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Arts and Entertainment

Spike Does The Right Thing

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When the Levees Broke
HBO, tonight, 8pm

The easiest thing that Spike Lee could have done in tackling the documentary about last year's tragedy in the Gulf Coast was pile-on to the Bush and Brownie bashing.

He could have put a Michael Moore hit piece on FEMA and the President and also thrown the New Orleans Mayor and Louisiana Governor under the bus. Lord knows there were enough witnesses, enough news reports, and enough fuck-ups to bury anyone whom one of the most controversial directors of the last few decades had in his sights.

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Instead, Lee simply told the story, which includes people blaming others, which includes spotlighting heroes, which includes experts explaining how it happened.

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The stars of this documentary are not the famous names that you know, but the actual people who were effected. They're not whiners. They point fingers a little and invite those responsible to kiss their ass, but they mostly grieve and promise to return.

And when they return, as some do in the clip after the jump, you don't see those strangers that you saw on the roofs or in the Superdome, you see your grandmother and your uncle and your mother. You see middle-class Americans with feelings who deserved help and didn't get it.

"I'm 59 years old," a woman says, with a forced smile on her face. "My husband is 67 years old. We worked hard. We're well-educated. He's got a Masters from UCLA, undergrad from Berkeley. I have a law degree, an MBA, and I had nothing. I had nothing. I don't know how to make you understand the despair, the depression, the anxiety..."

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You will cry.

Lee's use of music adds an even deeper level to the tragedy that a flooded New Orleans brings. The culture there is so rich. The people are so eloquent no matter how they pronounce words or spell them. The story gets told -- their way, which is often through brass and drums and dancing on the way to the cemetery. These Americans are very different than us. We could learn a lot from them.

It is a sad tale told by real people in an honest way, which is sadly one reason why when HBO premiered the film, no one really talked about it. There's no controversy. It's heartbreaking and quick-paced, but because it doesn't say Bush=Hitler like so many would have liked it to say, it most likely will be overlooked.

Thankfully Spike left the sensationalistic style to the cable tv current-event shows like Geraldo and Nancy Grace, and simply laid out what happened and allowed the viewers to make their own conclusions.

Here's a taste: