“Show Me A Hero,” a six-part miniseries on the divisiveness in the late 1980s stemming from a federal judge’s order to build subsidized low-income housing that would be filled by non-whites in Yonkers, New York, premieres at 8 p.m. tonight on HBO.
A second hourlong episode will follow at 9 p.m. Two additional episodes will air at the same times on Aug. 23 and 30.
David Simon, who created the critically acclaimed 2002-2008 HBO drama “The Wire,” was involved in writing all six episodes. Each was directed by Paul Haggis, who directed the 2004 Oscar-winning best picture “Crash.”
“This story appeals to me not merely as political history, but because the question in Yonkers in 1987 was the same we face today — are all of us — those with and those without, white, black and brown — are we all sharing some portion of the same national experience or is the American dream something other than that?” Simon said.
“Show Me A Hero” was described by Michael Lombardo, president of HBO Programming, as “a tragic story set in a fractured America very much in the news today.” It is based on the nonfiction book of the same name by Lisa Belkin, who covered the story as a reporter for The New York Times.
Simon said he was sent a copy of Belkin’s book by Gail Mutrux, the producer who found his book, “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets” and then developed it into the 1993-99 NBC drama, “Homicide: Life on the Street.”
“I thought ‘Show Me a Hero’ offered a perfect storm of a narrative about our enduring racial and class pathologies and the not-in-my-backyard, don’t-tread-on-me sensibilities of modern liberalism and neoliberal politics,” Simon said.
Simon said he then showed the book to William F. Zorzi Jr., who had been a reporter colleague of Simon’s on The Baltimore Sun, and asked what he thought.
“As a veteran political reporter, Zorzi astutely realized that in the story of what happened in Yonkers, and in the powerful narrative arc of Nick Wasicsko, we had a story in which we could precisely depict how government actually works in America or doesn’t,” Simon said.
Haggis said he was drawn to the story by where and when it was set.
“When you say desegregation in America, you think of Birmingham in the ’60s or Boston in the ’70s, but the last thing you think is New York in 1990, so close to home, just so few years ago,” said Haggis, who won an Oscar for his screenplay for “Crash” and received Oscar nominations for his screenplays for “Million Dollar Baby,” “Crash” and “Letters from Iwo Jima.”
Wasicsko, who is portrayed by Oscar Isaac, was a 28-year-old councilman when he was elected mayor in 1987, defeating six-term incumbent Angelo Martinelli (Jim Belushi). He initially sided with white residents, who feared the public housing would lower their property values.
However, the threat of mounting fines imposed by U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand (Bob Balaban), prompted Wasicsko to propose a housing plan, which wins approval from the City Council.
The cast also includes Oscar nominee Catherine Keener as a longtime vocal opponent of construction of public housing; Oscar nominee Winona Ryder and Alfred Molina as City Council members; and Peter Riegert as housing expert Oscar Newman, who champions the building of townhouses instead of the customary high-rises that long led to slum conditions in public housing.
“For me, who always feels ill at ease in the entertainment industry, this is why I get up in the morning, imagining something that isn’t merely an entertainment, but is instead a chance to dramatize the actual fault lines in our society and do so on a scale that is careful and plausible and human,” Simon said.
“I think the same ambition appealed to a lot of our actors and I’m incredibly grateful for it.”