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‘The Chi,’ created by Chicago native Lena Waithe, is love letter to city

“The Chi” is a coming-of-age drama following a group of Chicago residents who are linked by coincidences but bond over the need for connection. Season 6 follows the highs and lows of everyone’s relationship as the characters pursue their dreams.

This season, life in “The Chi” shows that big dreams are finally realized but at a cost, and everyone will be tested in unimaginable ways as they calculate the risks and rewards of that next big move. Emmett (Jacob Latimore) and Kiesha’s (Birgundi Baker) blissful blended union is tested by his insatiable drive to expand Smokey’s restaurant and a new perilous partnership, while Kiesha finally races toward a rewarding new career. Douda (Curtiss Cook) deals with the fallout of Q’s murder and its effect on the shifting loyalty of his inner circle.

Victor’s (Luke James) bold declaration of love for both his new girlfriend and his beloved community will impact his political ambitions. The series also stars veteran actress Lynn Whitfield, along with regulars Alex Hibbert, Michael V. Epps, Shamon Brown Jr., Yolonda Ross and Berwyn native and former NBA player Iman Shumpert.

I was able to pose a few questions to Deondray Gossfield and Chicago native Quincy LeNear Gossfield, who both produced this season.

Quincy spoke about the authentic representations of Chicago and the dynamics associated with them. “I think it is important that the love, laughter, and levity of the lives of Black Chicagoans be shown and celebrated. That’s something that Waithe is very keen on. Yes, this is a crime drama, and the world is aware of the true crime stories of Chicago, from Al Capone to the Gangsta Disciples, and all the bloodshed in between,” he said. “It’s very real and often the singular thing people think of when they think of Black Chicago, but we don’t have a singular story.

“And even those of us who live in the ‘hood and navigate the scourge of crime, we still love. We still fall in love. We still have full emotional lives. So romance is integral to our stories as well. Chicago oozes romance, from our music to our city. If you can’t fall in love with or in Chicago, where can you fall in love?”

He continued: “It’s important to show young Black boys and men from the ‘hood taking lemons and making lemonade. They will make mistakes. They will be tempted. They will be tried, but they can choose for themselves to do differently.”

Deondray added: “Real-life Chicago is a kaleidoscope of people who don’t fit neatly into any monolithic label and are often a contradiction of terms. Like real people, ‘The Chi’s’ characters are complicated and sometimes hard to label as simply ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Douda is all at once a gangster, murderer, lover and philanthropist. Emmett is equal parts father, entrepreneur, hustler and ‘hood.

“Keisha is motherhood, strength, resilience, a ‘baby mama’ and vulnerable simultaneously. All these things can be true at once, and it can be argued that crime is born out of love: an insatiable lust for survival, upheaval and power. With that adage, the love, romance and crime between these characters are inextricably linked.”

He also reflected on the addition of Whitfield this season: “It has been [Waithe’s] dream to somehow find a way to get her on the show. When the character Alicia (an old-money matriarch who will spare no expense to get what she wants) was conceived, Lynn was always at the top of Lena’s wish list. “When her deal closed, we not only celebrated, we basked in the glow. She exceeded our expectations.”

When asked how does the series want to represent young Black men in Chicago, Deondray said: “Somehow through all the tragedies, setbacks and traumas, our young men this season are thriving. The biggest themes are perseverance, redemption and evolution.”

Quincy is a native South Sider, whose parents are from Englewood. He attended Simeon High School and worked at Evergreen Plaza as a teen and said as an artist he cut his teeth in Wicker Park and other areas on the North Side.

He spoke of his apprehension about returning to the city to work: “To be honest, when we got the job offer, I suffered a lot of anxiety. I left Chicago in 1996. I like to say back then, I escaped Chicago – my traumas. I experienced a lot of loss that I associated with home. I found my place and peace in California and spent most of my adult years there. So being offered to move back home after 26 years brought up a lot of unresolved issues. It was somewhat paralyzing; however, the universe knew better.

“Being home this time forced me to face a lot of the things that I didn’t have to face living away. So, for me, this has been part work, fun, and a lot of personal introspection and healing. Through it all, I’ve realized how much beauty I failed to remember because my focus had always been on the immediacy of surviving. No matter what, Chicago is the city that made me; the good, the bad and the ugly.

“I always dreamed I’d come back home with the ability to uplift through art and make a difference for some young boy or girl like me who may be experiencing similar circumstances that I lived through. Taking this opportunity with ‘The Chi’ is fulfilling that dream. I remember being a boy and seeing a movie production happen on 74th and Ashland. I was fascinated! I never imagined I’d be home shepherding the stories of the very same neighborhoods, bringing production and dream fulfillment to those neighborhoods, and employing the individuals from those neighborhoods. It’s life changing.”

He added that he has a renewed love for Chicago. “I’m able to see the city through my adult eyes and lived eyes now. Yes, the ’hood is still the ’hood, but there’s so much joy still. There’s so much love in our city and love for our city.”

And finally, Quincy mentioned great things about the Windy City with which I’m sure other residents agree. “I’m 100 percent Red Line, CTA, Currency Exchange, Lake Michigan, deep dish, mild sauce, Italian beef and steak sandwiches, and that’s what I hope I can bring to ‘The Chi’—a lived experience.”

“The Chi” airs on Sunday nights on Showtime and streams on Paramount with a subscription.

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