‘The Chi’ attempts to defy racial stereotypes

“The Chi” has been renewed for a second season. (Photo courtesy of Showtime Networks)

Emily Toomey
Connector Staff

Showtime’s breakthrough series “The Chi” is working to defy the typical stereotypes associated with Chicago’s South Side neighborhood and show a more humane side instead.  The riveting cast allows the show to standout and hold its ground. The show is filmed from an insider’s perspective rather than an outsider’s, which allows it to feel that much rawer and bonafide.

The main plot throughout the series is to show the different lives of residents in the South Side community and how violence has impacted them. The young characters are struggling to get by and stay out of trouble while the older characters just sit back and watch. They are intertwined with a sense of redemption as they all work toward making a better life for themselves.

In order to make the show seem even more realistic, the creator chose to focus on multiple characters. The key theme of time and consequence are prevalent in all the characters’ lives. The aspect of multiple characters makes it easier for the viewer to connect with them, but only makes it that much harder to follow the complexity of the show. Having no protagonists only focuses on the fact that everybody is created equal. A greater sense of community is present without a protagonist. The viewer can only wonder if all the characters will intertwine and become connected by the end, or if their stories have more in common than one would think.

One of the most inspiring characters, Brandon (Jason Mitchell), has completely changed the way the viewer sees a violent neighborhood.  Brandon has the most potential out of any character as he inspires to open his own restaurant with his girlfriend. Brandon defies all the typical stereotypes associated with inner cities, and allows the plot to have a promising future. In a way, Brandon allows the plot to have a good versus bad guy vibe, doing so only takes away from the overall message of the show and does nearly the opposite. The show wants to focus on the humane side of the residents, but only focuses on one character when doing so.

Having so many young characters throughout the show only helps it to succeed more. The young characters have a sense of impulsivity that is hard to find with the older characters. Some of the best scenes throughout come from the younger characters as they are both extremely specific and sometimes emotional. Violence experienced in the younger characters’ lives on the show feels more realistic. Their fate is far more important in those moments because they still have their entire lives ahead of them. Are the young characters created to appeal to a younger audience, or simply to highlight the consequences of certain actions?

The show’s main weakness is the lack of a protagonist and the focus on too many characters equally. The show is hard to follow at times, but the characters make it worthwhile for the viewer to keep watching. Each character is faced with a struggle they are trying to overcome that ultimately keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat. Will the characters make the right decision, or will they be stuck facing the consequences of a bad one?

What is unfortunate is that the creator, Lena Waithe, wants to break the typical stereotypes associated with minority inner city neighborhoods, but does not completely succeed. Some of the characters, however, only feed into their stereotypes. The lingo they use is still very expected, and the use of the N-word only takes away from the show’s authenticity. How can the show succeed at defying stereotypes if it still keeps the lingo and attitudes associated with them?

Overall, “The Chi” succeeds at creating an action-packed plot filled with a unique perspective of the lives of those in South Side. The show, while not racially diverse, does still succeed at showing diversity among the South Side. The show feels raw and authentic. The stories are much like those of the real people living there and the characters still feel incredibly relatable despite the fact that many viewers have experienced completely different lives than theirs.

Final Grade: B

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