17 Things the Movies Get Wrong About New Orleans
You can’t blame Hollywood for wanting to set movies in New Orleans; the city is uniquely beautiful, historical, strange, alluring, and filled with intriguing people, places, nature, and architecture. But while the camera adds 10lbs, it also adds a whole bunch of falsehoods, too. Here, then, are some of the more egregious errors commonly perpetrated about NOLA in film:
This, by far, is the number one gripe New Orleanians have with how they’re portrayed on film. Every movie seems to have an idea about how NOLA folk talk, and yet they consistently seem to screw it up so badly it makes locals want to hurl things at the screen. Kevin Costner as DA Jim Garrison in JFK is a great example of this (where are you supposed to be, Kevin, Georgia?), but the most shining illustration of a cringe-inducing NOLA accent is, and will always be, Dennis Quaid in The Big Easy. You’re a good actor, Dennis, but you screwed the pooch hard on this one.
Notable offenders:The Big Easy, JFK, Double Jeopardy, A Love Song for Bobby Long
The entire city is located in the French Quarter
The film industry has clearly never heard of neighborhoods like Mid-City, the 7th Ward, Central City, Lakeview, Riverbend, and so on. Nope... by their reasoning, New Orleans IS the French Quarter. For examples of this, see every fictional movie (not documentary) made about New Orleans (not kidding here: every... single... one).
Notable offenders: All of them
Outside of the French Quarter, it’s nothing but swamp
And alligators and airboats. Take, for instance, Jim Jarmusch’s wonderful Down by Law, which sees three prisoners escaping from Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) in one scene, and then minutes later, they're being chased through the swampy bayous.
Notable offenders:Down by Law, Midnight Bayou, Hatchet
It is always Mardi Gras
Lord knows, New Orleanians love Carnival time, but it’s only a fraction of the year. And Mardi Gras is, in fact, only one day. And yet Hollywood would have us believe that, whenever you step foot in the Crescent City, IT’S MARDI GRAS TIME, BABY! Bridget Fonda’s Point of No Return makes this one pretty clear. As does Easy Rider, but, to be fair, Hopper and Fonda were headed to NOLA for Mardi Gras in the first place, so that’s at least consistent with the plot.
Notable Offenders:Now You See Me, Deja Vu, Point of No Return, Dracula 2000, The Pelican Brief
Beads. All day, every day.
Unless your movie is specifically taking place during Mardi Gras (see above), there’s no reason whatsoever to be wearing Mardi Gras beads. It would be like filming a scene in Minot, North Dakota in the summertime with all of your actors wearing down parkas and fur-lined hats. It just doesn't make sense. And yet... While we love that Jon Favreau penned a little love letter to NOLA in Chef, he didn't have to throw on the beads as soon as he got to town. If you really knew New Orleans, you would know better.
Notable offenders:Chef, Now You See Me, Dracula 2000
Hollywood producer: “The only thing to eat for breakfast ever is beignets and cafe au lait, and all other meals are comprised of po-boys, etouffee, and gumbo.” Seriously? Yes, we love all of those things, but c’mon, even we love a good burger sometimes. Or Vietnamese food, or Italian, Spanish, Chinese, even Israeli cuisine. We have more to offer than po-boys, we promise.
Notable offenders:Hell Baby, Chef, Now You See Me, Angel Heart, Runaway Jury
Judging by the way this city is depicted on film, you’d imagine that the most prevalent religion in the Big Easy is Voodoo (spoiler alert, it’s Catholicism). No, we don’t all have a voodoo priestess on hand to give us the good gris gris when we’re struck down by bad mojo. This theme is readily apparent in films as diverse as The Princess and the Frog, The Skeleton Key, and Live and Let Die (though we have to give it to Bond for that alligator hopping scene, which is seriously badass).
