Storytelling When Climate Disasters Strike

August 15, 2023



By Leslie Fields-Cruz


Storytelling When Climate Disasters Strike

Hawaiian woman in a blue and green print top with a leafy crown on her head posing with a Black woman in a cream-colored blazer.
Leanne Ferrer and Leslie Fields-Cruz

Last week, as the island of Maui was ablaze, I thought of my dear friend Leanne Kaʻiulani Ferrer. From 2013 until her death in August of 2021, she was my counterpart at Pacific Islanders in Communications where she spent the final decade of her life creating opportunities for Pacific Islander filmmakers. While the misery and grief of last week’s wildfire is shared by compassionate people everywhere, I know the climate disaster is especially painful for indigenous Hawiians.

The wildfire ravaged Maui’s fourth largest city, Lahaina. As the Office of Hawaiian Affairs said in the fire’s aftermath, “Lahaina holds some of the most historically significant cultural properties and highest ranking sacred remains of our ancestors. There is so much history that will be forever lost, a history that tethers all of us, young and old, not only to the ʻāina [land], but to ourselves and to each other.”

Those of us who witnessed the Hurricane Katrina climate disaster, can recall what it did to New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward on August 23, 2005. Before Katrina, the Ninth Ward was home to more than 14,000 people 98% of whom were Black. Today, it’s population is less than 5,000. Though still predominantly Black (92%), the area’s loss of population and cultural significance have altered the city dramatically. I pray Lahaina has a better recovery story to tell some day. And I hope Hawai’i’s indigenous media makers play a leading role in documenting that story.

Climate disasters such as these validate BPM’s decision to make climate stories the focus of this year’s Open Call. If you are working on, or considering creating such stories, join us this Wednesday, Aug. 16, for our first virtual information session about this year’s call. We’ll explain what we’re looking for and how to submit your projects for consideration.  Go here to register. 

If you appreciate watching compelling African American media stories, I hope you’ll join us this Thursday (Aug. 17), 9 p.m. ET, for a special virtual community screening of Jon-Sesrie Goff’s film, After Sherman. This exclusive event is part of our Freedom Summers series. After Sherman is a beautifully layered and expressionistic film about inheritance, tragedy and the tension that defines American history, especially Black history. All are welcome and admission is free, but registration is required. Go here to reserve your spot.

Finally, I understand ITVS is looking for a new series production coordinator for Independent Lens. If this sounds like you, click here for details.

If you’re not already receiving the BPM monthly newsletter and Weekly Dispatch, fill out the “Stay Informed” box at the bottom righthand corner of this webpage to subscribe.

BPM is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting with further funding from the MacArthur Foundation and the New York State Council on the Arts. BPM is the only nonprofit that offers training, funding and distribution for projects solely about the Black experience. We welcome foundations, corporations and individuals to help with our work. For more information about underwriting and contributions, contact Alisa Norris (

Copyright (C) 2023, Black Public Media. All rights reserved.