Forest Whitaker Forest Whitaker

Can the Sundance Channel's Brick City inspire change in America's grittiest inner cities? The panel the show assembled for Friday's Television Critics Association press tour suggests it's possible: It featured members of the rival Crips and Bloods gang sharing the stage with a police director from Newark, N.J., where the documentary is set.

Sundance is presenting Brick City as a street-level portrayal of inner city life that offers more nuance and optimism than HBO's The Wire. Executive produced by Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker, it features Newark's mayor, Cory Booker, whose campaign to unseat Newark's previous mayor was the subject of the Academy Award-nominated documentary Street Fight.

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Booker spoke to the assembled TV writers by video. "I know someone in this audience gave a good review to Real Housewives of New Jersey, and for that I will hold you personally accountable," he joked.

Blood gang member and youth mentor Jayda and Crip gang member and youth counselor Creep (no full names were given) said their presence on the stage and in the documentary proved they could come together for the good of Newark's children.

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"Our relationship is a symbol of unity and bringing everyone together for the betterment of young children," Jayda said.

Whitaker said he grew up in South Central Los Angeles, a notoriously gang-infested area. But his childhood was full of hope as well as struggle, and Brick City will include both, he said. He cited the divisive image of the Black Panthers.

"When I see a Black Panther, I think of someone who used to pick me up and take me to a breakfast program," he said.

Brick
City will appear on the network in five parts beginning Sept. 21 at 10/9c.