National Geographic presents the five-part docuseries 'City So Real' debuting 10/29
This time last year, I had the pleasure of traveling to Chicago for NBC’s One Chicago Press Day. The much-anticipated media event was presented by the network in support of their two-hour crossover special featuring the casts of Chicago Med, Chicago P.D. and Chicago Fire. During my brief trip, I got a chance to take in all the things that makes Chi-Town the most progressive metropolis in the Midwest and the third largest populated city in the country. I had no idea that underneath the brilliance of the city lights, the towering skyscrapers, and breathtaking views of Lake Michigan, is a city in turmoil and transition.
In April of 2019, Chicago had just sworn in Lori Lightfoot as its 56th mayor, making her the first openly gay African American woman to be elected in that office of any major U.S city. The dust was finally settling over the trial of Laquan McDonald, the 17-year-old black man who was fatally shot in 2014 by white Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke and was caught on camera à la Rodney King. Although Van Dyke was found guilty of second-degree murder as well as 16 counts of aggravated battery, the incident was just one of many that has occurred across the country where African American men were murdered at the hands of white law enforcement. Gentrification was running rampant within the 14 counties that make up the metro area and the crime rate within many of the city's impoverished communities of color was at an all-time high. According to today's Chicago Tribune, 643 people have been killed in 2020, which is 192 more than 2019.
National Geographic's original documentary City So Real, debuting tomorrow night at 7 p.m., chronicles all these events in a riveting five-part-series that parallels what's really happening in most major cities across the country, including our beloved Atlanta, Georgia. The film is directed, produced, and edited by Steve James of Hoop Dreams fame and features a very raw and unprecedented look at a city and its inhabitants on the brink. It also includes a cast of Chicagoans who are weathering the fierce winds of racism and social inequality that often divide us. From the Chance the Rapper endorsed mayoral candidate Amara Enyia to the tell-it-like-it-is radio personality Maze Jackson of WVON 1690 to the self-made millionaire and political icon Willie Wilson, City So Real showcases the Windy City from a wide range of beliefs and ideologies.
Another aspect of the series that really caught my eye was the uncensored barbershop talk featuring patrons from both black and non-African American establishments. These businesses have traditionally been "safe spaces" for men where they could openly express themselves about life, relationships, and community issues without judgement. It was refreshing to see and hear them have such honest dialogue, regardless of the numerous cameras that captured their every word, wrinkle and unspoken expressions.
Episode five, which I had the pleasure of previewing earlier this week, examines the city’s response to the recent Corona Virus pandemic and the immeasurable challenges Mayor Lightfoot has faced duing her first year. In addition, we get to hear from her biggest foes, who criticized her response to the rioting and looting over the death of George Floyd.
City So Real is necessary for anyone who's interested in seeing what “between a rock and a hard place” looks like through the lens of those experiencing it. It also reveals the place of solace many have found or created during this time as well.
Check out my UPFRONT show this weekend featuring Chicago-born AAFCA member and author Ronda Penrice as we discuss City So Real and more. Watch a sneak peek of the series below: