Cooked: Survival by Zip Code to Re-Broadcast Nationally on 25th Anniversary of 1995 Chicago Heatwave

COOKED: Survival By Zip Code will be having an encore broadcast on Monday, July 13th, 2020 on PBS Independent Lens, the 25th anniversary of the most traumatic heatwave in U.S. history. Twenty-five years after the 1995 Chicago heat wave, COOKED: Survival By Zip Code examines the events that led to the deaths of 739 people, mostly Black and in the poorest neighborhoods of the city. The film arrives at a time of growing calls across the country to declare racism a public health crisis and to reinvest in communities ravaged by the long-term impact of structural racism.

A recent NYU study found life expectancy differentials as wide as 20-30 years linked to racial and ethnic segregation between neighborhoods in American cities. The mayors of Boston and Charlotte recently declared racism a public health issue, part of a growing national movement at the top of the filmmaker's impact agenda.

"The COVID-19 virus, the current crisis that is literally stopping our world dead in its tracks, is much deadlier for some than others, and points to the underlying crisis and disease of acute systemic disparity and racism that is there every day and has been killing people daily for decades," said director/producer Judith Helfand. "All the stats were there. The numbers for people and neighborhoods dying from or being crippled by asthma, diabetes, and heart disease and we did not make that an emergency worthy of a declaration or a stimulus package. If we had, this virus would not be killing some neighborhoods more than others, people would have been stronger to start with. COVID-19 is not an equal opportunity killer."

In Helfand’s signature serious-yet-quirky connect-the-dots style, COOKED: Survival By Zip Code takes audiences into the deadly 1995 Chicago heat disaster, ties it back to the underlying manmade disaster of systemic structural racism and then goes deep into one of our nation’s biggest growth industries: Disaster Preparedness.

With her own unique combination of chutzpah, humor, and frank candor, Helfand asks open-hearted, open-ended questions that push people to deeply consider what it might mean to redefine “disaster” and question the terms that have become ubiquitous in policy discussions, such as “resilience.” She forges critical connections between the unprecedented cataclysmic natural disasters we’re willing to see and prepare for, and the everyday, constantly churning, slow-motion disasters we’re not – that is, until an extreme weather event hits and they are made exponentially more visible and deadly.

Helfand ingratiates herself into the world of disaster preparedness trainings and drills at the national, regional, and local levels. Along the way she forges inextricable links between extreme weather, extreme wealth disparity, extreme structural racism and the politics of “disaster.” Whether it’s a deadly heat wave in Chicago, Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Harvey or Maria, or massive wildfires in the West, these disasters reveal the ways in which class, race, and zip code predetermine who lives and dies every day regardless of the weather, who gets hurt the worst and first in the wake of an “official disaster,” which communities recover and rebuild and which simply don’t.

Adapted from Eric Klinenberg’s ground-breaking book ‘HEAT WAVE: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago,’ the film was directed by Helfand, produced by Fenell Doremus (co-producer of Academy Award-nominated Abacus: Small Enough to Jail) and Helfand. 

Visit PBS Independent Lens for local listings or to stream the film today. 


COOKED: Survival by Zip Code, takes audiences from the deadly 1995 Chicago heat disaster deep into one of our nation’s biggest growth industries - Disaster Preparedness. Along the way she forges inextricable links between extreme weather, extreme disparity and the politics of 'disaster'; daring to ask: what if a zip code was just a routing number, and not a life-or-death sentence?