Showtime Debuts Teaser for Lena Waithe’s Drama Series, ‘The Chi’

By Sameer Rao Oct 19, 2017

Chicago native Lena Waithe ("Master of None") looks past the dog-whistling narratives about the violence in her hometown with "The Chi," an ensemble drama for Showtime. The premium cable network released a teaser trailer for the one-hour drama series yesterday (October 18).

The clip briefly introduces the main characters of the coming-of-age show—portrayed by a who’s who of acclaimed and rising thespians of color—while Raury’s "Devil’s Whisper" plays. Showtime’s announcement explains the show’s premise, personalities and actors as follows:

Produced entirely in its namesake city, "The Chi" is a timely coming-of-age story centering on a group of residents who become linked by coincidence but bonded by the need for connection and redemption. The ensemble cast includes Jason Mitchell ("Straight Outta Compton"), Jacob Latimore ("Sleight"), Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine ("Queen of Katwe"), Alex Hibbert ("Moonlight"), Yolonda Ross ("Treme," "The Get Down"), Armando Riesco ("Bull") and Tiffany Boone ("The Following").

Kevin (Hibbert) is the pre-teen who must step past shattered illusions and embrace the normal rites of childhood, while Brandon (Mitchell), the dreamer, makes his own nearly impossible leap of faith to succeed in life and love with girlfriend Jerrika (Boone). Emmett (Latimore) is the carefree teen [who] is thrust into complex responsibility with guidance from his mother Jada (Ross), and Ronnie (Mwine) is the drifter whose struggle to love and be loved calls into question his every pursuit. 

Deadline reports that Waithe, who created the show, will executive produce alongside showrunner Elwood Reid ("The Bridge") and fellow Chicagoan Common ("Selma"). 

"The Chi" is Waithe’s first high-profile project since Netflix’s "Master of None." She won the "Writing for a Comedy Series" award at this year’s Emmys for the show’s "Thanksgiving" episode, which she stars in, drawing from her own experience of coming out as a lesbian to her religious family. Waithe is the only Black woman to win that award.

"The Chi" stirred controversy with some residents living near a shooting location. DNA Info reported yesterday that people in the North Lawndale neighborhood, which the publication categorizes as a food desert, were dismayed to find that a corner store was actually a temporary set. The show’s staff apparently threw away a Dumstper’s worth of prop food instead of giving it to a local food bank. Residents reportedly combed through the discarded food.

"I just don’t understand how they can film about the South Side struggle and then not help the struggle," one resident told DNA Info. "I just don’t understand what happened, what went through [the show organizers’] heads when they threw that all away. How did no one on the team be like, ‘Hey, someone can eat that’?" Neither Waithe nor other members of the production team addressed the controversy as of press time.

"The Chi" premieres on January 7, 2018, on Showtime.