By Nikki Schwab, Washington Whispers
If there's one lesson to be learned by watching Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, N.J., perform his duties in the five-part series Brick City, it's this: Governing is hard. In the Sundance Channel documentary series that debuts Monday, Booker's job—tackling a high crime rate and a sour economy—looks impossible. Booker, who was in Washington this week for a Brick City screening, tells Whispers that people may be more sympathetic to President Obama after watching one mayor struggle to govern one city. "It humanizes the characters, and you realize that everybody sincerely wants to make a difference and we're all earnestly fighting in the same trench," says Booker. "So hopefully it helps to arouse more compassion for [public servants] pushing every single day to make the country better."
Codirector Marc Levin sees this parallel, too. "For the last two years, we've heard the word change over and over again as the mantra, and I think the tagline Sundance chose, 'Change comes hard,' that's what the series is on the most human level," Levin says. Brick City follows the lives of the mayor, the police director, and Newark residents as they work to improve their community. "The year that it covers is the most dramatic year-to-year reduction of shootings and murders," says Booker.
Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker jumped into the project as an executive producer after seeing directors' Levin and Mark Benjamin's first shots of gritty Newark and its charismatic leader. Whitaker has taken an interest in politics and campaigned for Obama, but he didn't meet Booker until he started work on the film. Now he sees similarities between the two politicians. "They seem to really care about the common man," Whitaker says.
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