TheGrio Daily

Katrina Babies: Understanding the Trauma, Pt. 1

Episode 44

“It’s not really just about the random act of a hurricane or a weather event that upended these people’s lives, it’s kind of like the result of an America that we’ve already constructed.” In this special edition of theGrio Daily, Michael Harriot speaks with New Orleans filmmaker Edward Buckles about his HBO documentary ‘Katrina Babies.’ In part 1 of this 3 part series, Buckles talks about the trauma that was inflicted on thousands of children after the hurricane hit.

Michael Harriot [00:00:05] So like today on theGrio Daily, we’re going to be doing something different, right? This is a great documentary and I’m kind of a documentary nerd. Not even a nerd, right? It’s just like my favorite form of film. Like some people like horror movies. I don’t believe in ghosts, so I watch documentaries. But in a sense, this documentary that we’re going to be talking about today is kind of about ghosts, America’s ghosts, and it’s about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is going to be on HBO. And today we’re privileged. It was the first time I’ve ever called myself privileged to be talking with the director and the producer of that film. And it’s Katrina babies. And so I want to welcome him to theGrio Daily. I’m Michael Harriot, world famous wypipologitst and this is The Grio Daily. 

Edward Buckles [00:01:00] Yo, thank you so much for having me. 

Michael Harriot [00:01:02] Yeah, thanks, man. Thank you for joining me, man. I’m a I’m a huge fan of documentaries. And I thought this just gave so much perspective and was such encapsulation of not just like, you know, sometimes you see documentaries that, you know, tug on your heartstrings and tell a poignant story, but it doesn’t really give you any insight on the system or and which is what we talk about a lot in this podcast about the systemic issues or about historical issues or how this affects us. Right? Like it’s just a story about a thing that happened to somebody. 

Edward Buckles [00:01:40] Nobody ever asked the children how they were doing. So I am Katrina Babies take one. 

Michael Harriot [00:01:49] And that’s what I love about this documentary is not just the stories of people who are affected by a thing that happened, but it’s about how it’s not really just about like the random act of a hurricane or a weather event. So the first thing I want to know is how did you find like these specific stories or? And did you like were there like 12 people that you looked at and then narrowed it down? Or did you just happen upon these specific stories? 

Edward Buckles [00:02:20] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, when I first started working on a project, I was I was a junior at Dillard University. You know, I was taking a documentary class. And, you know, obviously, I grew up on a social media doings and I don’t have a film background. My father my mother doesn’t have a film background. So, you know, I didn’t really know what I was doing outside of like taking the class. So even like when it came to quote unquote casting, right, this documentary, my go to process was to go straight to Facebook. Right? I was worried that not many people would want to share their stories honestly, because, again, in New Orleans, we’re really funny about stuff like that. You know, when it comes to giving our stories away, especially to like films, because we’ve seen that done wrong so many times in America, especially during disaster. Black children that not even a thought. Have you ever like talked about this before? 

Miesha [00:03:11] No I haven’t. 

Edward Buckles [00:03:13] Why you think? 

Miesha [00:03:16] I don’t know, no one really asked me. 

Edward Buckles [00:03:19] Hurricane Katrina. Cause one of the biggest disbursements of Black people in history. When I went to Facebook, you know, and I posted, hey, I’m looking for people who were young during Hurricane Katrina because, like, I want to tell yalls story. I was surprised at the fact that there was like a uproar of people that was ready. So, you know, sit down and talk about their experiences. And that kind of gave me a form of validation, you know, to see that so many people wanted to share what they had experienced in 2005. 

Michael Harriot [00:03:48] So you say you don’t have a background in filmmaking or this whole process. One of the things we explain on this podcast is that like when we talk about those processes or, you know, the, the general way we make film like is just some shit that people figured out themselves. Like it ain’t no process, like they call it a process, but it’s just some stuff that people figured out themselves. And we know that we have the creativity absolutely to do this stuff themselves. And you basically like it’s kind of bad to have you on this podcast because you did what every student and every documentary filmmaker thinks that they’re going to be able to do in their head is like, I’m a find me a story and as soon as I get out of college, I will make a film like that. It almost never happens. This is the dream of it was my dream. So I know in this dream of every filmmaker. So how did you like go from asking people to on Facebook to like literally saying having HBO say, that’s a good idea, man, we’ll put it on our platform. 

