TheGrio’s 100: Lolis Eric Elie, preserving NOLA history in multiple mediums

TheGrio's 100 - Lolis Eric Elie's passion for history and storytelling intersected with his home city's destruction at the hands of Hurricane Katrina in 2005...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

As writer and documentarian who has closely recounted New Orleans’ story for more than 15 years, Lolis Eric Elie’s passion for history and storytelling intersected with his home city’s destruction at the hands of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Elie now brings his intimate knowledge of New Orleans to his writing for HBO’s standout series Treme.

Lolis Eric Elie is making history … by chronicling in film, television and news writing the truth of pre- and post-Katrina New Orleans. As a metro columnist for the city’s Times-Picayune paper from 1995 to 2009, Elie had learned New Orleans’ pulse before the hurricane hit in August 2005, and reported on life in the wake of the disaster.

Along the way, Elie co-produced Faubourg Treme, a 2008 documentary film named after its subject – one of the oldest black neighborhoods in America and the birthplace of jazz. Far from being just another Katrina documentarian, Elie sought to explore the cultural and historical significance of the New Orleans’ neighborhood, which was home to the largest community of free black people in the Deep South during slavery.

What’s next for Lolis?

The documentarian’s beloved neighborhood serves as the backdrop for HBO’s 2010 standout series Treme, by The Wire creator David Simon. Elie joined Treme’s writing staff in 2009, where he injects historical context and local character into the Emmy-nominated series. The drama will return for its second season this year.

What inspires Lolis?

“I am inspired most by people whose quiet, tenacious dedication to the ideals of justice, equality and peace are not contingent on poll results, television news coverage and current trends,” Elie told theGrio. “I’m thinking for example of the men of the so-called Generation of 1860 whose attempt to introduce democracy into my home state during the Civil War has been all but forgotten.”

In his own words …

“Although I had not initially thought about it going into television writing, the opportunity to tell our story to the HBO audience and perhaps more importantly, to humanize [New Orleans’] issues that everyone in American has heard about, but relatively few of us have any real sense of, that was a great opportunity,” Elie said.

A favorite quote …

“In the post modern prison, the bars are on the inside” – Andre Codrescu

A little-known fact …

In Faubourg Treme, Elie credits an 1860s civil rights movement in the historical neighborhood as the first in the country. The progress was chronicled in the first African-American daily newspaper, the New Orleans Tribune.

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