Ahead of its January 7 debut on Showtime, The Chi creator, EP, and writer Lena Waithe stopped by the winter TCA conference to speak on the importance of keeping the Chicago-centered series authentic, both onscreen and off.
Waithe said that she and fellow EP and fellow Chicago native Common were adequate about making sure the show was really black, really authentic, and very Chicago.”
“At the end of the day it’s about black life in the Southside of Chicago… we are believers in telling our own story because when someone else tells it they often get it wrong. It was important that my voice was always pumping through.”
“The fact that Lena wrote this is really valuable because she’s a black woman from Chicago,” Common added. “She doesn’t have to talk to anyone to figure out what life is like. She has seen black life in a way that is not stereotypical or one-dimensional. That dynamic had to be told by us so that people could see it.”
He emphasized. “We need to see more colorful people and people of color as colorful.”
The coming-of-age story centers on a group of residents who become linked by a violent act but bonded by the need for connection and redemption.
In keeping on the lines of authenticity, it was imperative for Waithe to remain balanced, despite the dark themes, in her portrait of the life of a Chicago native.
“The thing about black people is that we are masters at finding joy in the midst of pain and sorrow because we’ve seen our fair share of it in this country,” she said. “We know how to find a smile in the midst of sadness. I would never want to paint a picture of us that is all dark because there’s so much light in our community.”
For Waithe, showing the multi-dimensionality and complexity of black life goes beyond the desire for rating success.
“My hope is that with the success of The Chi, we will have more opportunities,” she said, hoping this would lead to networks and studios taking a real chance to “show brown people as human begins.”
“As simple as the idea is, it’s a revolutionary act. I’m happy we can be part of that revolution because it is being televised. We’re showing America how to see us.”
Stars Jason Mitchell, Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, Jacob Latimore, Alex Hibbert, Tiffany Boone, Yolonda Ross, and Armando Riesco were also present during the panel.
The Chi premieres January 7 on Showtime.