Larenz Tate’s new podcast Bronzeville (iTunes) isn’t so much an audio drama as a movie served up in 10 episodes. It’s pure escapism, turning the clock back to the 1940s, when the African-American neighbourhood of the same name on Chicago’s South Side was thriving.
Now two episodes in, the opener paints an evocative picture of Bronzeville, with its plush shopping district, apartments for middle-income families and Washington Park, “the playground of the South Side”. Like the atmospheric Homecoming, it’s a high-quality podcast that uses Hollywood actors to voice roles. With an evocative soundtrack and strong characters who are easy to get to know, it’s not long before you’re immersed in the story. It has moments of violence made even more sharp by the need to fill in the blanks with your mind.
Tate stars as Jimmy Tillman, who goes on the run after stabbing a white man in self-defence. Laurence Fishburne is local gangster Curtis Randolph and Tika Sumpter is Lisa Copeland, who has just graduated from college, but missed the ceremony because black students weren’t allowed to go up on stage. “I got a great education. That’s the important thing. Maybe one day they’ll let us be part of the show,” she says, rising above it, just as she does when her white friends patronise her.
Bronzeville residents chase the American dream, but scratch the surface and you’ll find an underground gambling racket and the need to stay strong in the face of racial tension. “Everybody knows what happens if we don’t stand together,” says Randolph, wisely. When Jimmy is told that the Soviet Union has laws against prejudice, he’s cynical. “How’s that work?” he scoffs. “They figured out how to outlaw what people think?”
When Jimmy and Lisa cross paths in the Royale nightclub, there’s a real sense of fun and glamour under a cloud of gangster goings-on. The voiceover paints a picture of a community holding its head high and living the best possible life: “Bronzeville’s people have never let poverty, disease and discrimination get them down … The vigour with which they enjoy life seems to belie the gloomy observations of statisticians and civic leaders who know the facts about the black ghetto.” Glossy, intriguing and slick, Bronzeville will have you hooked.