“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, we continue with part 2 of our 3 part series about the trauma that was inflicted on thousands of children after Hurricane Katrina hit. Michael Harriot speaks with New Orleans filmmaker Edward Buckles about his HBO documentary ‘Katrina Babies’ which documents these traumas.
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Michael Harriott [00:00:05] I’m Michael Harriott, world-famous wypipologist and this is The Grio Daily. Welcome back to The Grio Daily as we continue our conversation with New Orleans filmmaker Edward Buckles, whose documentary Katrina Babies tells the stories of children whose lives were forever changed with Hurricane Katrina.
Edward Buckles [00:00:28] 2020 hits and like pandemic hits. And God sent us down, right? And when God set us down, I was forced to just sit quiet with Katrina Babies. I didn’t have any other work coming in. I got that call. I got the annual call from Chike, like, Yo, what’s going on with our 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. A few weeks later, we pitched to HBO and HBO wanted it in the room. And, you know, 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, talking to you about it. Like, like we have a finished product. It’s still like a bit surreal, but I’m. I’m grateful, you know?
Michael Harriott [00:01:20] Yeah. And having been in those rooms, man, I know. Like, you have to have, what, you know, a couple of kinds of pitches. This is long pitch you’re gonna give them, tell them everything about the film. But then there’s what they call an elevator pitch where you have to basically summarize not just why they should make this film, but why somebody would watch this film. And so I always thought that the elevator pitch is what you what people should be giving out to the audience when they go out to talk about the movie. So what is the elevator pitch for? Katrina Babies?
Edward Buckles [00:01:53] So what’s funny is there’s another pitch, right, that like we discovered on this project, and it was the personal emotional pitch, right?
Cierra [00:02:01] 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 to where people that are territorial and those are super, you know, hard up about where they’re from now being placed in certain parts of the city because they would they were displaced or they lost their homes. And, you know, now the rent for the whole street has gone up and new people have moved in. Think about what that does to a community, it destabilizes it.
Edward Buckles [00:02:44] Again, because this project was so close to me, it’s impossible for me to find like a textbook way of pitching this film. I have to, you know, speak about it from a personal level. So my pitch was like like it’s it’s been a minute, but my pitch was almost like, you know, I was 13 years old when Hurricane Katrina hit. And, you know, everybody always says that Hurricane Katrina is overly spoken about, right? It’s it’s overly spoken about. And like New Orleans is rebuilt. We don’t want to hit old stories no more, but how can that be if no one ever spoke to me and my peers like no one ever asked? That’s how we felt about, you know, being like all those roofs and being in those attics and, you know, all of that stuff and like being uprooted, right. And it was somewhere around there. But honestly, like, man, like when I pitched it, I went into like this just this road of, like, surrealism and like I just like they call it spazzing, right? I just started spazzing, you know, said it like by the end of the thing, like everybody was almost in tears and it worked out. Coodie and Chike always tell me, man, soak that up because like, every pit don’t go like that. You know, like, every pitch is not going to be something that’s that’s personal. And, you know, people are crying in the room. Sometimes studios are playing hard to get, you know, that they’ll they’ll go back and forth with you. So I’m definitely blessed that we got that opportunity for Katrina Babies.
Michael Harriott [00:04:02] So one of the things I like about this movie, I mean, I probably the thing I like the most about it and maybe I’m reading too much into it is it’s not just the story of a thing that happened. It is the story of why things are the way they are now. Right? Like even how the behavior and the crime and how we see people now, all of that was affected by this one incident. Right. And not just this one incident, but how the government responded, how we respond to how communities responded. When you think about the displacement, when you think about the poverty that it caused, when you talk about the behavior and the families that it broke up, I almost saw it as like this microcosm in a larger context of Black people in general. Right. Like Katrina was a thing that happened to people in New Orleans. Like America was a thing that happened to us. Right. Like it’s almost. A metaphor for all of us. Right. When you were making it and I was wondering if you saw that if you saw that it was just something bigger than these specific stories that you were telling?
