“It had never been more obvious to me how deeply flawed and immoral our national priorities are. I started this film questioning our very definition of ‘disaster,’ and amending it, convinced that if we just enlarge that definition, we could address the underlying conditions that are literally killing people every day.” Judith Helfand
The Chicago 1995 heat wave that killed at least 739 people is the inciting incident in Judth Helfand’s Cooked: Disaster by Zip Code. The prolific filmmaker hosts and narrates her film as she shows and tells the story of that disaster, takes us on her train of thought about social inequities, and suggests a widened concept of ‘disaster.’
Helfand noted that when there is a disaster—earthquake, hurricane, fire, etc.—there is usually an effective rapid response. She notes, though, that Chicago’s response to the heat wave was weighted toward neighborhoods of well-off Caucasians—hence, the 739 deaths. She also notes that 1995’s inequities were typical of United States’ disaster responses.
Contemplating the word and idea ‘disaster,’ Helfand expands the notion to include poverty, under-resourced communities, and discrimination—’disasters in slow motion.’ (I would add species extinctions—though, sadly, that disaster is not so slow.) Helfand’s proposal is simple yet daunting—provide the same type of urgent attention to those social ills as we give to our weather, flood, and fire disasters.
The substance of Cooked is the aforementioned Chicago fire, explorations of her ideas in dialog with authorities, officials, and experts, interviews with victims, and her thoughts as she shares her responses to the information she discovers.
In addition to the information and stories Helfand provides, her charm and empathy impacts viewers as much as the film’s overt substance.
Although there is no want of documentaries, essays, research studies, articles, websites, and books about social inequities in the United States, Cooked is another important, moving contribution to our national dialogs on injustice in its many varieties.
Cooked: Survival by Zip Code is available on iTunes, Amazon, and GooglePlay.
(Pictured: Judith Helfand)