Lena Waithe takes you behind Chicago’s violent headlines in ‘The Chi’

Lena Waithe loves Chicago.

The Emmy Award-winning writer loves her native city so much that she refuses to let it be defined by the violence that has plagued it.

Chicago was home to nearly 600 homicides in 2017, according to the Chicago Tribune. The year before that saw 681 homicides.

Waithe’s “The Chi” takes viewers behind the headlines to show what it’s truly like when a community deals with the aftermath of a homicide.

The Showtime series, which premieres Sunday at 10 p.m., centers on an aspiring chef dealing with the loss of his brother, a young hustler trying to navigate the difficulties of fatherhood and a young boy, whose innocence has already slipped thanks to seeing way too much violence.

Mathieu Young/Showtime
Cast photo of the Showtime original series, “The Chi.”

“I wanted to humanize them and show that their lives are valid,” the 33-year-old scribe told the New York Times.

In an era of “black girl magic,” the oft-heard rallying cry of black women’s accomplishments on social media, Waithe’s “The Chi” shows there’s still space for black men and boys.

“All the characters are from different walks of life, all in the same city, all black, and then they sort of bump into each other and they become interconnected,” Waithe told the Chicago Tribune of the series.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Lena Waithe and Common attend the world premiere of “The Chi,” Jan. 3, 2018, at the Downtown Independent in Los Angeles.

“The Chi” doesn’t necessarily depict the promise of Barack Obama’s Chicago or the generosity of Oprah Winfrey’s old stomping grounds. This series zooms in on the South Side of Chicago, and tries it’s hardest to depict what life is really like. “The Chi” was actually filmed entirely below the Chicago River last summer.

The show’s writers — who were all black, which is rare in television — included Chicago native and former journalist Sylvia Jones.

“Having been raised on the South Side of Chicago, I know it from the insider’s perspective,” she told the Tribune. “It is a tapestry of many neighborhoods.”

Jones continued, “I tell people, despite what you may see on the news and think the South Side is one big ghetto, you know President Obama lived on the South Side. He and Michelle got married on the South Side. This is a big thing for us, so don’t just paint us with one brush as, ‘This is all it is — guns, gangs, whatever.’ So I have made a conscious effort to say, Yes, those things exist. The numbers are the numbers. But…

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