In less than five years—the time it took to produce a movie on Sept. 11—Hollywood will unveil a major motion picture on Hurricane Katrina’s assault on New Orleans. One can already imagine some of the movie’s big sequences: the hero clawing through his attic ceiling to escape the floodwaters, a rape in the bowels of the Superdome, a crowd of (mostly black) gunmen firing at the police from a partially submerged overpass. (The latter two, of course, never happened.)
But it’s a safe bet you won’t find many scenes that humanize the poor and working people most devastated by the storm and its aftermath. And it’s even more unlikely that the movie will explore the day-to-day social conditions of the disaster’s impoverished victims. Most films and television programs run counter to gospel values in an important regard: their dismissive, scornful treatment of the poor that Jesus repeatedly urged us to reach out to and find worth in.
Hollywood’s history has included brief periods in which significant numbers of sympathetic poor and working-class portrayals have appeared. The end of the Great Depression saw the film classics The Grapes of Wrath and How Green Was My Valley; even the pre-twister portion of The Wizard of Oz spotlights the humble Kansas farm of Dorothy’s aunt and uncle. In the early 1970s, several hit TV series focused on characters under or just above the poverty line, notably The Waltons and Norman Lear’s sitcoms All in the Family, Good Times, and Sanford and Son. (It’s worth pointing out, however, that two of these series were based on British shows.)