‘Show Me a Hero’ is a mini-series from David Simon. (Courtesy Photo)
Show Me a Hero, the HBO miniseries co-written and executive produced by The Wire creator David Simon tells a complicated and complex tale of fear, race, poverty and politics.
At its heart is a lawsuit brought by the NAACP and the Department of Justice. The groups allege that the city of Yonkers, NY has been using federal funds to redline its poor and minority residents – forcing them into substandard housing in a separate part of the city, away from middle-class whites. To remedy the situation, the town is forced to add 200 units of low-income housing on the city’s white side, followed by another 800 units of affordable housing.
The story is based on real-life, from a book of the same name, written by former New York Times reporter Lisa Belkin.
Part one begins with the town’s up-until-now well-regarded, long-reigning mayor being shouted down by a crowd of angry white homeowners. Furious that the town is being forced to abide by the ruling and hungry to fight back, the town votes the old mayor out and 28-year-old Nick Wasicsko (Oscar Isaac) in.
But, this isn’t just his story. Viewers also follow the lives of an older black women forced into public housing when her vision begins to deteriorate, two young black single mothers, a white woman who is very much part of the frothing crowd against the new housing and a young women from the Dominican Republic looking to build a better life in the United States.
Overall, Show me a Hero is a riveting tale. It shows how cancerous racism can be – the fight over housing stretches over 20 years, evokes the ugliest nature of many Yonkers residents and brings the town near bankruptcy. It paints the picture of the cyclical nature of poverty – how youthful mistakes can drag one down and then make life more difficult for the next generation. It also shows how politicians can become slaves to social pressure and power. Visually, this tale that is set in the 80’s looks like the 80’s – all muted peaches, beiges and men and women in full conservative office-wear.
The story is not without its flaws. The problem with weaving so many various lives together is that it takes a while for all the characters to be introduced and for the story to really get moving. Also, for a story so centered in race, it takes a while before we even get to hear a person of color’s opinion on the matter.
“How come the only people talking about this damn housing thing are white? How come the only faces you see on television about this are white?” one black character asks another, well into episode four of the six-part series. “They don’t want us over there, but they don’t know us. And whose fault is that?”
“The story appeals to me not merely as political history, but because the question in Yonkers in 1987 was the same one that we face today,” Simon said in a statement about the series. “Are all of us – those with and those without, white, black or brown – are we all sharing some portion of the same national experience? Or is the American Dream something other than that?”
The story tells viewers that the answers to those questions aren’t simple or comfortable.