My hair stylist is not what I’d call an activist. She is however a concerned citizen who has a framed picture of the First Family in her shop. Recently I went over to her place to get my hair done — the locs needed a little freshening, you know how it goes — and the shop is having some repairs. I’d been out late the night before till 4am at a Dave Chappelle/Blackstar concert in Oakland that was announced mainly on Twitter. When she turned on the TV, I admit that I was hoping for Spongebob Squarepants or even some cooking shows. But no, she sat me right down and made it clear that we were going to watch ALL of Spike Lee’s 5 hour documentary “If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise”.

I saw the Emmy-winning “When The Levees Broke” with a friend when Spike first released it. It was heartbreaking, lyrical and tragic. It channeled the outrage not only of a community but also of a nation. “Da Creek” is similarly ambitious — I’ll give it to Spike. He’s got a comprehensive grasp on the problems and they are legion & historic in New Orleans.

The fact is that New Orleans is a city where profit has been placed over people since its founding. It’s built into the DNA of the town and leads to tragic consequences for too many over and over and over. Lee struggles to convey that, but it’s in there. I’m sad to say however, that unlike “Levees” – “Da Creek” don’t rise. It was tedious, frustrating and rambling. It was so poorly edited that it would never have made it to HBO if Lee weren’t attached to it. I fear that Spike Lee’s emotions and ambitions got in the way of weaving a cohesive narrative. Which is too bad because New Orleans deserves to be heard. Usually I hate it when Spike appears in his own movies. But this time, the moments I found the most interesting and poignant were when I could hear his question in the background to the person he was interviewing. Spike went to New Orleans to ask the questions we all have about Katrina and now the oil spill: “How did you feel? Why did this happen? How did you survive? What’s the solution?” The people of New Orleans and their stories merit our close attention.

I would much more have preferred a dialogue. “Levees” is a must-see and I hope you watch it with your kids. “Da Creek” might be best broken up into hour-long segments and re-edited with more Spike. It’s still worth watching but best to do it while you’re getting your hair done so you can’t wander off and do something else…

Above is an interview with Spike Lee on the doc with BlackTreeMedia. Check it.

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