“Thanksgiving,” the eighth episode of Master of None’s second season, was a revelation. The standout episode, which was loosely based on writer Lena Waithe’s own life, used a series of generational Thanksgiving dinners to chronicle Waithe’s own coming-out story. It was a deeply humane, authentic and often funny exploration of how our cultural upbringings shape the way we navigate our own identity. It earned Waithe and co-writer Aziz Ansari an Emmy for comedy writing, making her the first African-American win that award.
Now she’s back with the brand new series The Chi, a coming-of-age drama set in the South Side of Chicago, where Waithe grew up. The gun violence that has plagued Chicago in recent years has gained national attention, and is often exploited by Donald Trump as a way to prove that he does in fact, care about black people.
And while The Chi’s first trailer suggests that the show won’t ignore the violent reality of life on the South Side, it also promises to be a poignant depiction of day-to-day life there by focusing on the full spectrum of emotions and experiences of its residents.
It’s also positioned to be embraced by the people who call Chicago’s South Side home. Nobody likes to be told what their life is like by a group of outsiders. Part of what made Donald Glover’s Atlanta so essential was that it could only have been made by someone who lived came from that city and who had those experiences.
When Spike Lee made Chi-raq in 2015, some Chicagoans criticized the New York-based filmmaker for trying to capture the experience of living in a city that he had no relationship with. Chance The Rapper famously slammed the movie, which was about a group of women who tried to solve the city’s gun problem by going on a sex strike. He called it “exploitative” and “problematic” and a “slap in the face to any mother that lost a child here.”
But the rapper appears to have given The Chi his full blessing, given that the trailer is set to his song “All We Got.” Chance’s support of The Chi makes sense. Waithe co-executive produced the series with her fellow Chicago native, Common, who also co-stars alongside relative newcomers Alex Hibbert (Moonlight), Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton), Jacob Latimore (Sleight), Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine (Treme, Queen of Katwe), Yolanda Ross (The Get Down), Armando Riesco (Bull) and Tiffany Boone (The Following).
As two people who grew up in that part of Chicago, Waithe and Common have the insight required to accurately depict the social pressures of growing up in a city that is too often reduced to a headline.
The Chi premieres January 7 on Showtime. Watch the trailer here.