Critical Analysis

Critical Analysis

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Critical Analysis

            The documentary, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts by Spike Lee elucidates a wrenching experience regarding New Orleans residents who were victims of Hurricane Katrina. The author recounts the history of the region and the events that occurred during that period relaying the nature of incompetence, indifference, and confusion that has been experienced to the contemporary epoch. Based on the documentary, it seems that a year after the disaster, New Orleans has been abandoned to reconstruct itself after loosing everything in the flood (Dogeffa, 2012a). Lee extrapolates the tales of various residents in four parts that provides a systematic approach towards understanding the issues presented. Lee acquired a myriad of respondents and participants, most of them residents of the region from different racial and social stratifications to create the four-hour film. While the documentary attempts to accentuate seeds of hope and build a positive attitude to the public and the residents, it is impossible to ignore the nature of disbelief and sorrow that in the incompetence displayed by the government in dealing with the disaster, particularly in vulnerable regions. The events of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans displayed the ill preparedness, indifference, and fraudulent behavior by the federal, state, and local officials.

            Act I of the documentary begins by relaying the incompetence displayed by high-ranking officials in the United States, including the then president George Bush who discredited any claims of predicting such a disaster. While this was the case, the meteorological department had issued an eviction notice to residents within New Orleans having predicted a category 5 hurricane. The region was vulnerable to the disaster owing to the fact that it is it is six feet below sea level. Incompetence can be seen in the inability of the respondents to evict everyone using the superdome that was used by the impoverished groups. They included minority communities and the elderly, sickly, and disabled (Dogeffa, 2012b). Lee creates a picture of people stranded on rooftops waving help signs with others recounting tales of loosing their loved ones in the floods. Ineptitude is stressed by the fact that FEMA had issued a simulation model that highlighted over 127, 000 people lacking vehicles could not survive the disaster. Therefore, the government was required to take necessary precautions and account for such lives. Additionally, infrastructure failed significantly with manholes leaking, and darkness engulfing the region revealing the administrative mistakes that affected the people’s lives.

            Act II of the documentary reveals a rather shocking experience and incompetence by the government, which widely and consciously ignored the plight of the people after the events of the hurricane. Citizens who attempted to cross the bridge into the Jefferson Parish are denied passage and threatened at gunpoint (Dogeffa, 2012a). Lee reveals the infamous story of how the elderly and those left by the officers are forced to seek refuge within the state and their homes. Despite affirming the citizens of their willingness to safeguard their safety, administrative troops are instructed to shoot if necessary, which implies dealing with the increasing number of people forcefully migrating away. Scenes in this act seem to concentrate on a number of issues that were implied by citizens and scholars after the events of the hurricane. For instance, the respondents argue that ignorance in the part of the administration was spearheaded by arrogance of power, the perception that victims of the hurricane were of no social and racial relevance and heartlessness. Spike interprets this as a criminal act.

            Act III of the documentary concentrates on the nature of discrimination that people from different races experienced in terms of access to emergency services. The mental dismay and dissociation from family members represents a kind of posttraumatic stress syndrome similar to that experienced by soldiers. At act IV, Lee elucidates the aftermath of the events with insurance companies deviating from any payments, vouchers being subsidized and the levees still not entirely fixed (Dogeffa, 2012a). While the hurricane was essentially a natural disaster, watching When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts intrinsically underscored the incompetence and inconsistency by the administration and the capitalist system it represents.

            Lee also authored If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise, a documentary published in 2010 as a follow-up to When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. The documentary film evaluates the later years since the hurricane struck the region and concentrates on the BP Oil spill that occurred in 2010. Both events created significant effect to the people living and working within the region warranting the need to evaluate the ways in which such communities have survived (Lee, & Pollard, 2011). The documentary has offered the people an avenue where they can tell their history and their story building their resilience and desire for growth. In this documentary, Lee’s concentration is on the ambitious plans to reconstruct the city through analyzing the housing, education, healthcare and economic sector as well as the move to eliminate discrimination.

            Two months after winning the NFL Super Bowl and filming the piece on New Orleans growth situation that was characterized by the lack of affordable housing, increased crime rates, plummeting school system, education and political climate, the region experienced a traumatic catastrophe that involved BP Oil. Lee covered the events of the oil spill and its devastating outcome that revealed the incompetence of the administration to deal with emergencies and disasters. It accentuated the nature of corporate greed, overdependence on fossil fuels and the impact of the catastrophe to the development of the region (Lee, & Pollard, 2011). The documentary delves into the approach taken by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the alleged experiences of different citizens in regards to brutality. Lee argues that the fate of the region is dependent on the administration, legal officers, and citizens to rise up and deviate from any activities that are likely to lead to impaired growth.


Dogeffa. (2012). Spike Lees When The Levees Broke A Requiem in Four Parts Parts III and IV HBO HDTVgoat. Retrieved from

Dogeffa. (2012). When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Parts – Parts I and II. Retrieved from of Form

Lee, S. & Pollard, S. (2011). If God is willing and da creek don’t rise. New York: HBO Video.

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