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From The Book: “What Is Treme?”, a Facebook friend asks

April 13, 2010

An important read from New Orleans blogger The Book concerning the place the Treme neighborhood holds in New Orleans:

To be honest, I didn’t know where Treme was until I was in 5th grade. I grew up in the St. Bernard Project. the only time I’ve been in or around Treme was during Mardi Gras. or going on school field trips in the area to the Recreation center or Museum there. and it’s still like that today. I only go in Treme when i have a reason to be back there.

But man, I’ve learned about the historical Value of Treme long before High School. There was a Documentary about the musicians from the Treme area and how many followed in the footsteps of the late Great Louis Armstrong as as well as Entertainers alike.

Although the neighborhood has alot of criminal activity now It’ll never overshadow its great history. Treme is a well appreciated landmark for tourist to explore and for locals to love. This goes way back in to slavery…. Without Treme there would be no Congo Square/Louis Armstrong Park or Jazz Fest.

These are the things you can’t learn from books. You have to listen to the elders who lived there in the 40’s and 50’s.

Go read the whole thing.

Other local reviews are here and here. The latter review by local blogger Cliff gives this bit of dialogue to Lambreaux’s friend once he sees Lambreaux in full Mardi Gras Indian regalia at night after curfew:

“ Man…what the F#$k are you doing walking around looking like Big Bird on this dark ass street? …. <<>> ….Get your crazy ass inside before the National Guard come by and shoots all our asses. You done loss your rabbit ass mind out here acting like a one man parade. Hey Bay, I’ll be back. I’m going around here with Albert crazy ass and help him with the bar before we all get locked up.”

Calling David Simon…you’ve overlooked a scriptwriter. This was what needed to accompany the OHMYGOD look the man gave to Lambreaux when he showed up in his suit.

  1. April 13, 2010 9:28 am

    First of all my disclaimer. Being that I am a descendant of those original Black Creoles who founded Tremé and the “French Quarter” for that matter, I might be a little too close to the subject matter here. The fact that I am currently a resident of Tremé, might even make it more difficult to write an objective review of this HBO series called “Treme”, so I won’t even try. Instead, please indulge me for a few minutes, as I toss my two cents into the chorus of critiques of David Simon’s “Treme”. So far all the mainstream critics seem to be on Simon’s team, or better yet, in his fan club. From the Los Angeles Times to The Washington Post, to the New York Times, all the mainstream critics are rooting for him. But many of us who know New Orleans intimately, and have suffered and are still suffering from the after effects of Katrina-Bush, see something different.

    I, for one, really want to love this series, because I love the Tremé, but this first episode left me feeling like my intelligence had been insulted. Here we have HBO’s first original series featuring the oldest black neighborhood in the United States as both the title and the muse for the series, and it’s written by a white male writer (David Simon) who can’t seem to get out of the way and let the story tell itself. On the surface he seems to achieve somewhat of an interesting story line in an interesting setting, but New Orleans is already that alone, without Simon or anyone else’s two cents. All my folks, Kermit Ruffins, Donald Harrison, Jr., Rebirth, Big Chief Tootie Montana’s daughter Phillis, Uncle Lionel, etc.. all play their parts wonderfully and added to the authenticity of the story, but Simon’s alter-ego via the hipster white boy DJ character was a bad idea that threatens to kill the series before it even gets started good.

    Simon seems to be afraid to allow the black characters to own and express their anger and frustrations and instead uses an all to familiar device by writing in white characters to be the vehicles for the rawest emotions and the most intimate moments, thus making them the most human, and memorable characters in the script ( even if we are annoyed by them). By doing this, Simon reduces his black characters in this traditionally black neighborhood to background music, just as he used Mystical’s “Shake Ys Ass” as a soundtrack for the hipster white boy character’s defiance and rage at one moment in the story. This would be okay, if this was a story about suburban white angst that took place in Anytown, USA, but it’s not.

    It’s a story called Tremé, after one of the most important black neighborhoods in the United States, yet the white characters almost seemed to be the main characters in Simon’s rendition. They are cast as the principle emoters and saviors. John Goodman’s levee speech where he throws the mic into the river and rants on a British reporter is a great example of this. Here Simon’s pen is ever present, as he makes his authoritative older white male character simultaneously disclaim the beliefs of thousands of black New Orleanians who say they heard the levee being blown as if by explosives, and defend his dear Creole Louisiana against the Englishmen. Steve Zahn’s smart-assed, blacker than black people, cooler than cool, “ghetto pass” white hipster character ( who by the way slips in a “What’s up my Negro?” comment in one scene talking to another white DJ character), Melissa Leo’s white savior of black people character, Kim Dickens sassy, street smart, jaded and working in a situation where she takes people orders all day, but is still shown giving orders to a black man in a scene where she orders him to toss Zahn’s character out of the bar. By having Dickens’ character take orders from Goodman’s and Leo’s characters, but then turn around a few scenes later an gives orders to a nameless black character, Simon is blatantly setting his pecking order.