Notable offenders:The Princess and the Frog, The Skeleton Key, Live and Let Die, Angel Heart
Watch a movie about New Orleans, and you will never -- and we mean ever -- see a character drive over a pothole, or swerve to avoid one. And yet it remains one of the single biggest gripes about living in this town that locals have, and a constant, frustrating fact of NOLA life. Not kidding, our streets, even in expensive neighborhoods, make post-war Paris look like current-day Stockholm. But you’d never know it, according to the movies.
Notable offenders:Live and Let Die, Deja Vu
“Mais cher, we gonna pass a good time on dee bayou, AYYIIIII!!!” Oy vey. Cajuns are wonderful people, and their culture is rich and fascinating. Problem is, there aren’t really a ton of Cajuns in New Orleans, although Hollywood would have you think that NOLA is populated solely by Acadian folk. Not so. And even when they’re portrayed, they’re portrayed so ham-fistedly it’s almost comical. We’re looking straight in your direction, Wilford Brimley in Hard Target.
Notable offenders: Hard Target, The Princess and the Frog, The Big Easy
Even though New Orleans might be the birthplace of poker and craps, it isn’t the den of gambling and iniquity that you might imagine after seeing a bunch of movies about this place. We have one casino, Harrah’s, and it’s pretty standard-issue. You’re not going to be offered a card game or a high stakes round of pool when you step foot off the airplane (though we’re sure that could still be arranged, with some effort).
Notable offenders:King Creole, The Cincinnati Kid, All Dogs Go to Heaven
Hate to ding you twice here, JCVD, but Hard Target is a good example about how screwed up NOLA movies can get when it comes to the lay of the land. Fact: if there are mountains in the scene, it is NOT taking place anywhere near New Orleans. It’s flat as a board for hundreds of miles here. This also applies to geographical continuity. The airport, according to The Librarian, is conveniently located Downtown. Um... nope. It’s in Kenner. That’s actually an entirely distinct city, one that’s 30-45 minutes from the French Quarter.
Notable offenders:Hard Target, The Librarian
Hollywood consistently overestimates the number of blood-suckers there are in the Big Easy. To be fair, there are probably a few (which is likely why our indigenous cuisine tends to have so much garlic in it), but not as many as you might be led to believe.
Notable offenders: Those prequel shorts for 30 Days of Night, Interview with the Vampire, Dracula 2000
NOLA is magical!
In films like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, it would seem that the entire city glows in a warm, comforting, supernatural light, and the whole city was constructed out of pure magic. That would be nice, but not really the case. Not that New Orleans doesn’t have its own wonderful, unique charm, but magic? We say “nay.” Also, the city sometimes reeks of mule crap and hot garbage, which is decidedly unmagical.
Notable Offenders:The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Princess and the Frog
Oh boy, do we love our music in this town, and it shows. But really, is there some dude playing trumpet or saxophone on every corner, every day, all the time? And does every single person who lives here play in a brass band? Not really. Granted, there’s a lot of street music in the French Quarter, but then again, everyone knows that there’s nothing in New Orleans that isn’t the Quarter, right? (See above.)
Notable offenders: All of them
Anything that happens "underground"
Screenwriters take note: New Orleans is below sea level. Hence we don’t have basements, or, God forbid, underground tunnels, as featured in the cinematic marvel that is Arachnoquake.
Notable offenders:Albino Alligator, Arachnoquake, On Hostile Ground
The New Orleans Saints do not exist
How could something as dearly beloved and important to the people of New Orleans just... not seem to be a part of the city, when it comes to movies set here? You never even see anyone wearing black and gold! We’re not sure if this has to do with NFL licensing issues, but conveniently ignoring the existence of “our boys” is irksome, to say the least.
Notable offenders: All of them, sadly
Got your tickets to the Mardi Gras?
Sorry, Denzel Washington in Deja Vu: you don’t need tickets to the greatest free party in the world. You just... show up. That’s it. What is this, Bonnaroo?
Notable offenders:Deja Vu
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