As a native Chicagoan, I watched “Fireworks,” episode 3 of CNN’s original series Chicagoland, and waited to learn something new about my city. Despite the hype and high acclaim, Chicagoland—once again—failed to capture an accurate Chicago story.
What bothered me most about tonight’s episode is that the new adults celebrated in episode 3, all the new people aspiring to help our city, all the new people doing good are white: the doctor, the chef, the reporter, the theater director.
Of course, all the people struggling or dying in episode 3 are black. The Filipino, despite his undocumented status, and the Latina, with strong ambition to succeed, come off as doing fine in their reality. Their struggles and achievements fade into the editing like the after glow of fireworks.
At one point, Billy Dec, a philanthropist and Chicago businessman, is astonished, after his boat ride, by how many of Fenger’s students have not been to our lakeshore or Lincoln Park Zoo. Of course—the media pays so much attention to young people when they die that we forget their struggles when they live.
JP Marquez is an undocumented immigrant in tonight’s show. But we never learn his struggles or fears beyond the obvious: he could be deported at any time. Last week’s preview and tonight’s opening promised Chicago’s immigrant experience. But Chicagoland filmmakers Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin overlooked the opportunity to tell the story of an undocumented Chicagoan. This, Levin and Benjamin, is the other civil rights movement of our time: the fight for immigration reform.
The filmmakers could have included, at this point, the work of determined leaders of color who work to forge productive futures for undocumented youth. They could have documented the work of Latinos and Latinas who aim to unify families torn apart by outdated immigration policies. However, Chicagoland devotes all attention to the kind work being done by white people. The principal of color, while presented positively, comes off as an exception.
Men of color in Chicagoland are either victims, perpetrators, or patient beings waiting to be helped.
But based on tonight’s filmmaking, JP and other undocumented young people will be fine. Based on tonight’s show, all immigrant communities have settled. As a life-long resident of Chicago, as a 30-year resident of Little Village, as an 18-year educator in our public schools, I know that’s not the truth.
Near the end of the show, the mayor says he doesn’t want this city to be a place that some kids don’t feel a part of. Yet we know his policies alienate our youth of color. Chicagoland, sadly, does, too. Tonight’s episode only reinforced the old Chicago misunderstanding: dependence and brutality are the black Chicago story, benevolence is the white.
Read my review of Chicagoland episode 2 to see why the show does nothing good for Chicago Public Schools.