Of late, Chicago has been highlighted for its aggressive violence, especially among and toward young Black men. The city has become the go-to for whenever mainstream media, or the president, feels they need to shed some violent light on a subject.
So when I heard that Showtime would drop a new coming of age drama called The Chi set in Chicago, I thought, this could be bad, real bad, Michael Jackson. But when we learned that Chicago native, actress, and screenwriter Lena Waithe (Master Of None), wrote and produced the series—and that hometown superhero Common was on board as executive producer—I thought, this may actually be good. A story told from the outside looking in will always be different from one spoken from the inside looking out. And having two well-known Chicago natives at the helm of the project, and an all-Black writers’ room, sets the tone for some real magic.
“I never thought I’d write about the city, but I just got to a place in my life where I think it was so misunderstood,” Waithe told EW. “It’s a different side of my voice, about being Black and human and trying to survive and have a dream. It’s raw. It’s real. I’m not sugar-coating. It’s not, ‘Let’s show Black people in Chicago in a positive light.’ It’s, ‘I want to show people in a human light.’”
That works for us, Lena.
When I tuned into episode one, I automatically saw myself in the main character, pre-teen, Kevin (Alex R. Hibbert, Moonlight). I smiled at the similarities between his escapades in Chicago and mine growing up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, N.Y. Check one.
I saw my best friend in the dreamer of the series, Brandon (Jason Mitchell, Mudbound, Straight Outta Compton) whose talents as a chef are bound to take him out of the hood, but whose family just might stop him if he lets them. Check two.
And then there’s Emmett (Sleight’s Jacob Latimore), who is a problem in every hood, inserting his seed into every girl he can find, then denying them when they announce their pregnancies. He has the nerve to be guided by an amazing mother, Jada (The Get Down’s Yolonda Ross), who just wants her son to do and act right. Checks three and four.
Now, I’m not sure if Chicagoans will agree with all the details of their beloved city—only they can vouch for those. But I don’t think they’ll be upset about the message of the series and the stories it tells. The first two episodes make it clear that Waithe is, in fact, humanizing her city. I haven’t felt this kind of personal nostalgia since the gritty days of HBO’s The Wire. Saying The Chi is worth checking out is an understatement.