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Essayist/author says actor’s ‘Flow’ on Katrina victims is ‘offensively misinformed.’
September 7, 2005


On Monday evening, September 5th--Labor Day--while attempting to channel-surf myself a reprieve from Hurricane Katrina, I came upon the David Letterman Show.  When I saw that you were on promoting your film, “Hustle and Flow,” I figured I’d stay tuned. 

I enjoyed your interview, during which you emphasized that “Hustle” is not just about a pimp trying to become a rapper, but the saga of a man trying to make a better way for himself.

Then you brought up New Orleans. 

Principally, you remarked that the Hurricane Katrina victims in that city were waiting on someone to give them something, instead of doing for themselves.

I noticed both how Mr. Letterman looked at you as he graciously wrapped the interview segment and the deafening, momentary hush that befell the audience.  Perhaps they were shocked by what you said. I was.

While everyone is allowed their opinion--this is America--the question that immediately came to my mind was if, during the undoubtedly harried promotion of your film, you’ve had the occasion to seriously absorb the TV, radio, newspaper and Internet reports coming out of the Gulf Coast.  If by chance you haven’t, get yourself a tape of Oprah’s show out of the region.

Because if you have seen the reports, I’m wondering where your reasoning is.  We’re talking about people, many of them, so poor they didn’t have the funds or means to get out and stay out after they arrived somewhere. People living so far below the poverty level that they aren’t blips on the radar.  Until it actually hit, Katrina was the least of these folks’ problems.

And I speak not of the multitudes bedridden in nursing homes and hospitals, but the physically healthy ones--who, whether realistic or not, felt that, after all they routinely endure in life, a Category Four hurricane would just be something else to get past, like making the rent. 

If these people expect help from their government, it is largely because we live in America, where, when we can’t do for ourselves--quite different from freeloading--help is supposed to be provided.  So shaped on this morality is our government, Mr. Howard, that long ago laws were created to administer it.  As Americans, is not unrealistic for these people to expect this. 

To be sure, among those in New Orleans are the able-bodied who commit crimes--steal, cheat, rob, rape and kill.  These people blemish every society, and it’s a damn shame.

But the overwhelming majority stricken, Mr. Howard, can’t be taught much about doing for themselves. They wrote the book. They are hardworking people who carved out honest lives, and the biggest natural disaster in modern American history took everything they had. If all these people needed was a handout, they’d be lucky. Most lost everything but their lives.

Considering this, Mr. Howard, I found what you said on Letterman to be insensitive and offensively misinformed.  In your defense, you made your statement just as your segment was ending.  But I’m not sure what you could have added that would have made sense of it.

Get that Oprah tape, brother.

Or better yet, venture into the region.  Visit the shelters, speak with the people and hear some of their stories.  This not a movie about making a better way, Mr. Howard; it’s the real, horrific deal, and it is about sheer survival. 

However, here is what I find most ironic: Those folk you speak of in New Orleans? Not only do they represent the core audience of a film such as “Hustle And Flow;” they are the ones most likely to embrace it as more than just a story about a pimp wanting to rap. They’ve long known what it’s like to make a way out of no way, Mr. Howard.

And in Katrina’s aftermath, they are being burdened at a level that seems as unfair as your cavalier statement. 

Peace & Love,
Steven Ivory

Steven Ivory’s book, FOOL IN LOVE (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster) is in stores now or at ( Respond to him via or

Posted by Nuttshell on 09/07 at 02:08 PM in Celebrity

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