    It’s sad that those of us who sincerely want this series to be successful and love the Tremé and New Orleans have to be subjected to so much of the writers racism as we are trying to enjoy ourselves watching a TV show about our lives. In spite of it’s faults, It’s all we got right now in the way of TV stories about New Orleans, so I will continue to watch it every week, in hopes that it will improve. Hopefully in later episodes they used the talent of local writers like Lolis Eric Elie who is one of my neighbors in Tremé and the writer of the best documentary on Tremé. I saw them shooting a scene at his home a month or so ago, and notice that they mention him as a consultant, but from the looks of this first episode, Lolis wasn’t consulted enough. Hey if Simon drops the ball, the worst thing could happen is that I write and produce my own Tremé and let the black New Orleanians that populate the story, speak for themselves, without out of place distractions.

  2. April 13, 2010 9:52 am

    jacquesrideau, good points all round. But as you say, we’ll have to wait and see before passing a final judgment. My white outsider POV has to take a back seat to yours, but it seems to me that Davis (the Zahn character), is not so much Simon’s alter ego, as he is the alter ego for the white American that thinks they “get it.” I don’t know where you’re getting the “cooler than cool,” because I think Davis is the only one who thinks that about himself. I’m sure you noticed, Davis is above all, portrayed as grabby ass taker. He, alone among the cast members, is not making anything, creating anything, trying to build or rebuild anything. He calls himself a musician but he’s only a DJ, using his blaster to make his point: even as he blares Mystikal triumphantly over his gayboy neighbor’s classical stuff, they are out working in the yard while he collects his lazy ass self after sleeping half the morning away.

    I don’t know how you feel but to me, this story cannot be told without addressing appropriation. Whether it be of jazz, of black culture, of the bon temps roulez attitude. To me, from minute one, that’s Davis’ role. He may have good intentions, like many of us do. He may be doing what he thinks is right, to honor the place, the music, the culture, but he, like most of us, is honoring it by using his appetite and gobbling it up and rolling around in it.

    Now if Simon was more pedantic, he could have someone stand up and declaim this stuff, but for my 2 cents, I think having having Davis be the living breathing irritant that everyone can’t stand is more articulate.

    Show, don’t tell.

    As for giving the most intimate moments to the white characters, I thought the most emotionally resonant scenes were far and away via 1) Albert, both alone, and with his children. He’s clearly the moral center of the show. Again, it’s not just about the words. Clarke Peters face and body spoke volumes. and 2) between Antoine and LaDonna in the bar. The chemistry between these two- the attraction, the hurt, the anger, the exhaustion, the history, was palpable.

    And please, don’t be a stranger. I look forward to hearing your take as the show moves forward, or sideways, or whichever way it goes from here.

  3. jacquesrideau permalink
    April 13, 2010 11:10 am

    The woman that plays LaDonna brings it everytime. And Antoine is way cool, but I may be too close to the indian culture, to give Clarke Peters a passing grade on this one. I believe they consulted with Donald Harrison, Jr. for Peter’s role and the role of his son, and judging from Peter’s dialogue ” I’m the guardian of the flame, Hum Bow”, he is suppose to be Donald Harrison, Sr. who was the Big Chief of Guardian of The Flame, But it was confusing because they had a picture of Clarke Peters face superimposed in a Tootie Montana “downtown” suit in one of the mildewed katrina pictures on the wall of the bar, and then had him dressed in an uptown suit in the night time indian scene. And since they called the series Treme (downtown), I wondered why the first indian they introduce into the story is an uptown indian(kinda). Plus the studio “Indian” song they had on the trailer for the show, flowed more like a mississippi ring shout, than a mardi gras indian chant, which are two totally different things. These small inconsistencies become problematic when the writer takes a little too much creative license with people’s birthright. These are the things I’m sure the native louisiana consultants they are supposedly speaking to can tell them, but are they (Simon and co.) really listening?

  4. April 13, 2010 11:32 am

    These small inconsistencies become problematic when the writer takes a little too much creative license with people’s birthright.

    Yeah, we have been talking here about “where the line is.” When does creative license turn into revision/distortion of something that, by rights, should be inviolate?

    and yes, Khandi Alexander is great. She was outstanding in The Corner.

  5. April 13, 2010 1:21 pm

    I even like the way Alexander talks to the dead folks as a medical examiner in CSI: Miami (isn’t that her?). It’s occurred to me that where Simon needs to utilize the local consultants and probably isn’t, is in the editing room. I watched it again last night. Please keep posting your comments, jacquesrideau. They are so wonderfully informative. Thanks.

  6. Peris permalink
    April 13, 2010 9:02 pm

    Yea jacques, I saw what you saw and what not. Would that we see your Tremé, the perfect over the good, but this is one man’s fiction. White or not, he only knows what he knows, and this may be more than what the première revealed. The next episode will have much to say about that.

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