Chicago “City So Real” documentary heads to NatGeo

From left: Suzanna Medoza, Lori Lightoot, Toni Preckwinkle, and Paul Vallas at a forum during the 2019 mayoral campaign.

Sundance favorite on 2019 Chicago Mayoral race to be featured

Six years after CNN’s inane Chicagoland documentary premiered and turned out to be a colossal flop, another made-in-Chicago documentary – this time about the most recent mayoral race, will soon have a linear TV premiere.

Earlier this week, the National Geographic Channel – better known as NatGeo, bought the rights to a documentary to City So Real, about the wild contest that lead to Lori Lightfoot becoming the first Black and lesbian woman to become mayor of the nation’s third-largest city.

City So Real plans to air sometime this fall on NatGeo, with four of the five hours devoted to the mayoral race, with an extra hour devoted to the fallout from COVID-19 and social uprising in Chicago following George Floyd’s death. Launched in January 2001, NatGeo and sister channel NatGeo Wild is a partnership between National Geographic and The Walt Disney Company, who acquired the 73 percent stake in the channel as part of the $71.3 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox in 2017. NatGeo is one of the portals on Disney’s new streaming service, though City So Real isn’t going to stream there, at least for now.

According to a press release from NatGeo, “City So Real” “begins in the haze of mid-summer 2018, as Mayor Rahm Emanuel, embroiled in accusations of a cover-up related to the police shooting of an African-American teenager, Laquan McDonald, shocks the city by announcing he won’t seek reelection. An unprecedented 21 candidates emerge in a diverse and crowded field as they engage in a no-holds-barred battle for a chance to shape the city’s uncertain future.”

Poster for “City So Real”.

The miniseries is from filmmaker Steve James, who produced the Award-winning filmed-in-Chicago documentary Hoop Dreams in 1994, and from his son, Jackson.

“From the summer of 2018 through the spring of 2019, James, [collaborator Zak] Piper, as well as James’ son, filmmaker Jackson James, and a diverse team followed the historic, often contentious mayoral election. Scenes from the streets, luxury high-rises, barbershops, campaign offices and nightclubs are skillfully juxtaposed by editors David E. Simpson (America to Me) and James to create a mosaic of life in the Midwest’s most racially, culturally and economically diverse city.”

The four-hour documentary was a favorite at the Sundance Film Festival’s “Indie Episodic” slate in January. The miniseries has already achieved a 100 percent rating at Rotten Tomatoes and an 8.9 out of 10.0 rating from iMDB – in vast contrast to the frosty reception Chicagoland received, who many painted as an infomercial for Emanuel and was revealed he had a hand in the show’s production, coming out smelling like hotel-room bathroom soap. 

City So Real comes at a time when Chicago’s image continues to suffer on the worldwide stage due to relentless gun violence with the dysfunction showcased nightly on Fox News amid increased scrutiny of the Lightfoot Administration, especially from conservatives (and even from far-left groups.) This summer, Fox News has outdrawn almost all of the broadcast and competing cable networks in total viewers and in the 18-49 demo in the first two hours of prime-time. 

When the last two women were in the race left standing – Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle were in the runoff, this space blasted the “debate” format the two agreed on, treating them like a concert tour with stops at at least ten different media outlets. The “forums” didn’t do anything in terms of informing voters and on election night, and only a third of registered voters bothered to show up to vote as Lightfoot won in a “historic” context that really meant nothing.

It’s unlikely City So Real is going to get the same kind of buzz from Chicago media types Chicagoland did given NatGeo doesn’t have the same high-profile CNN has, but it’s actually a plus, as this docuseries won’t be under the same spotlight and we get a chance to watch without any hot takes attached.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *