Trouble The Water is a stunning documentary. Watching it one night this week it brought me to tears on many occassions. As they say about this Oscar nominated film, it’s not about a hurricane, it’s about America.
Kimberly Rivers Roberts is the star of this movie. She is an aspiring rapper, a recovering drug dealer and a woman genuinely trying to live right in poverty in New Orleans. The documentary, much of it shot by her hand on her camcorder, records the might and fury of Hurricane Katrina as she ravished Louisianna and then the tragic aftermath which prompted Kanye West to say, with some merit I thought, that George W. Bush doesn’t care about black people.
Roberts and her husband are true heroes. There is not a moment of doubt while watching this movie that the systematic poverty that had lived in all their lives was the criminal and not them, all though forced by their circumstances they broke the law at times. When one tries to argue that regions devastated by petty crime, drug epidemics and anti-social behaviour are not destroyed by the people but by the forces exerting on those people one inevitably gets labelled a “Cry-me-a-river liberal”. In Trouble The Waters we see God’s tears form a tidal wave that rips the city apart but lays bare the greed and divide that shapes the slums of the Western world. It is a powerful and brilliant documentary.
As the floods begin to rise, Kimberly and her husband Scot take refuge in their attic. They had no way to leave the city. It was a “luxury”, since the city put on no public transport to help the impoverished. So the Roberts gathered their extended family and neighbours and provided them support, food and shelter. As the waters rose above the street signs, Kimberly is heard on camera sayng, “We be up here but the Lord is with us”. When the storm abated, together with friends they rowed their dependents to safety on a boxing bag that washed up amongst them. When they got to dry land they picked old ladies up and carried them on their shoulders.
At one point a coast guard advised them to take shelter at the New Orleans naval base. The navy refused them shelter. Twenty men positioned themselves at the gateposts, loaded their M-16s and aimed them straight at these poor, black Americans. These men were later commended by President Bush for successfully defusing a potentially violent situation! The navy officers defended themselves on camera later. They had to do their job, protect the base, “protect the government”. The base was due to close down. It was full of empty beds.
The documentary includes recordings from emergency calls during the hurricane. An old lady’s voice is heard asking for help. There is no help replies the telephone operator. Emergency services have been evacuated. There is a long pause and then she quietly says, “So I’m gonna die?” She gets no answer. “Hello?” she asks. The operators responds, “Yeah”. With dignified resignation, the old woman simply laments quietly, “I can’t get out”.
Scot and Kimberly eventually rob a truck and load it up with dozens of people. Everyone they can find. They drive them to safety. Literally saving people’s lives. Their friend Brian accompanies them every step of the way. A recovering drug addict, Brian like the rest of them, constantly thank the National Guard soldiers who are eventually trucked in but do little to help. Brian, born and raised in the neighbourhood, is recovering in a church run group and so can offer “no proof of residence” and so receives no aid at all from the government. His refrain however is “I serve the true and living God”.
Robert’s brother is in jail. Louisianna has the highest incarceration rate on the planet. They are not informed that there is a storm coming. As the flood waters rise they are told the store of food has been flooded. These prisoners were locked up without the basic neccesities of life. America once again fails Doestoevsky’s Test. Roberts grandmother died in the flood, along with her uncle. Her grandmother was in hospital, that seems to have evacuated only the private patients. She died in a gurney in a hospital. While the military might of America was spent on killing Iraqis instead of saving their own citizens. When finally they arrive in Memphis, at a refuge offered by cousins, Kimberly’s cousin cries about what has happened. Her son wants to be a soldier but after Katrina she asserts, “you not gonna fight for a country that don’t care about you”.
When Roberts begins to rap towards the end of the movie you are struck by her raw gift. She is a fantastic performer with rare eloquence. But we have already seen that this depth goes all the way down. Trouble The Waters is a profoundly distrubing, enlightening, tragic and inspiring movie. It reveals the systematic violence of injustice and inequality at the heart of all Western societies and it goes to show us the real cost of our greed. These human beings were abandoned by their fellow citizens, more interested in how Katrina would affect petrol prices than in how it would affect poor people. It is the sort of movie that is simply so important we can be certain it will not be seen. Make sure you don’t miss it.
Your Correspondent, In Katrina, his God outdid the terrorists yet again