Trouble the Water, U.S.A.

Posted on 25 March 2011

I recently watched a fascinating documentary called Trouble the Water (it’s available on Netflix or to read more, watch the trailer, etc. visit  Made in 2008, the film boasts some of the most incredible live footage I have ever seen—both of Hurricane Katrina itself and of life in New Orleans’ 9th Ward, one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by the storm.  I turned on the movie expecting to be seriously depressed; but instead it told a complex and intricate story of a big storm, a neighborhood, and an ailing country.  So…yes, depressed.  But also intrigued.

Kimberly Rivers Roberts, a local resident of the 9th Ward, kept her camera running for much of the storm and shared the footage with the documentary makers for the creation of the film.  What happens to Kimberly, her family and her neighbors both during and after the storm highlights some of the most glaring political, economic and cultural fissures in American society today.  From an anthropological standpoint, Kimberly’s brief escape (with her husband Scott and some neighbors) from their neighborhood in the storm’s aftermath is an interesting experiment in the nature versus nurture debate.  Their hopes are high to make a better life for themselves once they have escaped the cyclical patterns of the poverty-stricken environment in which they grew up.  In a bizarre, surprisingly happy twist of fate, the storm gives them the motivation and excuse to leave New Orleans and, for the first time, Louisiana.  The change, and eventual hope, that springs out of this move and their subsequent return to their home in New Orleans is heart-rending and inspirational. (NOTE: Read no further if you want to watch the documentary and don’t want the end spoiled!  Hehe.)  Kimberly makes her first rap album, Scott gets a job in construction and they have their first baby.  The rays of sunshine are tangible, at the end of this tunnel.  But reality is never far away, and it is clear throughout the film that they are the lucky ones—by virtue of not only providence but their own enduring hope and hard work.  Even for them, the future is frighteningly uncertain.  Their home and neighborhood is still shockingly vulnerable to future floods, and a repeat of Katrina appears all too possible if the broader issues implicated by their story aren’t addressed.

Ah yes, the broader issues.  When will race cease to be an economic indicator?  When will American citizens mean more to the government than non-renewable resources?  When will disaster relief in poor neighborhoods mean helping people, more than policing them?  (Okay, maybe never, since poverty in America usually means desperation.)  When will politicians and policy makers take real, immediate and preventative action against climate change and the catastrophic events that will accompany it?  The Mayor of New Orleans, C. Ray Nagin, had prior knowledge of Katrina and began evacuating the city accordingly…but did not offer any form of public transportation out as part of this plan.  I only hope that others will learn from his mistake.

Raise awareness: watch Trouble the Water, and tell others to watch it!


The poster for Trouble the Water, from the film website


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