HBO revisits the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina with a new series
By Ericka Blount Danois
This Sunday at 10pm on HBO, David Simon and co-creator Eric Overmyer’s, Treme will give viewers a trip to New Orleans that most haven’t seen past the beads, the booze, the boobs, and Mardi Gras floats. The storyline takes place three months after Hurricane Katrina and the Federal levee system failure, following an assortment of city residents as people use the weight of the area’s rich music and culture as affirmations amidst a government that has failed them.
The title derives from the neighborhood Treme, one of the oldest black neighborhoods in New Orleans and hailed as one of the birthplaces of jazz. There are the same crisscrossing storylines, rugged authenticity, insider’s viewpoint, regional dialogue, and the expectations that the audience will “get it” that made The Wire, alternately the “best show on television” and the most difficult to understand. In Treme, amidst circumstances like homelessness, government neglect, dead or missing family and friends, and being displaced, residents are determined to regain their footing, and that footing is a funky, dazzling dance infused with brass band music.
Viewers will recognize some faces from Simon’s critically acclaimed series, The Wire, including Wendell Pierce (who played the affable Bunk), and Clarke Peters, (the genius detective Lester Freamon)—both are accomplished musicians in real life. Pierce, a Julliard graduate, plays Antoine Batiste, a musician taking any gigs that will pay, including the seedy tourist traps and strip clubs on Bourbon Street. Clarke Peters plays the Mardi Gras Indian Big Chief, Albert Lamreaux, rendered homeless by the storm but determined to continue a tradition dating to when enslaved Africans were allowed to congregate in Congo Square and perform their homeland’s traditional songs and dances. The Mardi Gras Indians mask in Indian attire for parades, in part as homage to escaping enslaved Africans who were harbored by Native Americans.
Donald Harrison Jr., is a consultant for the show, a jazz saxophonist who has played with greats like Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Don Pullen, and is a Mardi Gras Indian chief in real life. He is the head of the Congo Nation, an Afro New Orleans cultural group. Each member creates ornate costumes each year for the parades that can happen throughout the year.
“Some people are honoring the Native Americans, some are honoring a day of freedom,” says Harrison. “You transcend to another state with the dances and music. When you have people who have been oppressed, they need those periods.”