I’ve been watching the Sundance Channel’s miniseries Brick City about the struggle of Newark, New Jersey’s mayor and residents to live in the city and bring it out of crime, poverty and despair into the city of progress and hope it once was. According to the Sundance Channel,
Created and directed by the award-winning filmmakers Mark Benjamin and Marc Levin, BRICK CITY, is a five-part documentary series that fans out around the city of Newark, New Jersey to capture the daily drama of a community striving to become a better, safer, stronger place to live. Against great odds, Newark’s citizens and its Mayor, Cory A. Booker, fight to raise the city out of nearly a half century of violence, poverty and corruption. In the five one-hour episodes of BRICK CITY the lives of Mayor Booker, citizens on the front lines, and key figures re-making the city – from developers to gang members and youth mentors – intertwine in a portrait of a city at a critical moment in history.
This is true reality television, minus the roses, foxtrots, hot tubs and eliminations. Episodes 1 & 2 introduced us to the shows dynamic personalities. There’s Mayor Cory Booker in his second term, Police Director Gary McCarthy, Earl Best aka Street Doctor, a community advocate, and then there’s the story of Jayda and Creep. I bet viewers will be sucked into the couple’s story because it’s so real, gritty and unusual. Jayda’s a former member of the Bloods gang and Creep is an ex-Crip. The story of these star-crossed lovers is like a real-life Romeo & Juliet or Westside Story. It’s captivating seeing them turn their experiences into positive messages mentoring Newark’s youth, but there’s also real drama in their relationship with one another.
The story I find most interesting though is that of the mayor. I know Americans are not big on politicians but I feel for Cory Booker. I cannot imagine the enormous responsibility of trying to bring out the best in a city like Newark. You have an obligation to the public to remain true to your campaign promises but you must do so within the constraints of bureaucracy, budgets and political pressure. A politician cannot make all of the people happy all of the time and we get an idea of how true that is when the residents voice their frustration with the mayor and the police. To them, all that matters is the every day struggle of survival. Children are getting shot. Gangs and drugs are normal fixtures. Hope is something people only sing about in sappy songs. Booker tries to juggle the goals of his administration, reducing crime and elevating Newark’s profile as a place to live and do business. We see him extolling the virtues of his city to businessmen and investors, citing Newark’s proximity to NYC and its relatively low cost. In other scenes, he is playing midnight basketball in the hood (see if you can beat the mayor!) in spite of threats on his life.
Booker is already considered an outsider. Hometown hero, poet laureate and activist Amiri Baraka (nee LeRoi Jones) is respected in many circles and controversial in others. Not one to mince words, we see him on ep 2 calling Booker a “white racist Negro” who is bent on setting Newark up for the okey-doke. Unlike many of his constituents, Booker is from D.C. and an upper-middle class family. He is Ivy League educated (Stanford, Oxford, Yale Law). On the surface, I’m tempted to draw comparisons to President Barack Obama. Of both men much is expected but the nature of their jobs seem to set them up for failure in the eyes of many.
Their “Blackness” is often called into question and some of their most vocal critics are “leaders” in the Black community, further dividing support. I don’t want that kind of burden, that pressure. Booker seems to be taking it in stride and focus on his goals.
It will be interesting to see how the show plays out for the remaining three episodes. Check it out. Eps 1 & 2 are on iTunes and Sundance may rerun them in the future. If you’ve tuned, I’d like to hear your opinion.