*Spike Lee was in New Orleans Tuesday to screen parts one and four of his new four-part HBO documentary “If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise,” a follow-up to his acclaimed four-part series “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,” about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.
Premiering Aug. 29, “Da Creek” was supposed to focus solely on the successes and failures in the ongoing effort to restore housing, health care, education, economic growth and law and order to New Orleans and the surrounding area after the storm. …But then the Saints won the Super Bowl (which ended up launching the documentary’s first hour), and an accident on a BP oil rig just off the Gulf Coast caused the biggest environmental disaster this country has ever seen.
“We were done shooting. We were done, and the [oil rig] blew up. So we had to rethink, reconfigure, and made another seven trips down to New Orleans,” Spike told reporters at HBO’s recent Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills. “We were just there as late as two weeks ago, shooting, because of the Danziger Bridge indictments.”
Last month, six New Orleans police officers were indicted in the unarmed shootings of civilians walking along the Danziger Bridge several days after Katrina hit. Four were charged with shooting and all six of them with plotting to cover up what they knew was an unjustified attack.
“Hours two and three [of the documentary] deal with the NOPD and the various people they allegedly murdered in the aftermath of Katrina,” says Spike.
The two episodes also cover the educational system under Paul Vallas, a veteran superintendent of Philadelphia and Chicago who was hired to turn around New Orleans’ troubled schools.
[Watch footage from the film below.]
Additionally, the two middle hours examine “the alarming rate of young black men killing young black men,” says Lee. “Right now, New Orleans is on pace of having 203 murders for this year, which will make them the murder capital of the world.”
The January earthquake in Haiti that killed an estimated 230,000 people is also included in parts two and three of the film. Spike says there’s a “direct historical correlation” between New Orleans and Haiti’s capital Port-Au-Prince that could not be ignored.
“What brought about the whole Louisiana Purchase was Toussaint L’Ouverture kicking Napoleon in the butt,” he says of the Haitian revolutionary that led enslaved blacks in a struggle for independence over French colonizers. “It prompted Napoleon to sell Louisiana. So with the whole correlation with the earthquake, we wanted to make that [connection].”
Hours two and three also deal with the presence of actor/humanitarian Sean Penn – in both New Orleans and Haiti.
“He was in New Orleans three days after the breach in the levees. He was in Haiti two days after the earthquake,” notes Spike. “We also deal with the great thing that Brad Pitt is doing with his Make It Right Foundation and building houses for the African-American homeowners in Lower Ninth Ward. He’s doing stuff that neither the local, state, or federal government is doing. He’s building green houses, solar panels, everything. The people in the community love those houses.”
Hour four deals almost exclusively with the BP oil disaster, which Spike says is tied to the Hurricane Katrina flooding via one connective tissue: greed.
“It was greed of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, who cut corners in the construction of the levee system,” says Spike. “They’ve been building it since the 1950s and it led to the levees toppling and, consequently, New Orleans being 80 percent underwater.
“It was greed again that reared its ugly head with BP, who did not want to buy this blowout protector —which only cost half a million dollars. But to them, they were behind schedule, and now — it doesn’t make sense to me.
“We’ve had enough instances where anytime you try to cut corners, it ends up biting you in the butt later on. And what gets lost in the sauce, 11 people are dead because of the negligence of BP. And they threw safety precautions out of the window.
“MMS (Mineral Management Service) was not doing their job. They had been corrupted by Super Bowl tickets, sex orgies, and whatever stuff, and they weren’t doing their job regulating stuff. So again, there’s greed.”
The documentary’s title, a southern phrase that dates back to at least the 1850s, is another way of saying an event will happen if all goes well and nothing unforeseen occurs. But the words go a bit deeper for Spike Lee.
“I really got it from my grandmother,” he says. “My grandmother lived to be a hundred years old. Her grandmother was a slave, yet she was a college graduate – Spellman class of 1917. She taught art for 50 years and saved her Social Security checks for her children’s education. Since I was the oldest, I had first dibs.
“So my grandmother put me through Morehouse College in Atlanta, NYU graduate film school, gave me money for ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ too, all from her Social Security checks. And in her later years, when I would speak to her from Brooklyn, she’d be in Atlanta, I would say, ‘I’ll call you tomorrow night.’ And she’d say, ‘Spikey, if God is willing and the creek don’t rise.’ So this title is a tribute to my grandmother, but also, I think it’s apropos for all the things that we see — that you will see in this four-hour documentary.”
HBO will premiere Spike Lee’s four part series “If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise” over two nights, beginning Aug. 23 from 9-11 p.m. (parts 1 and 2), and Aug. 24 from 9-11 p.m. (parts 3 and 4). Watch the trailer below.