Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans

Where America’s first civil rights movement was born
Year Released
Film Length(s)
56 mins
Closed captioning available
Remote video URL


Discover the place where America's first civil rights movement was born.

Featured review

A must see film for any class interested in putting today's racial divides into historic perspective.
Professor Jessica B. Harris
Queens College/ CUNY


Past and present collide in this powerful documentary about Faubourg Treme, the fabled New Orleans’ neighborhood that gave birth to jazz, launched America’s first black daily newspaper, and nurtured generations of African American activists.

Executive produced by Wynton Marsalis and Stanley Nelson, with commentary from renowned scholars John Hope Franklin and Eric Foner, Faubourg Treme is the riveting story of one community’s epic struggle for racial equality - from slave revolts and underground free black antebellum resistance, through the challenges of post-Katrina rebuilding today - all set to a fabulous soundtrack of New Orleans music through the ages. This award-winning film gives the depth of history to current racial strife and challenges viewers to think historically and critically about the links between race, class, conflict, and cultural expression in our modern communities.

Long ago during slavery, Faubourg Treme was home to the largest community of free black people in the Deep South and a hotbed of political and artistic ferment. Here black and white, free and enslaved, rich and poor co-habitated, collaborated, and clashed to create America’s first civil rights movement and much of what defines New Orleans culture up to the present day. In many ways its story encapsulates the dramatic path of African American history over the centuries. Executive produced by Wynton Marsalis and Stanley Nelson, "Faubourg Treme" is a riveting tale of hope, resistance, and heartbreak. It sheds important new light on both African American history and current issues of racial inequality. This is the true story of the neighborhood that inspired David Simon’s fictional HBO television series “Treme”.

Our guide through the film and three centuries of black history and culture is New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist Lolis Eric Elie (later a writer for the HBO TV series “Treme”) who decided that rather than abandon his heritage he would invest in it by rehabilitating an old house in the neighborhood. His 75 year-old contractor, Irving Trevigne, whose family has been in the construction business there for over 200 years, becomes a symbol of the neighborhood’s continuity and resourcefulness; Irving Trevigne is a man who, unlike many Americans, is deeply rooted in his community and its traditions. Renowned historians John Hope Franklin and Eric Foner and Louisiana Poet Laureate Brenda Marie Osbey explain what made Treme such a fertile ground for rebellion and creativity. “Faubourg Treme” was largely shot before the Katrina tragedy and edited afterward, giving the film both a celebratory and elegiac tone. It is a film of such effortless intimacy, subtle glances and authentic details that only two native New Orleanians could have made it. The Treme district was damaged when the levees broke as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Many Treme residents are still unable to return home, and the neighborhood is fighting some of the same civil rights battles first launched here 150 years ago. A deeply moved but defiant Brenda Marie Osbey concludes “Faubourg Treme”: “ Everywhere we go, we take the spirit of this city's heroes with us and the will to live and fight again.”

“Faubourg Treme” premiered at Tribeca International Film Festival, was featured three years in a row as a national PBS Black History Month Presentation, and won Best Documentary awards from the San Francisco International Film Festival, Popular American Culture Association, and The Society for Visual Anthropology.


A stunning and powerful historical experience...Celebrates how black New Orleans, in the face of white hostility, managed to carve out a unique and expressive culture and history that would enrich America and the world.
Professor Leon Litwack
Emeritus President American Historical Association & UC Berkeley
Flat out brilliant...This is a great piece of storytelling, filmmaking and testifying. It is also arguably the most poignant film ever made about New Orleans
New Orlleans Tribune
New Orlleans Tribune
Powerful, don't miss it!
Professor Cornel West
Center for African American Studies, Princeton University
A brilliant documentary film that should be seen by every man, woman and child who desires to understand the world we live in and, ultimately, how to change it for all. It is a multi-use, exceedingly accessible, and deeply moving video with a sociological imagination. Students of sociology will be challenged to think more comprehensively and critically than they ever have regarding the intricate links between race and class, history and biography, and the future of people and their communities.
David L. Brunsma
Teaching Sociology
I screen it every year so that my law students learn the fascinating backstory of the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson case. More importantly they learn that each generation will rise to resist new forms of oppression.
Sheryll Cashin
Professor of Law, Georgetown
A powerful reflection of Treme as a place of creative ferment and political resistance for some 300 years.
A celebration of the venerable African-American history of New Orleans...passion for the subject infuses the film...remarkable footage and charming interviews
A moving and revelatory film...
Christian Science Monitor
Christian Science Monitor

