REVIEW | Why Lena Waithe's "The Chi" Is So Important
Emmy award winner Lena Waithe's new show about the lives of black citizens of Southern Chicago is something so special.
Most Americans have consumed some form of TV - and those that haven't are surrounded by the remnants of it. They see ads for TV shows, listen to people talking about those shows - TV has managed to become a facet of the modern human experience. So, it begs the question: Why are we only seeing the same stories being told over and over again?
Don't get me wrong, we've seen a bit of a TV renaissance in recent years. The age of reality TV has given way to a new era of scripted dramas, dramedies, and the like ranging from Breaking Bad to Supernatural to Game of Thrones. And as great as this new influx of creative energy is - it's also come with a slew of glaring issues. Issues that range from a lack of representation to the mistreatment of minorities that do get introduced.
The Cast of The Chi (Mathieu Young | SHOWTIME)
That's what makes Lena Waith's The Chi such a beautiful outlier compared to most TV we're getting exposed to. I have to give a special disclaimer - I have only seen the first episode due to my lack of money for Showtime (but I'm saving up! I swear!) - so keep in mind that all of my reactions and thoughts revolve around that episode. And man, what an episode it was. Okay, disclaimer over.
The pilot is one of the strongest I've ever seen. Throughout the pilot, we are shown the tragic deaths of two black youths, Jonah and Coogie. They are both shown to be bright, beautiful young men - and their deaths are portrayed and senseless and heartbreaking. These deaths directly and indirectly interconnect the lives of an astounding cast of characters. And they are each used to their fullest throughout the episode, whether we're seeing young Kevin - played by Moonlight star Alex R. Hibbert - witnessing the tragic shooting of another character, Brandon - played by the brilliant Jason Mitchell - delivering a beautiful eulogy in that character's honor, or Emmet- played by the hilarious Jacob Latimore - trying to hide from the woman who has given his third child.
Through these characters, we are given a full spectrum of human emotion. We are shown immense grief and pain, we are shown pride and love, and we are even treated some well timed moments of humor to bring us back from the heartache. And it's done so with such precise balance - you never feel like it's ever too much. The only thing you do is wonder why? How could that happen?
In a world where racial tensions are running high, Lena Waithe puts forward an idea that shouldn't be as revolutionary as it is: That black stories are not only valid, but just as important as white stories. You can feel her passion and her care for the place and the people she writes about. And as an audience member, she managed to captivate me every second. She doesn't turn the South Side into some seedy crime-filled underbelly. She shows you what it is: A part of the Chicago where real people live and hurt and try their best to get ahead. It's got problems and sometimes it's dangerous, but that's not all this is.
Honestly, you have to watch this show. Especially if, like me, you haven't been exposed to these stories before. Plus, it's a damned good piece of TV.
Shann Smith is a freelance writer, screenwriter, playwright, gamer, and film/TV lover. When he's not working on his columns for Popdust, he's doing his best to create and consume as much media as he can!
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