The Root Interview: Spike Lee

The filmmaker talks all things NOLA, from former Mayor C. Ray Nagin to the Super Bowl win to his latest documentary about Katrina, “If God is Willing and The Creek Don’t Rise.”


If you were around New Orleans for its spectacular February, in which it ceremoniously elected a new mayor, its NFL team won the Super Bowl and a record-dense Mardi Gras, you were sure to spot a certain award-winning filmmaker about town, taking it all in, camera crew in tow.

Ever since Spike Lee's critically acclaimed documentary, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, aired on HBO on August 29, 2006, the first anniversary of Katrina, the director had vowed to return to the Crescent City for an update on its progress. His new documentary, If God Is Willing And The Creek Don't Rise--the product of all those Lee sightings--will premiere on HBO on the fifth anniversary of the hurricane.

We caught up with Lee at his temporary studio offices in the city's French Quarter, where he held court, decked out in a blue Nike suit, purple Jordans and his signature tortoise-shell glasses. In this first installment of Lee's exclusive interview with The Root, the director discusses the closing of city's Charity Hospital building, the significance of the Super Bowl win and his filmic forays into Mississippi and Texas, which were also both impacted by Katrina.



The Root: So what have you learned from your interviews this time around?

Spike Lee: People are ecstatic about the Saints, but people are still hurting. Everybody is talking about the closing of Charity Hospital. The other day, there was the whole Danziger Bridge thing, the knocking down of public housing. People are up in arms about education, about health care. People have no confidence in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

So, the Saints--you can't underestimate what the Saints did for the soul of the people in the Gulf region. And I'm happy for them. I wanted the Saints to beat the Colts. But that was coupled with Mardi Gras and every day that goes by is a day away from the Super Bowl win and Mardi Gras. So people are still floating, but every day the people's feet are coming back to the earth, and pretty soon both feet will be back on earth, and back on earth here in New Orleans. The ills and issues they faced pre-Super Bowl, pre-playoffs, pre-Mardi Gras are a stark reality.

Lee: I know that the whole Donnell Herrington shooting investigation was sparked by the first one. That was the young brother shot in Algiers. The FBI didn't even know about it until they saw the movie. But I don't really think that's the way to quantify impact. I think the impact is that the people of New Orleans were given the chance to tell the world about how they felt. People all over the world who watched these images of people drowning, and people on top of houses holding "Help" signs--When the Levees Broke gave those people the chance to tell the world what they were going through, what they were thinking.