Each week following Show Me a Hero, David Sims, Brentin Mock, and Lenika Cruz discuss the controversial efforts to build low-income housing in Yonkers in the ’80s, as depicted in HBO’s six-part miniseries.
David Sims: “Gentlemen, our object is not to create martyrs, or heroes. Our object is to get this housing built.” That’s Judge Leonard B. Sand (Bob Balaban), calmly pleading with the officials of Yonkers to comply with his court order to build affordable housing in the historically white eastern part of the city. It’s a request that seems nothing more than humane and the furthest thing from hysteria-inducing. But HBO’s Show Me a Hero charts the maelstrom of anger that court order created in Yonkers, and the vast gulf of understanding that existed (and still exists) regarding race relations in this country. In the hands of the writers David Simon and Bill Zorzi, and the director Paul Haggis, it lands a powerful, but considered, punch.
What struck me most about the first two (of six) episodes was how intently Yonkers’ segregation played out onscreen. The show charts the young Councilman Nick Wasicsko’s (Oscar Isaac) rise to the mayoralty at age 28, while also following the city’s resistance to comply with a court order demanding desegregation of public housing and various personal stories playing out in the city’s communities of color. At no point do any of the furious opponents of desegregation interact with the people they’re trying to keep out of their neighborhoods; even the city’s politicians seem completely insulated from them. It’s an issue that stirs up sound and fury, but the protesters’ fears seem to be fueled by their own ignorant nightmares, rather than any real-world context.