In an America generations removed from the greatest civil rights struggles of the 1960s, the young mayor (Oscar Isaac) of a mid-sized American city is faced with a federal court order that says he must build a small number of low-income housing units in the white neighborhoods of his town. His attempt to do so tears the entire city apart, paralyzes the municipal government and, ultimately, destroys the mayor and his political future.
The cast includes Oscar Isaac ("Inside Llewyn Davis," "Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens") as Mayor Nick Wasicsko; Catherine Keener (Oscar nominee for "Capote" and "Being John Malkovich") as longtime East Yonkers resident Mary Dorman; Alfred Molina ("Love Is Strange," "The Normal Heart") as Councilman Henry J. Spallone; Winona Ryder (Oscar nominee for "Little Women" and "The Age of Innocence") as Councilwoman Vinni Restiano; LaTanya Richardson-Jackson ("Blue Bloods," "The Watsons Go to Birmingham") as housing project resident Norma O'Neal; Bob Balaban ("The Grand Budapest Hotel," "Recount") as U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand; Jim Belushi ("The Defenders," "According to Jim") as incumbent Yonkers Mayor Angelo Martinelli, who lost his bid for a seventh term to Nick Wasicsko; and Jon Bernthal ("The Wolf of Wall Street") as NAACP attorney Michael Sussman.
Lisa Belkin was a New York Times reporter in the late 1980s, when Yonkers, a city of 200,000 located just north of The Bronx and nearly 80% white, was suddenly confronted by a politically unpopular reality. A lawsuit undertaken by the U.S. Justice Department and the NAACP had proven definitively that Yonkers officials had used federal housing funds to purposely segregate the city for decades, and while elected officials vowed to appeal that ruling, even the city's own lawyers saw little chance it could be overturned on the merits.
The remedy for the civil rights violations is simple, but politically fraught: Yonkers must build 200 units of low-income housing somewhere on the white side of the Saw Mill River Parkway in East Yonkers, followed by another 800 units of affordable housing. A committed housing expert, Oscar Newman (Peter Riegert, "Local Hero"), is determined to use a new philosophy of public housing to avoid the high-rise projects and slum conditions of previous generations, and Yonkers housing commissioner Peter Smith (Terry Kinney, HBO's "Oz") and housing consultant Robert Mayhawk (Clarke Peters, HBO's "The Wire") stand ready to help him. But before they can do so, Yonkers officials must name the sites on which the new townhouses can be built.
Their attempts bring only rage from white residents who are determined to protect their own property values and stop the public housing at all costs. Wasicsko, a young councilman, initially sides with the residents and uses that position to defeat the incumbent mayor, but the electoral result doesn't make the outcome of the court case any less inevitable for Yonkers.
Wasicsko and his young wife, Nay (Carla Quevedo, "Abril en Neuva York"), a city employee, are battered by the maelstrom that results, and ultimately, their lives are changed forever. Slowly and inexorably, the townhomes begin to go up and the residents who will have to cross the Yonkers color line are chosen.
But will this experiment in racial integration and social mobility work after so much anger and fury? Will white opponents such as Mary Dorman come to terms with a new reality? And will the residents themselves be comfortable in neighborhoods that so fiercely opposed them?
"Show Me a Hero" is from creator David Simon ("Treme," "The Wire"). The miniseries is directed by Paul Haggis ("Crash"); written by David Simon and William F. Zorzi; and executive produced by David Simon, Nina K. Noble, Paul Haggis, Gail Mutrux and William F. Zorzi.