Edward Buckles [00:05:13] Well, I got to again, I got to go back to living it. Right. So something that you just say, you know, spoke to me because like something that I’ve been saying to almost every press outlet. This is not just a New Orleans story. This is a very American story. And like, you know, it’s happening in backyards all over the world right now, you know, in Mississippi is happening right. You know, happened in Flint. You know, and like in some ways, what this pandemic has happened is a Black and disenfranchised people, you know, like all over America. Right. So it’s a very American story. And like, you know, I love what you just said about, you know, what happened to New Orleans is kind of what happened to America like with our Black people. So I think that when you asked me when I started to realize that this was not just a natural disaster and that it was very unnatural in the way that it was responded to when the way that, you know, Black people were treated in recovery and not even just recovery, but like, you know, even during the storm, I got to go back to when I was 13 years old. And, you know, I got to go back to before Katrina, when New Orleans was Black. And, you know, I hardly saw white people like I barely saw white folks. Right. So I was around such a Black culture and and like, you know, I was so innocent, right. You know, because I got the fact that I didn’t think that racism didn’t exist. I was just around all Black people, like, you know, so, like, I wasn’t even thinking about it as a kid. Right. But like during Katrina, you know, I’ll never forget as I’m laying in the shelter on the floor, like, you know, again, because my parents and I evacuated and like as I’m laying like on a shelter on the floor and my parents are trying to wonder what’s next. And like, I don’t know what’s going on. And then, you know, I see a 20 something year old Kanye West on the telethon talking about how Black people received the as low as treatment, slowest help ever. And like you were talking about how, you know, white people are being, you know, labeled as looking for food while while Black people are being called looters.
Kanye West [00:07:02] I hate the way they Petraeus and the media. If you see a Black family, it says they’re looting. See a white family. It says they’re looking for food. And, you know, it’s been five days because most of the people are Black. And even for me to complain about, I would be a hypocrite because I’ve tried to turn away from the TV because it’s too hard to watch.
Edward Buckles [00:07:25] Once he said all that. And obviously, George Bush, like, you know, like doesn’t care about Black people. And like, you know, I’m hearing I’m hearing people in my family applaud. Right. I’m hearing like, you know, people like in the show to applaud because we’re all sitting there trying to figure out what’s next. That was like a very, like, defining moment for me when it came to Hurricane Katrina. I’m like, wait, this is not just a natural disaster. Like this is because I’m Black, like I’m in this position because of the fact that I’m Black. And then obviously, you know, when I’m seeing other people who are from New Orleans who are not Black or like from Louisiana and like they’re getting like faster treatment than we are. Right. And like, you know, we are in like the worst shape. You know, so, like, I saw it very early on, like, you know, that innocence was taken away from me very early on. So by that time, I started to work on this project. You know, I was already going in it with some thoughts about resource allocation and racism. The only thing that I didn’t have was a name for it. I didn’t know what all of this stuff was called, right? I didn’t know how to label it. And like, you know, sometimes, you know, I Black folks like I think that that’s how we get left out of the conversation and like, you know, ways that we can bypass because we don’t know what to call it. So by making this documentary, I learned like the labels. I learned the terminology so that I can use it, so fight with it. So I definitely had that curtain pulled. Like I pulled away at a very, very young age. So by the time, you know, I started making this film. You know, I was already I was already kind of like ready to fight, you know what I’m saying? Like, I was already, you know, like, ready to go. I was super young, you know? So it was a it was a bit intimidating, you know, to be so young making this film. And I carry, like, the weight of Katrina, carrying the weight of New Orleans and carrying, like, the weight of America’s racism. And like, you know, America’s like, slow help towards, like, Black and disenfranchised people.
Michael Harriott [00:09:08] When I watched this movie, one of the things I have to ask myself, and I think one of the things the audience will have to ask ourselves. And again, I might be prejudiced by viewing it as kind of a metaphor for all of. But like. We ain’t got no time machine. We got, like, how do we fix this? Has America learned anything from how it handled Hurricane Katrina? Well, check out point three of our conversation with Edwin Buckles and you’ll hear more about what he’s learned, whether America has redeemed itself and what the future looks like. Don’t forget to subscribe to The Grio Daily to make sure you don’t miss this conversation. More on Katrina Babies next time.
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