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Steve James’ ‘City So Real’ Gripping Sundance Doc on Chicago Politics is a Must-See


By Ben Travers

The unofficial subtitle of “City So Real” — Steve James’ long-gestating and utterly gripping portrait of Chicago — is “The American City at a Crossroads.” Flashing onto the screen over a map of the city broken into neighborhoods, the subtitle isn’t used in each of the four episodes, yet its initial inclusion emphasizes the docuseries’ striking duality. First and foremost, there’s the crisis facing Chicago. Police shootings and gang violence have led to racial and economical divides. Citizens are fleeing for other metropolitan locales in the hopes of finding safer, more affordable homes and better jobs. The city has long been ravaged by political corruption, but the 2019 mayoral election marks voters’ best opportunity to upend the status quo.

That election, and its unprecedented 21 candidates, serve as the ostensible focus of James’ four-hour series. But if it’s not already evident from the topical descriptions above, “City So Real” encapsulates more than just a historical moment for Chicago. James isn’t telling the story of an American city, but theAmerican city; Chicago’s problems are America’s problems, from our divisions to our strengths. By speaking to the candidates who want to shape the future and the residents living through a difficult present, James finds as many connections as contradictions, giving the campaign’s uplifting lessons a prime spotlight without overlooking the dubious warnings we can’t afford to ignore — not again. Read More.