National Geographic has acquired the docuseries City So Real directed by two-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker Steve James (America to Me, Hoop Dreams) and his longtime producing partner Zak Piper (Life Itself, The Interrupters). The series paints a portrait of contemporary Chicago as it gives a multifaceted look into the soul the American city, set against the backdrop of its history-making 2019 mayoral election. The news was unveiled Monday morning by National Geographic Global Television Networks President Courteney Monroe during the network’s TCA press tour. The docuseries is slated to debut on the network later this fall.
City So Real comes from Participant and Kartemquin Films bowed at Sundance in January and initially included four one-hour episodes, but National Geographic will exclusively feature a timely fifth episode that follows the COVID-19 pandemic and social uprising following George Floyd’s death.
The docuseries starts in mid-summer 2018 when Mayor Rahm Emanuel was tangled in accusations of a cover-up related to the police shooting of a Black teenager, Laquan McDonald. The city was shocked to find out that Emanuel would 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. From the summer of 2018 through the spring of 2019, James, Piper, as well as James’ son, filmmaker Jackson James, and full team chronicle the historic, often contentious mayoral election. In candid interviews with residents throughout the city, City So Real captures the spirt of Chicago as well as its challenges.
“We are thrilled to be partnering with the extraordinary Steve James and the team from Participant Media on City So Real, a profound and intimate portrait of life in every American city that could not be more timely,” said Monroe. “We look forward to showcasing this ambitious and impactful documentary series, including Steve’s newly filmed fifth hour capturing the pandemic and the civil unrest gripping our nation.”
“Chicago is an enormous and enormously diverse urban environment that wrestles with issues of race and segregation and violence, which is the story of America today,” said James. “You see evidence of that everywhere in the series from the barbershop conversations to the people watching the debate. All cities have their boosters, but there’s something unique about the passionate love and civic pride Chicagoans have for their city. The documentary captures the beauty and the richness of a very complex city, while also showing how divided it can be.”