Chicagoland is a non-scripted, eight-part series covering our hometown Chicago. The series is produced by Robert Redford and Laura Michalchyshyn of Sundance Productions, and filmed by the award-winning Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin of BCTV. It explores the politics and policy of an evolving city trying to address complex issues in the spheres of education, crime, and inequality. In this Gate series, University of Chicago graduate student, Allen Linton II, will provide a review of each episode and a personal perspective on a controversial portrayal of Chicago. The original posts can be found on Allen’s blog. These posts have been adapted and edited for our readers.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…”
Charles Dickens’ opening to A Tale of Two Cities pounded through my head during “The Champs,” the second of CNN’s eight-part, non-scripted original series Chicagoland. We saw the triumph of the Chicago Blackhawks winning their second Stanley Cup in four years. We saw dramatic gun violence taking a young life away in front of an elementary school. We saw jubilation in Chicago’s summer series at Millennium Park with Chicago Blues and fans taking to the streets to celebrate in mass. We saw police take to the streets to fight gang retaliation. It happened after a map transition from Wrigleyville to Englewood. These map transitions told the story of episode two: a city divided geographically and racially.
Our time Downtown and on the Northside at Rockit Bar showed Chicago’s glory: Its passionate people, sports, drinks, camaraderie, standing as one for the city. Our time on the Southside in Roseland and Englewood showed Chicago’s chaos, unrest, fear, threat, and unease. Where I praised the show for being true to its depiction of the complexities of our political landscape (nice to see more holistic pictures of Karen Lewis and the introduction of Barbara Byrd-Bennett), I would argue that this dichotomy between North and South or White and Black is the same filmmaking that exacerbates misperceptions of Chicago today.
Yes, we have figures highlighting murder’s occurrence in concentrated areas populated by people of color, but we also have enough evidence to know that violence is not happening on every street in these same communities The community event that featured Deputy Chief of the CPD 7th District Leo Schmitz with residents came with a young boy rapping about people being shot. Joy of the Stanley Cup and crowd serving on guard barricades quickly ended with officers responding to a shooting. The Fenger High School prom, a moment at the end of the episode removed from the community and full of excitement, comes to a close with a cold delivery from writer, producer, and narrator, Mark Konkol: “Their next big test: surviving the summer.”
The realities of trying to do a peace march with heavy concerns of safety and extensive police presence would have been enough to make the point. The over the top, explicit war-zoning are the images that cover up the beauty of the Southside. It is the type of stereotype that takes precedent for outsiders; the type of focus on 59th-63rd Street and Damen that reinforce the barriers my University of Chicago peers are quick to erect at 61st Street and Cottage Grove, Ellis, Woodlawn, etc. I can only hope we uncover the youth leagues, the block club parties, the parades, and local clubs on the Southside that are taken less seriously because these voices don’t get the same amplification as Chicagoland.
The one nugget of Southside positivity came with the recognition of Principal Dozier and following Lee McCullum’s move from no plans to college. After accepting a Mikva Challenge award, Dozier gave truth to the products of Fenger’s efforts: “Welcome to the Age of Possibilities!” Possibilities provide a goal for Southsiders rife with gun violence according to Chicagoland. Possibilities and options mean more than the world to these young people. But thinking about that Stanley Cup in Rockit Bar on the Northside, watching the possibility turn into a reality makes me feel that simple possibilities are not acceptable; the South needs its own opportunity to succeed and act on these possibilities (and many places have but these situations did not make Chicagoland, Episode 2).
“The Champs” wasn’t just the episode title, it was the Northside. Meanwhile the “Age of Possibilities” was the Southside. This sounds like two different cities to me.
Other quick points:
Rocky Wirtz’s leadership is the reason I am Chicago Blackhawks fan. Prior to 2007, you couldn’t watch the Blackhawks on local television lest the game was being televised nationally or at home. It destroyed the potential fan base. Showing the games and spending money led to the Blackhawks reclaiming the popular eye and becoming a successful franchise again. (The team was previously owned by Rocky’s father Bill Wirtz who was a terrible owner. Seriously? Not showing games?)
Chicagoans expressed a sense of dullness over the topics covered in Chicagoland since they lived it, but the narratives are much more interesting with details that aren’t known to the general audience. Consider Elizabeth Dozier heralded as an awesome principal (which she is). This came to be through Fenger being a “Turnaround School” (not just turning around a “bad” school into a “good” school). “Chicago Tonight” did a story on it in 2012 that can explain more about the program and if it works. A more recent success story for Turnaround schools is here though it’s a hotly contested issue locally.
Another quick note that was brushed over was the DePaul Stadium deal. Another big deal for Chicagoans (look up the details; here is one New York Times article from last year describing the controversy). Note: Adjustments were made last week to appease some aldermen regarding tax increment financing (TIF) money supporting the project.
Finally, Rahm is using that darn flip phone again. Not sure what that’s about but it’s hilarious and odd. Can we ask him about this? Is this a cost saving measure? Security concern? Waiting on a replacement phone? Is he still using a flip phone today? (Sun Times has actually investigated this story.)
Table of Contents: A Chicagoan Reviews Chicagoland
1: Episode 1
2: Episode 2
3: Episode 3
4: Episode 4
5: Episode 5
6: Episode 6