If God Is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise, a Spike Lee documentary on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and British Petroleum’s massive oil spill, includes multiple accounts of the effects of the two disasters on people with disabilities in New Orleans.
By now, almost everyone knows how people with disabilities died in botched Katrina evacuations, or were never given the opportunity to evacuate at all. Instead, Lee concentrates on individual stories that are indicative of the larger social problems people with disabilities face in a crumbling infrastructure.
A family relocated to Houston discovers educational services for their autistic son, and opts to stay (despite being one of the lucky few to have their Louisiana house paid for by insurance). Even before the storm, New Orleans had already been too impoverished to have anything like the Life Skills class they needed. Several people talk about the onset of their mental health and depression issues since the storm, and a lack of facilities, programs, and funding that has caused the suicide rate to rise to over twice the national average.
Later, the story of an unarmed intellectually disabled man “with a mental age of a first-grader” who was mistaken for a sniper by panicked (and possibly racist) police is told. And a discussion of the violence that followed is not complete without the account from a man who was shot in the neck and leg in separate incidents, necessitating the removal of part of his leg.
Despite the stated desire to rebuild New Orleans better than before, no mention of making new construction accessible to people with disabilities is made; indeed, one of the few bright spots in the documentary is the section on the new housing developments sponsored by Brad Pitt, towering above the flood line on stilts and full flights of stairs. We at Disability Movies have an uncomfortable feeling that when the creek rises (and it will rise), the lessons of Katrina will have been for naught, and the cycle of disability and poverty in New Orleans will begin anew.