Who gets to use the notion of “resilience”? Survivors? Mental health professionals? People who want to celebrate it but also move on from whatever required that fortitude in the first place?
The director Edward Buckles Jr. makes a telling point of these tensions in his first film, the revealing documentary “Katrina Babies,” which features Black people who were children —— some toddlers, others in their early teens — in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. “Since the storm, it seems like everybody just moved on,” Buckles Jr. says. “In America, especially during disasters, Black children are not even a thought.”
The director, who is also credited as a writer, knows the subject from his own experience. When he was 13, he and his family evacuated the city before the storm arrived and the levees broke.
“Katrina Babies” is deeply personal and thoughtfully political. The filmmaker recounts the pleasures of cousinhood and family before the hurricane. He and his subjects also tussle with the economic and racial inequities that were exposed and exacerbated by the disaster.
Buckles Jr.’s cousins — whom he celebrates with evocative mixed-media animation (by Antoni Sendra) and, later, with compassionate interviews — did not get out at the time. And when they did leave, they did not return. So, if you detect in Buckles Jr. a layer of survivor’s guilt, you might be right.
But “Katrina Babies” is also the intimate undertaking of a native son creating a space to heal. If the grief (and relief) expressed in the interviews is any measure, Buckles Jr. knows how to listen to people whose experiences may be harrowingly similar but are not identical to his own. He pulls off this dance of self-awareness and empathy with impressive humility.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 19 minutes. Watch on HBO platforms.