Government & Politics

The Lens interviews Spike Lee

The Lens recently visited the Rampart Street studio and office space of Spike Lee, who’s been in the city the past month filming a sequel to his HBO documentary “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.” He’d just gotten back from Houston, where he was interviewing people displaced by the federal levee disasters, and remained there – either by choice, or because they felt they couldn’t return due to lack of housing, health or education problems.

On that note, Lee shared with us his belief that no schools in New Orleans were open for kids with disabilities. While not entirely true, it has been reported that public schools have widely varying rates of accepting special-needs students. But what left Lee under the impression that absolutely no schools were taking these students was an interview he had with Catherine M. Gordon, currently living in Humble, Texas. Lee said Gordon told her that she could not come back to New Orleans because she couldn’t find a school to admit her autistic son, but Humble schools were able to accommodate her son’s needs.

“She doesn’t want to live in Texas,” Lee told us. “Her family is here. That’s the reason she can’t move back to New Orleans because that’s (educational services) not here, but it is where she is in Texas. She’s doing that for her child.”

Of course, if this is true, this is a violation of federal laws. There are organizations in the city who’ve already been peering into this issue, but come Aug. 29, when Lee’s movie premieres on HBO, this issue will fall under the national gaze.

Another point that Lee shared with us was that he believed that the “bulk” of recovery money in the city has been spent. While this is certainly contestable, this is what Lee learned from dozens of people in the area.

Last month, Lens writer Ariella Cohen reported from a City Council meeting that actually only 5 percent of recovery money has been spent, in terms of checks actually written out and delivered to those who’ve invoiced for goods and services rendered. Lee admitted he had no actual quote or range in mind about how much exactly he believed was spent.

“I don’t have a study in front of me,” said Lee. “But I’ve been told by various people that a lot of money – the bulk of the money appropriated specifically for the recovery program has been spent.”

Other things Lee shared concern about was the fate of the Charity Hospital saying: “I find it ironic that people can come back and build their houses from the ground up and then these guys can say we want to build this VA/LSU hospital so we’re just going to wipe out these 200 houses and businesses. … Charity Hospital is still a viable building. … The stuff that’s built now can’t stand up to the workmanship and materials, the stone of Charity. I mean that’s a rock.”

Lee said one interview he’s not been able to secure yet is with Gov. Bobby Jindal, who he says he approached on the sidelines of the Saints’ Super Bowl game in Miami. Lee said Jindal promised in that exchange that he would do the interview for the movie.

Lee was, however, able to interview incoming mayor Mitch Landrieu, who also appeared in “When the Levees Broke.” Lee said he knew Landrieu because he “comes to New York a lot of times” and he met the new mayor through Wynton Marsalis. As for how he thinks Landrieu will do as the Crescent City’s new mayor:

“I think he can do better than what Nagin’s done. But he’s going to need a whole lot of help. … Just because Mitch is mayor doesn’t mean presto change overnight. It will be a welcome change for the people here and that was reflected in the way the voting went.”

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