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Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?: historical metaphors and mythical realities in Spike Lee's When The Levee's Broke

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date2012
JournalJazz Research Journal
Number of pages16
Original languageEnglish


In many of Spike Lee’s films, jazz is a medium of cultural transformation, enabling African-Americans and other ethnic and racial groups to understand the cultural legacies on which their collective identity depends, by reconciling them for better or worse to their common history as citizens of the United States. The recurrent theme in all of Lee’s films is the cultural consequences of excluding African-Americans from that history, especially given their enormous influence on it, and the losses and distortions that necessary follow from such exclusions. In When the Levees Broke (2006), his four-part television documentary about the destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, Lee transforms this theme into a powerful story of individual and collective cultural rebirth through jazz. In this essay, I want to offer some initial thoughts on how Lee connects this story with the dominant historical metaphors and mythical realities of nationhood in the United States, especially those that identify jazz with the themes of displacement, homelessness and homecoming.