Nat Geo Acquires Steve James’ ‘City So Real’ Docuseries, Adds Episode About COVID-19 and George Floyd Protests

Cable channel will air five-hour show about Chicago’s “history-making” 2019 mayoral election this fall

National Geographic has acquired “City So Real,” Steve James’ docuseries about Chicago’s “history-making” 2019 mayoral election, National Geographic Global Television Networks president Courteney Monroe said during the cable channel’s session at the virtual Summer CTAM press tour.

Originally conceived as four one-hour episodes, the show will air this fall with an additional fifth episode exclusive to Nat Geo, which focuses on the COVID-19 pandemic and social uprising following George Floyd’s death.

An official Indie Episodic selection at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, “City So Real” “begins in the haze of mid-summer 2018, as Mayor Rahm Emanuel, embroiled in accusations of a cover-up related to the police shooting of an African-American teenager, Laquan McDonald, shocks the city by announcing he won’t seek reelection,” per Nat Geo’s description. “An unprecedented 21 candidates emerge in a diverse and crowded field as they engage in a no-holds-barred battle for a chance to shape the city’s uncertain future.”

“From the summer of 2018 through the spring of 2019, James, Piper, as well as James’ son, filmmaker Jackson James, and a diverse team followed the historic, often contentious mayoral election. Scenes from the streets, luxury high-rises, barbershops, campaign offices and nightclubs are skillfully juxtaposed by editors David E. Simpson (America to Me) and James to create a mosaic of life in the Midwest’s most racially, culturally and economically diverse city.”

The docuseries is comprised of “candid interviews with residents throughout the city” and is “a gritty and loving depiction of a quintessentially American city that is at once fiercely unique and a microcosm of the nation ⎯ and our world ⎯ as a whole,” according to Nat Geo.

“City So Real” comes from Participant and Kartemquin Films. Directed by James, the docuseries was produced by James and Zak Piper with cinematography by Jackson James and Steve James. The show was edited by David E. Simpson and James. Sylvetta Christmas and Janea Smith are field producers and executive producers include Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyermann, Alex Kotlowitz, Gordon Quinn, Betsy Steinberg, and Jolene Pinder. “City So Real’s” original music was composed by Will Miller and Resavoir, with Dawn Sutter Madell as music supervisor.

“Chicago is an enormous and enormously diverse urban environment that wrestles with issues of race and segregation and violence, which is the story of America today,” James said in a statement. “You see evidence of that everywhere in the series from the barbershop conversations to the people watching the debate. All cities have their boosters, but there’s something unique about the passionate love and civic pride Chicagoans have for their city. The documentary captures the beauty and the richness of a very complex city, while also showing how divided it can be.”

“We are thrilled to be partnering with the extraordinary Steve James and the team from Participant Media on ‘City So Real,’ a profound and intimate portrait of life in every American city that could not be more timely,” Monroe added.  “We look forward to showcasing this ambitious and impactful documentary series, including Steve’s newly filmed fifth hour capturing the pandemic and the civil unrest gripping our nation.”