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Monday, July 14, 2014

Film Explores Race, Culture And Politics In Post-Katrina New Orleans

Political operative Barbara Lacen-Keller denouncing some of New Orleans electoral tactics. (Andrew Kolker)

Political operative Barbara Lacen-Keller denouncing some of New Orleans electoral tactics. (Andrew Kolker)

A new film about race and politics in post-Katrina New Orleans premiers tonight on PBS, as part of the documentary series POV — Point-of-View.

Getting Back To Abnormal” centers on a contentious 2010 race for New Orleans City Council, between an African-American preacher and a polarizing white incumbent named Stacy Head, for a seat that was long held by a black representative.

Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson talks to Barbara Lacen-Keller, Stacy Head’s campaign aide, and Paul Stekler, one of the filmmakers, about the evolution of race relations and the political landscape in New Orleans in the years since Hurricane Katrina.

Interview Highlights: Barbara Lacen-Keller and Paul Stekler

Paul Stekler on how New Orleans has changed racially since Katrina.

“The city is less African-American. The majority of the people who could not move back — the fourth of the city who could not move back — were black New Orleanians. It’s less of an African-American city, though it’s still 60 percent plus African-American. There are more Hispanics, there are more young idealistic kids that have come down, so the city is somewhat different, though its still mostly a black city. And it’s still mostly dominated by African-American politicians, but it’s changed to a certain extent. I think, actually, the race that you see in this film of Stacy’s reelection and subsequent victories is part of that transition in the politics of New Orleans.”

Barbara Lacen-Keller on working with Stacy Head, a controversial figure

“When Stacy first came to the city council, she had never been in politics before. I think a lot of people perceived her, one, as being a white person and, two, as being a racist because she had some problems with her delivery… If she could just tone it down just a little bit! That was a key factor. I have a reputation — I’ve been involved in community involvement and activism for almost 50 years — so a lot of folks had problems with me. They thought I was a sellout. But I was not.”

Paul Stekler on why he chose to focus on this particular race

“We were looking for stories that were metaphors for the way New Orleans was recreating itself or trying to bring itself back up on its feet after Katrina. And you’re always looking for good characters, as well. So the film is not so much a film about politics, it’s using this particular election campaign for city council as a metaphor for what was going on in the city. We picked this race partially because Stacy and Barbara are just fabulous characters. Having the two of them together — and their relationship is so interesting and so strong — they’re just great on camera.”

Barabara Lacen-Keller on what sets New Orleans apart

“I think the uniqueness of New Orleans is that when you love it, it loves you back. You know, the love just bubbles from the street. They call it the Big Easy, not because we don’t care, because we try to make the living as easy as it could be — and that’s the uniqueness of New Orleans.”

Guests

  • Barbara Lacen-Keller, Stacy Head’s campaign aide.
  • Paul Stekler, one of the filmmakers behind “Getting Back to Abnormal.”

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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