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‘City So Real’ Director Steve James Paints Portrait Of Chicago At A Crossroads In Nat Geo Series – Contenders TV Docs + Unscripted

The city of Chicago does not lack for challenges — among them, an alarmingly high murder rate, longstanding racial divisions and a fractious relationship between police and minorities. That didn’t stop a record number of candidates from running for mayor in 2019, including, for a time, incumbent Rahm Emanuel.

The National Geographic documentary series City So Real, directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Steve James, explores that pivotal race, which came in the wake of the police shooting of Black teenager Laquan McDonald in 2014. Facing intense criticism over his handling of the McDonald case, Emanuel suddenly bailed on seeking a third term, and more than 20 contenders competed to succeed him.

“While we were following the mayoral election and the candidates, like Amara [Enyia],” James said during Deadline’s Contenders Television: Documentary + Unscripted event. “We were also just trying to put our finger on the pulse of the people that live in the city as well.”

People like Tracy, an African-American woman who drove for Lyft to pay the bills. She was a supporter of Enyia’s candidacy.

“I really see a lot of myself reflected in her and what my campaign represented was really people like her,” Enyia said during the virtual panel. “It was always about how we amplify the experiences and the voices and the vision and the hope of just regular folks in Chicago like Tracy.”

Police reform became a major issue in the mayoral race. This was before the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis turned the idea of “defunding police” into a national debate.

“Chicago is a unique city. There’s no other place like it, absolutely, and that’s part of the charm and beauty of telling that story, but at the same time it’s also very much like cities everywhere in the United States that are grappling with these issues of what do we do about the police?” James said. “What do we do about relationships between police and communities of color? Who gets development [money], who doesn’t get development? So all these things are going on in Chicago. …I just think Chicago has always had much to say to the rest of the country, about the world we live in.”

Check back Monday for the panel video.

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