The Chi creator Lena Waithe, executive producer Common and cast members Jason Mitchell and Jacob Latimore took the dais in a featured session at SXSW on Monday to talk about putting an authentic spotlight on the titular city and how the Showtime drama gives a different portrayal of the Black community that isn’t often seen on television.
“We’re just being,” said Waithe of the critically acclaimed series.”We’re not tap dancing, we’re not trying to get out of the hood, we’re not rapping —doing other things we traditionally see on TV.” (Common jokingly disagrees with the latter) It was important for the Emmy-winning writer of Master of None to stray away from those types of characters for Black actors. Even so, she still tackles important issues facing the Black community but gives nuance.
In one particular scene shown during the panel, Coogie (Jahking Guillory) getting arrested is shown. Afterwards, Waithe breaks down the context and showing how much hasn’t changed in terms of the treatment of Black people.
“We go from chains to handcuffs,” she said, referencing slavery to modern-day racial profiling. “We’re still running — Black people are always out of breath we can never rest.”
Common, who plays Rafiq on the drama, adds to that saying that these diverse roles move further away from stereotypes. He says The Chi makes “other nationalities see Black people in a new way.” Lena is a visionary and she knew what the vision is and created that.”
“I wanted to do something real,” says Waithe.
Waithe and Common are natives of Chicago and the two have painted a picture of their city that has resonated beyond the city. Because of this, Mitchell and Latimore were on board from the very beginning.
Mitchell, who plays Brandon on the show, said that if someone behind the project is an authentic source, “it’s a wave you know you want to get on top of — you want to be part of it.”
“I wouldn’t be part of it if, people from Chicago weren’t behind it,” adds Latimore, who plays Emmett. “It’s something for the culture and is giving Chicago a real voice.”
Since debuting on January 7, The Chi has become the cabler’s strongest series since Billions in 2016. The coming of age drama follows six interrelated characters living in the South Side of Chicago linked by coincidence, but bonded by the need for connection and redemption. With one episode left in the season (the finale airs Sunday) and a second season on the horizon with Ayanna Floyd Davis (Empire, Hannibal) as showrunner, the show has become an instant favorite among critics and fans alike. More than that, it’s a show that depicts a different narrative of the Black community that is tragic, redeeming, hopeful, beautiful and all under the umbrella of Waithe’s love.
“Nobody cares when white folks kill us and no one cares when we kill each other — who is valuing our lives?” asks Waithe. “If we don’t hold each other up, who will?”
She adds, “If we don’t tell our story, someone else will and get it wrong.”