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August 29, 2015

Spike Lee on the Gulf Oil Spill and Returning to New Orleans

by Joel Keller, posted Aug 20th 2010 10:03AM
Spike Lee filming 'If God is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise' for HBOWhen Spike Lee first planned out his new HBO documentary, 'If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise,' about the state of New Orleans and the Gulf region five years after Hurricane Katrina, he figured he'd end the movie on a high note, with the city celebrating after the Saints won the Super Bowl.

But BP changed those plans.

After the Deepwater Horizon blew up in April, starting the epic Gulf oil spill that only recently got plugged, Lee knew he had more work to do on the follow-up to 'When the Leeves Broke.'

"The film is trying to tell what has happened in the last five years since August 29, 2005. So therefore we have to include the biggest oil disaster in the history of the world," Lee told a roundtable of reporters before his TCA panel earlier this month. "If I sat here and you guys see this film and you would've said 'Spike, what the f---? How come there's no BP in this movie?' Everyone would look at me like I'm crazy. It had to be included. So we included it, we had to start shooting again."

So Lee went back to New Orleans, shooting more interviews with the experts he had gathered, talking to people who made their livelihoods in the Gulf via shrimping and other commercial fishing activities, and by talking to people who are wondering when they're going to actually see the clean-up help BP said they were going to provide.

As far as Lee is concerned, all the oil company has been doing is lying to the Gulf residents and the rest of the American public. "Well I think it's obvious that they're very powerful and they can tell the United States government what to do, they can dictate to the Coast Guard what to do, they can dictate tot he EPA what to do," he said. "The perfect example is this: We're in the midst in the greatest oil disaster in the history of this world and last week the United States government scientists are saying the oil is gone. How did this happen? Where did the oil go?"

The entire fourth hour of the four-hour, two-part documentary, which airs on HBO on August 23 and 24 at 9PM ET, is dedicated to the Gulf spill. Lee shot the last of his footage late in July, as the spill was capped and the indictments for the Danziger Bridge shootings were announced. The original footage for the fourth hour of the movie, which took Lee from New Orleans to the Super Bowl in Miami to the post-earthquake devastation in Haiti, will be shown on the DVD.

Even though the Super Bowl was supposed to be the end of the movie, that is where Spike first started shooting. "I knew the Saints were going to win so I had an NFL Films crew with me, (and) I had my other crew in New Orleans to film people watching the game, and then the celebration we knew was going to happen in the French Quarter. So we thought that was going to be the end of it, that we filmed the ending on the first day of shooting," he said. "But BP had another thing in mind."

Lee is mostly satisfied with the Obama administration's response to the plight of the Gulf's residents, though he acknowledges that the people of Louisiana wished the president would act with more emotion. "We have a clip in the documentary where we have (Interior secretary) Ken Salazar saying BP is responsible and we're going to keep a boot on their neck. And right away we cut to Obama saying 'There's no need for language like that.' To me that's not even tough language. I mean BP's not God, (and) Salazar can't say we're going to keep our boot on BP's neck? F--- BP. Who cares about them? For me that shows how powerful they are."

Most of the questions during the roundtable involved the BP spill, which made sense as that was fresh in everyone's minds. But the documentary also explores other facets of the Big Easy's recovery, talking to those who've rebuilt as well as those who have stayed away, discussing the corruption and crime that permeated the city after the disaster, and showing how the city has taken advantage of the mass evacuation to wipe out most of its public housing. He also explores the mayoral tenure of Ray Nagin, who gained national prominence during the disaster, and the former mayor doesn't come off too favorably.

When I asked Lee if he was worried that the BP spill was going to obscure the message of the rest of the documentary, he replied, "It's not going to obscure (the recovery story) and I say that for this reason: It's about greed. It was greed that brought about the topping of the levees, with the United States Army Corps of Engineering cutting corners. It was greed that the rig blew up because they didn't want to spend the half million dollars for the blow out or whatever they call it. And they were glossing over safety precautions because BP was leasing the rig from Transocean.

"And they're like half a million dollars a day, three months behind. 'F--- safety. We gotta go.' Now? Eleven people are dead. And when are we going to learn as Americans that every time you cut corners that s--- is going to come and bite you in the ass? Obama says you gotta pay $20 billion... (do) you want to pay $500,000 to buy this piece or do you want to end up paying over 20 billion later? And it doesn't make any sense."

(Follow @joelkeller on Twitter.)

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Kevin Matovina

yes, the doc is accurate, I moved to New Orleans 3 months ago. I have been blogging - Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Blog .com, greed is word.

August 24 2010 at 4:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
greg rosenwald

Very nice piece of work Spike. America just isn't smart enough to see how greed has affected their lives. We worry about loosing jobs. There are communities working together to stop greed. Community solar which people tap into with a plug to their home. Community fuel stations. Community farms. Trading posts and so on. Please keep up the fight, I wish I had the ability or funds to help. America has so many uneducated people in it. People need to watch more John Wayne movies in my opinion lol.

August 21 2010 at 5:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Corporate greed, huh Spike? How much are those front row seats to every Knicks game?

August 20 2010 at 2:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Spike needs to stop the hyperbole. The gulf oil spill, while the largest in North America, is BY FAR not the largest oil spill "in the world."

The reality is Nigeria continues to have an open spill that began in 1966, with 546 million barrels of oil that have spilled into their eco system.

That's something that needs to be mentioned. Even at the 5000 barrel a day estimate, that was on the high side, we're not even 1/6 of the amount that Nigeria has seen spilled in their country.

Sorry Spike, don't sensationalize it more than it already is. It's a disaster, but definitely not "THE LARGEST IN THE WORLD."

August 20 2010 at 10:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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