From David Simon, the mind behind “The Wire” and “Treme,” and directed by Oscar winner (and outspoken ex-Scientologist) Paul Haggis, the six-part miniseries explores home, race, community and politics in 1960s Yonkers, NY. Lifted from Lisa Belkin’s book, “Show Me a Hero” follows Isaac as a young mayor who’s court-ordered to build low-income housing in affluent white neighborhoods, a controversial decision that threatens to capsize his political career.
Winona Ryder, Jim Belushi, Catherine Keener, Alfred Molina, LaTanya Richardson-Jackson and Bob Balaban also star in “Show Me a Hero.” Below, HBO shares a Q&A with the showrunner, who talks about the project’s origins, the moral gray zones of his heroes and villains and the sociopolitical lines in the sand the series addresses.
“I thought ‘Show Me a Hero’ offered a perfect storm of a narrative,” said Simon when he read the book, “about our enduring racial and class pathologies and the not-in-my-back-yard, don’t-tread-on-me sensibilities of modern libertarian and neoliberal politics. This is the grievous state of the American political dialectic, in which the only two operant currencies seem to be greed and fear.”
Simon said, “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.”
How the series shows we are “still fighting through our adolescence”:
“The American obsession with race and class – and the political uses of greed and fear – is still very much our national paradigm. We are getting better, slowly and inexorably, generation by generation. But there is much work still to be done to reconcile many Americans to the idea of a desegregated society, to power-sharing, to the very idea that all of us must share in the same national future. It’s going to be going on for a good long while, but integration itself – and the inevitable emergence of a stronger black and Latino middle class – is going to change more and more minds, particularly among younger Americans who come to the debate with less baggage. We are growing up, but when it comes to issues of race and class, we are still fighting through our adolescence.”
Who is Nick Wasickso, as played by Oscar Isaac?
“Like most heroes – and most villains – Nick Wasicsko was not wholly one thing or the other. He had his flaws and he was blind to certain realities. But when push came to shove, he believed in the rule of law and he came to understand that he had a responsibility to lead his city under the rule of law, and more than that, he came to realize that the housing consent decree was offering some of his most vulnerable constituents a chance at a better life. He is, to that extent, quite heroic. And yes, our six-hour narrative is structured around Mr. Wasickso’s journey. After all, the fights over the remaining phases of the housing and school desegregation orders in Yonkers went on long after our story concludes in 1994. The entire case wasn’t settled until 2007.”
On working with Paul Haggis:
“I was looking for a director who had a strong visual sense, who understood the parameters not simply of feature films, but of hour drama – and Paul has done both – and who had a political temperament that could believe in a story that had very little sex, or gunplay, or broad humor.”
“This is about a coming reckoning in the American future: Are we a society, or is it every man for himself? Do we all share in the same collective national narrative, or are there separate stories for those at the margins? And practically, Paul shoots a bit more poetically and elegantly than I am used to, and I write a more quotidian and low-to-the-ground script than he might. The collaboration was good in that he pushed me to allow some better measure of honest emotion into what could have been a dry political narrative, and maybe I pushed him to tolerate some dialogue that wasn’t clean or rounded, that was a bit in the gutter but still glancing up at the stars every now and again, to misquote Oscar Wilde. Our differences fostered good debate, and ultimately, some compromises that I think served the work very well.“