Edward Buckles [00:04:52] When I first came up with the idea in college, you know, I sat on it for about like maybe like a year and a half and like I never started. So, like, you know, water it or like invest in it. I just sat on like pretty much I sat on the name, I was like, I’m gonna, I’m gonna make a documentary called Katrina Babies like, you know what I’m saying, and like, you know, I sat on it and then, you know, as real life was happening because again, I am I’m a big part of this story. I am close to this film. You know, I, I, you know, fled Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Then, you know, I’m from New Orleans and I returned to New Orleans. So it was very, very close to me. I remember I asked one of the adults, wait, like if like all of this is underwater, what happens to the people who stay behind? Like, like where are they? And like, you know, she was like like, look me dead in my eye as a kid. I said, everybody who stayed in New Orleans is dead. And like, I just started crying, like, instantly I just started crying and looking at the TV screen and her saying it, it seemed like it was true. You know, I always say that growing up in New Orleans and all of my time in New Orleans. Was really like a unintentional research and development process. Right. So even even when I thought that I wasn’t working on this film, I was working on it by just simply living in New Orleans. Right. So I kept getting signs, right? And, you know, I felt like I kept getting like messages from God that, you know, I should be working on this project like like honestly. And it was one holiday season. My cousin Tina, who was in the film, she called me up and, you know, she was like speaking to everybody, like in a family about still being displaced because, you know, normally for holidays, we would all be together. And she was very, very emotional, like this holiday. And once she and I got on the phone, she was telling me that, you know, she’d been seeing all the stuff that my mom had been putting on Facebook about me telling stories and like, you know, shooting videos or whatever. And, you know, she was like, yo, like one day I’m going to make a movie about my life. And I was like, okay, well, you know, what’s type? Like, what type of moive, you know? You know what I’m saying because everybody said it, everybody like, yo, yo, everybody, everybody said it, right?  

Michael Harriot [00:06:57] As a writer, I, you know, they tell me, I want you to write a book about my life and you need to write a book about my life. 

Edward Buckles [00:07:02] Exactly. And and, you know, I’m a college student, like, at the time. So I’m like, well, you know, tell me more like what happened. And she just instantly started to talk about Hurricane Katrina. So just for context, my family evacuated during Hurricane Katrina. My my my immediate family, my parents, my sisters and I evacuated and my cousins who were like pretty much like my best friends, Tina’s kids. They chose to ride out the storm and stay in New Orleans. So that’s the context. So she told me about the story that they experienced once they stayed in New Orleans. And it was it was heavy. It was heavy to hear on that holiday and. Once she told me about what happened with she and her children, specifically when she talked about what her children saw, something just clicked. And an idea that I had about Katrina Babies, you know, I was like, I got to start this right now. And and really the main reason was because after growing up in a post-Katrina New Orleans, I had heard so much throughout my whole childhood that, you know, y’all kids are bad, y’all kids are violent, y’all kids are criminals. Like, you know, y’all have behavior problems. And as soon as she told me that story, something just clicked in my head. I was like, Wait, what if the reason that we’re acting out is because of what children experience? In 2005. 

Miesha [00:08:20] The displacing of Black communities all over the city started to cause like this trickle down effect of, you know, you are no longer in the community you came up in. You are now being put in like concentrated areas or like pockets. 

Edward Buckles [00:08:38] And that was really how I started the journey. And I just stayed consistent for like seven years. Like, you know, people would always ask me like, yo, like, how long is this project going to take? And I was like, honestly, this is real life, so I can’t rush real life. And my mentor, Chike. Oza, who’s one half of Coodie and Chike, he just kept checking on me every year. Like, like, yo, like, how’s the project going? And like, you know, any time, like, I would venture out of here, but like, bro, this is the project, you know, like it’s gonna change your life, right? So then 2020 hits and like pandemic hits and God set us down, right? And when gas us down, I was forced to just sit quiet with Katrina babies. I didn’t have any other work coming in. And I got that call. I got the annual call from Chike, like, Yo, what’s going on with all Katrina babies? I might have an opportunity for you. And he introduced me to his producer, RJ Rosenberg, and then also introduced me to a company that he was working with, TIME Studios of Time magazine. And, you know, honestly, bro, everything started moving fast after that. Like, it’s like right after that. A few weeks later, we pitched to HBO and HBO wanted it in the room, and it’s just been the grind since then, you know? So I’m still kind of I don’t want to say shocked but like, you know, I’m still is still like a pulling up, like surrealism, like, you know, to even be here, you know, talk to you about it. Like, like we have a finished product. It’s still like a bit surreal, but I’m grateful. You know. 

Michael Harriot [00:10:00] It took nearly a decade for this documentary to be made, but that’s just the beginning of the story. In part two, you’ll hear it would explain how the tragedy of Katrina opened his eyes to how the government in America sees Black people. Don’t forget to subscribe to theGrio Daily to make sure you don’t miss this conversation. More of Katrina Babies next time. 

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