Paul Haggis Q&A: ‘Show Me a Hero’ director
“This is America. This is the way we are. It’s the way we have been. And there’s no sense denying it,” declares Paul Haggis about the legacy of racism in the United States as we chat via webcam (watch above) about “Show Me a Hero,” a HBO miniseries he directed that focuses on housing segregation in Yonkers in the late-1980s and early-1990s. The six-hour program looks at the effects of a court-ordered effort to desegregate the city’s public housing with protests and political upheaval, particularly for mayor Nick Wasicsko (Oscar Isaac).
It’s a true story, which Haggis found hard to believe when he first read the script. “I kept having to check the dates. This couldn’t have happened in 1990, and it couldn’t have happened in New York. When you think about desegregation, you think the south, you think Birmingham, you think the ’60s … but you do not think New York in 1990. That was one of the big reasons I thought this story needed to be told. This is endemic, and it continues.”
“Show Me a Hero” is not Haggis’s first project addressing racism in modern America. In 2005 he wrote and directed the film “Crash,” which won him two Oscars: Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture. As Haggis recalls, “one of the first reviews said, ‘You know, if this had been done 10 years ago we’d think it relevant, but we just don’t have these problems anymore.’ That day, while I was reading that, there was what was described as a race riot in Santa Monica High School.”
He adds, “I think as liberals we are very guilty of this – especially guilty of this – because we like to think we are good people, and good people would not put up with this kind of thing and by distancing ourselves from that we don’t solve the problem. These problems are going on right now in every city in America, and are going to continue until they actually are addressed.” So has his perspective changed in the decade between “Crash” and “Show Me a Hero”? “I’d like to say that I’m more optimistic,” he says, but “I can’t.”