the oil.  Once the oil is broken up, its particles sink and either settle on the ocean floor or are eaten by fish and other sea life, which then make their way into our food supply.  As one interviewee ruefully stated, the people of New Orleans have been getting hit with dispersants ever since Katrina struck: charter school dispersants, affordable housing dispersants, private care dispersants, and now, chemical oil dispersants.

What New Orleans and its surrounding areas are now left to cope with are dead marshes and wetlands, a fishing industry that has been wholly devastated, and the fear of another hurricane stirring up all the settled oil and dumping it on land and contaminating fresh water supplies. Though the media was quick to dub the oil spill “Obama’s Katrina,” the interviewees seemed reticent to denounce President Obama for his handling of the spill, though they acknowledge that more support is needed. Their anger towards British Petroleum, however, is evident from the beginning; every interviewee is quick to express their outright hatred of the company, or their anger over BP’s negligence.

Creek is reminiscent of Levees in a lot of ways: the colors, several of the interviewees, the spoken word performance at the end by Shelton Shakespear Alexander.  Like Levees, Creek closes with the interviewees introducing themselves while holding up a picture frame.  This time around, however, everyone seems more somber and downtrodden from the fresh wound they have sustained. Creek offered Lee a chance to follow up on post-Katrina problems.  The long-term effects of the oil spill remain to be seen, and one can assume that this will not be the last we have heard from Lee on the subject.

  • This was just gripping,frustrating,infuriating, and painful to watch. I hurt so much for the people and the community. How in the world is a US city in this much turmoil and corruption, and unchecked for so long?

    Oh and Phyllis Montana Leblanc’s money quote “I like fried chicken…sh**!”
    was welcome comic relief. Phyllis for Mayor!

  • ewiizey

    This was in a sad strange way comforting, in the middle of my own personal disaster this documentery allowd me to see that there were many people who knew what i knew and felt what i was feeling. this documentery showed me that no matter what happens even through emence struggle you can be strong and pick yourself up, and try again. Although you may not be as you were, you can, put the shattered piceces of your life together. Im very proud of spike lee this documentery was simpley….epic.