Chicago is being used as a political pawn. Murder rates and gang violence are splashed across our newspapers and television screens with no consideration for facts, figures, and the people who live and thrive in the city. Lena Waithe’s critically acclaimed Showtime series The Chi, gives the city and the South Side, in particular, a chance to speak for itself. The Chicago native’s engrossing characters and words are what drew actress Tiffany Boone out of her acting hiatus and back to television.
A few days after The Chi was granted an early season two renewal, Boone and I chatted over the phone. The Baltimore native explained why the role of Jerrika Little shook her awake and reinvigorated her desire to tell stories. “I read it, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I have to be in this. How do we get me in this? Do it now,’ she recalled. “I auditioned, and I didn’t get it, and then they cast it, shot it, and then completely recast it. Here we are three years later.”
It wasn’t simply Waithe’s love letter to her hometown that drew Boone to the story, The Following alum connected with Jerrika because she found a kinship with the young woman. “She felt familiar to me,” Boone remembered. “I normally play characters that are very different from me. I’ve played quite a few murderers and a lot of crazy people. It was the first time I had read something that felt, really super close to me. (Jerrika) is a young Black woman trying to get her career together and trying to build this strong relationship with this man she’s in love with. She’s strong, funny, independent and complicated —it felt like me, it felt like my friends, it felt like my family, it felt like I knew her. That’s what made me want to play her. Then with Jason (Mitchell), we just understood each other from the beginning. It’s just a second hand with Jason and I. I think Jason is also in a situation where Brandon is the closest to him that he’s ever played as well. We brought a lot of ourselves.”
Thus far, The Chi focuses on four men, Emmett (Jacob Lattimore), Brandon (Mitchell), Ronnie (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) and Kevin (Alex R. Hibbert) whose lives intersect after the murders of two young men from their neighborhood. However, women are very much a part of this tapestry. “The women, at least in the first season, are orbiting them — we are the planets orbiting their sun,” Boone explained. “So, you don’t get to see a lot of our lives, outside of our interaction with them. I thought (the scene with Jerrika’s girlfriends) was great and I would love to do more of that. For Black women, our relationships with our girlfriends are so important and so vital to who we are. Your girlfriends are your refuge. What surprised me the most is when (the ladies) showed up to set — the friends. They were all natural too, and all of us were different sizes and shapes and colors. It was amazing to see the way they cast that and immediately we had a camaraderie.”
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