Remembering Katrina: What is Your Repass?

This is the first in a series of interviews we completed to launch our “What is Your Repass?” campaign, a campaign to stir up a social media buzz to see this powerful film made. We wanted people to remember Hurricane Katrina, and why we are all a part of it. The Repass is a story where a young girl is led by spirits to find answers when something she doesn’t understand occurs, and I think we all have those moments in our lives. I believe that that is the power of this story. Hurricane Katrina is an event that made a deep impression on my life as an artist and writer, as a woman, and a person of color. This blog is to commemorate that process of beginning to make The Repass. If it so moves you, we hope that you’ll add your own story of your own repass.

Hurricane Katrina is an event that made a deep impression on my life as an artist, as a woman, and a person of color.

remember the week that Katrina happened. I was living in a tiny studio apartment above a garage. I was starting to leave television behind then and listening more to the radio—that was how I got my news. I was barely watching television but Katrina was everywhere. On the radio, they had recorded the scream of a woman from within the super dome. It was the kind of scream I had never heard before in my real life—so much pain and anguish, and hopelessness. It pierced my insides and stirred something within me. I have never forgotten that day. It’s that day that implanted the first seeds of the story of The Repass.

DSC01059

Over the next year I would visit New Orleans to put some real feeling into the characters I was writing. I met wonderful people on those days in 2006 when I visited. I went without knowing anyone but I had met a line producer in Los Angeles for a trip who tried to connect me with a few of his friends in Nola. I was grateful to meet real New Orleanians who would also become part of the fabric of the story. It was my first time being in the city. It was beautiful, and I was moved to be back in the South where I had not been since I was a young child in Alabama. There is a line in The Repass script where someone says, ‘there aint no place like New Orleans,’ and that comes from my personal experience of staying and being in a city of spirits where you never quite feel alone even when you are.

Ninth Ward House2

Even in the aftermath of Katrina the people of New Orleans were kind and genteel. I still remember the congenial man who was strolling down the street and stopped to graciously direct me into my parallel parking spot in front of the Canal Street rooming house — now demolished and built over. There were rings on the trees I took pictures of and rings in the canal house where the water had risen over the stairs and remained there for days. I saw lots of piles of splintered trees and wood planks, stone stairs without homes, and even a car that had tumbled somehow underneath a crumbling house. And yet with so much going on people still found the time to talk to me, care for me, a stranger in a strange land, and share their stories.

Sunlight and the cemeteries

During my trip I also visited the art museum that coincidentally had an exhibit of children’s drawings from Katrina. Unforgettable. But what I was most curious about were the cemeteries and this cultural tradition, the repass. One day I picked up a newspaper—which I still have— and saw the first listing of a repass. My family knew the word but I didn’t and I immediately became entranced by it. I had always been frightened of funerals but death was always something I was drawn to for reasons I didn’t really know—maybe because of my own close brushes with it—but death had always played an important role in my life. Seeing the obituary solidified what my story was about and for whom I had to write it.

I eventually uncovered Katherine Dunham in her island narratives of Haitian vodou and her tales of Dambala and that led me to a whole other world.

KatherineDunham.InBatucada

When I returned from that visit, I was truly ready to write except for one last aspect. That was the voodoo or later the vodou. I had visited Priestess Miriam’s temple and she had given me a few items of inspiration including a few images I would capture in my camera—her spice jars, piano, totems, and lacy fabrics. I was captivated. However, as I began my research of New Orleans voodoo, I couldn’t stomach the voodoo dolls and commercial consumerism of it I saw in other places. I knew that wasn’t what I wanted. As I looked deeper and further, I eventually uncovered Katherine Dunham in her island narratives of Haitian vodou and her tales of Dambala and that led me to a whole other world. It was like I was reading stories I was always meant to know—I felt her stories validated something I had already felt to be true. Her connections to University of Chicago—my own alma mater—were astounding and only made me feel that more compelled to tell this powerful story.

…stories of Marie Laveau only increased my own yearning to know more about Cuba, St. Lucia, Haiti and their relationship to the French and to New Orleans.

martinique_carnival

The years of living in Miami had revealed to me my family’s own Caribbean heritage and now living in Los Angeles I found myself coming back to it again and again. Meeting a tai chi practicing man from St. Lucia on a day trip with a friend (a fantastic blog post of its own), my own upbringing in Catholicism, discovering the stories of Marie Laveau only increased my own yearning to know more about Cuba, St. Lucia, Haiti and their relationship to the French and to New Orleans. Knowing that St. Lucia and Haiti were linked through caribbean but also through their religious practices—it all just pushed me further and deeper into cultural and spiritual resources I’d never known but seemed to have imagined.

This month will be the 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and although it was my hope to have the movie come out in the wake of this anniversary, the spirits have elected otherwise.

Because of these stories, these experiences I have felt deeply compelled to tell this story; I feel I have been charged by my ancestors to tell this story. This month will be the 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and although it was my hope to have the movie come out in the wake of this anniversary, the spirits have elected otherwise. Without a doubt, I know this film will be made, for all those who have supported me and even those who have yet to and those I will never meet. The Repass is its own miracle and will come about it its own time and when the spirits are ready for me to tell it… when that actor or actress who can make our film happen comes aboard.

The Bayou

The Bayou

Until that time, I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge first, the people of New Orleans who are an amazing beautiful and resilient people. There is something very powerful and supernatural about living in a city that is not even meant to exist being under sea level. And to acknowledge the spirit of the repass: the angels and ancestors that are there to carry us into our next life, our next endeavor, to the places we belong. I invite you to watch our clip (there will be more than one!) and if the spirit so moves you, to make a clip of your own that tells about a time that you felt guided or renewed by an ancestor that brought you to a new place. Then post it to one of our social media pages.

We invite you to watch our clip (there will be more than one!) and if the spirit so moves you, to make a clip of your own (with your iPhone or android camera phone) that tells about a time that you felt guided or renewed by an ancestor that brought you to a new place.

My spirits have guided me to this place, this repass in my life, this crossroads. The Repass is a story I believe that everyone will be moved by because it is above all a story about hope. Thank you for accompanying me on this journey.

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