'Brick City' Documentary Season 2: Real Time With Cory Booker

Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker at a January 2011 "Brick City" screeningin Park City, Utah (Michael Buckner/Getty Images)
Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker at a January 2011 "Brick City" screeningin Park City, Utah (Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

Minutes after snowpocalyptic flurries descended on the nation's capital this week, clogging traffic and leading to hellish commutes, someone summoned Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker via Twitter: 


"@CoryBooker how do we draft you to be Mayor of DC?" tweeted ABC Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper. "How about just during snowstorms? Can you call Mayor Gray and offer some tips?"

The joke was inspired by Booker's epic performance during the East Coast blizzard of 2010, when he responded to snowed-in Newarkers who called out to him via Twitter. The 41-year-old mayor's around-the-clock tweets chronicling his rescue of unplowed streets and stranded residents produced a rash of national headlines and led Time magazine to crown him "The Mayor of Twitter and Blizzard Superhero."

This is what makes it a tough job to be Brick City documentary filmmakers Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin. This Sunday, the second season of their Peabody Award-winning documentary about the transformation of Newark begins airing on the Sundance Channel. Much like last season, the documentary continues to be a gripping look at the struggles of a midsize, postindustrial city trying to chart a future after suffering a generation of neglect, crime and Conan O'Brien jokes.

But because Booker's government moves at Twitter speed, watching a documentary today that was filmed in 2009 feels a bit like watching Headline News two years later. So while we are supposed to be riveted by the political roller coaster of Booker campaigning along with President Obama for Democratic New Jersey Gov. John Corzine's re-election, or the suspense of whether Newark Police Director Garry McCarthy will get canned, current events have long moved on (at least for those of us watching it unfold on Twitter in "real time"). And even more historically significant events — such as the $100 million gift to Newark schools from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, announced live on Oprah — have already robbed the documentary of much of its narrative tension.

That's where the other recurring characters — including the 20-something nonprofit founder and mother of two Jayda, aka Jessica Jacques, a gangbanging Juliet to her Romeo boyfriend Creep, aka Darel Evans — come in. They do an even better job of revealing Newark's flesh-and-bones humanity.

"I have to be careful of everyone who is in my circumference," Jayda tells her mentees in her nonprofit Nine Strong Women, trying to explain how she wound up facing more criminal charges. But "it's difficult because I help people who are sick. I help strippers. I help drug dealers."


Without these characters (and also the chain-smoking defense attorney Brooke Barnes), Newarkers themselves would be abstractions, mere numbers in a police body-count ticker.

But there is no doubt that the camera still loves Booker best. Even facing the mundane day-to-day drudgery of budget cuts and funerals, and renovating his first home, the slightly awkward and impossibly earnest Booker is a high-wattage star in what is fast becoming politics' Reality Age.


All of this oversharing might once have been political suicide. But we are talking about a time when Sean Duffy, an alumnus of MTV's Real World who is married to another Real World alum, is now sitting in Congress. Not to mention, this is also the era of She Who Shall Not Be Named, who failed at being governor and yet succeeded as a reality-TV star and continues to have credible presidential aspirations.

Booker's light has shone beyond the Newark city limits ever since his first electoral defeat was documented in the 2005 Oscar-nominated film Street Fight. In one scene in Brick City's latest season, filmed in 2009, Booker tells his staff that they need to capitalize on his then-17,000 Twitter followers. He casually notes that 2,000 of those followers actually live in Newark.


Today, as the number of Booker followers has ballooned past 1 million (three times the population of Newark), you have to wonder who the intended audience is for his Mayor Snowplow routine. "Cory Booker gotta stop twittering," taunts his nemesis Ras Baraka, the high school principal and son of the poet Amiri, his fingers flittering in the air.

Indeed. Jake Tapper's Booker tweet was hilarious — if you are in on the joke. But if you are among the 92 percent of Americans who have Internet access but don't use Twitter, your democracy moves a lot slower.


Natalie Hopkinson is a contributing editor to The Root. Follow her on Twitter.

Natalie Hopkinson is a Washington, D.C.-based author whose current projects deal with the arts, gender and public life. She is the author of Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City. Follow her on Twitter