Awards and Screenings

Peter C. Rollins Award for Best Documentary - Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association, 2009
Best Documentary - Society for Visual Anthropology, American Anthropology Association, 2009
Best Documentary - San Francisco International Film Festival, 2009
Best Documentary Honorable Mention - Pan African Film Festival, 2009
Best Film about Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans Times Picayune Readers Poll, 2010
Special Jury Award - Bermuda International Film Festival, 2010
PBS Black History Month Featured Presentation, 2010
Best Documentary San Francisco Black Film Festival, 2009
Official Selection -Tribeca International FIlm Festival, 2009
Complete Conference, Festival and Academic Screening List here: http://www.tremedoc.com/screenings/

Director Commentary

We are New Orleans filmmakers, one black and one white. One of the great lessons we learned while making Faubourg Treme is that history is repeating itself. Questions of who will be allowed to vote, who will be educated, who will be allowed to own land, who will have access to equal justice – these same questions raised during Reconstruction and earlier have also been raised in the context of post-Katrina reconstruction.

In this era of Black Lives Matter, those same fundamental questions are again being raised. Understanding them in historic context can help inform us in this present moment. We hope that people view Faubourg Treme not merely as a historical document encased in amber, but as a living testament to what it means to struggle for rights and equality in America.

We don't live in an era where lynchings are common, as they were at the time when our heroes launched their movement. But we do live in an era when extra-judicial police shootings perform much the same function. With Faubourg Treme, we hope that folks are inspired to continue the struggle in similar ways as the heroes in this film.

With the failure of the federal levees after Hurricane Katrina, our entire city was transformed overnight into the symbol of all that has gone wrong in America, in particular its deepening racial and economic divide. Seared into the nation's consciousness are images of desperately poor black people trapped on rooftops and denied the most basic protection of American citizenship. Those images have come to represent black New Orleans. Our goal in making this film was to tell the story behind those images. We chose to focus on one New Orleans neighborhood, Faubourg Tremé, a historic community that like much of the old city is predominantly African American, poor, and steeped in distinctly un-American traditions. For us Faubourg Tremé is quintessential New Orleans. We wanted to capture the spirit of this place that has persevered in the face of great hostility for centuries and created a culture and history that enriched America and the world.

These days, "character driven" documentaries are all the rage. In editing this film, however, we chose not to structure our story around the personal dramas of our wonderful individual characters but to highlight the larger drama of community. We hope New Orleans itself becomes the character you laugh and cry with, and come to love.

Our film focuses on a forgotten 19th century Civil Rights Movement in New Orleans and the music and writing that was born of those dreams. We ourselves are both products of a later Civil Rights Movement. Our parents were Civil Rights activists. We were each sent to integrate New Orleans schools — Lolis to an elite all-white private school, Dawn to an inner city public school that had been abandoned by white parents after desegregation. Our childhood memories are of picket lines, voter registration drives and dreams of a new New Orleans.

Today, there's another new New Orleans in the planning and a new generation of young Americans trekking South to help in the rebuilding. Many of the battles of the past are being fought again. In the course of making this film, the Tremé neighborhood was transformed from one of the most rooted communities in America to among the most uprooted. Before the hurricane, one of the things old people loved to tell us over and over was "You can't possibly know where you're going if you don't know where you've been." Back then, this expression sounded to us like a simplistic cliché. After the flood, it became our mantra too. The history of New Orleans is littered with tragic paths not taken. But it's also rich with tales of brave uprisings, interracial collaboration, endurance and creativity. Our hope is that this film can help heal, educate and inspire at this critical moment in New Orleans' future."

Dawn Logsdon and Lolis Eric Elie

Features and Languages

Film Features

  • Closed Captioning
  • Subtitles
  • Transcript
  • Resources for Educators

Subtitle/Caption Languages

  • French

Promotional Material

Promotional Stills

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