Series to showcase life on South Side at a time of local skepticism

As Chicago’s South Side garners more attention from Hollywood movies and television, local artists and residents alike share concerns about the media’s interest in perpetuating stereotypes rather than meaningful portrayals.

Most recently, star of Netflix original series “Master Of None” and 2006 television alumna Lena Waithe is bringing her experience growing up on the South to the screen through new TV drama, “The Chi.” It was picked up by Showtime Network, according to a Jan. 9 Chicago Tribune article.

The series will shed light on the lives of young black men living on the city’s South Side and is being produced by Elwood Reid, Common and Aaron Kaplan, as well as Rick Famuyiwa—executive producer and director of 2015 crime drama “Dope”—who will be directing the premiere episode.

Sophomore journalism major and South Side resident Dante Jones said the way film and television portray the city is very inaccurate.

“[The South Side] is so much more than saying ‘people get killed here [and] there’s violence here.'”

According to Jones, his hometown deserves a better reputation than violence and murder that has been shown in the media and wishes its story was told differently.

“Television and film just show a bunch of negativity and bad things,” he said. “[Such as] the South Side of Chicago: a place where people get killed.”

“Chi-raq,” the 2015 musical drama directed and produced by Spike Lee and co-written by Lee and Kevin Willmott, was also set on the South Side of Chicago. The film garnered attention and criticism for its representation of the neighborhood because it focused on the gang violence present in Chicago, particularly the Englewood neighborhood.

Black cinema expert and filmmaker Floyd Webb agreed that the portrayal of Chicago in these films trivializes the problems faced in these areas.

“These ideas and these same stereotypes are recycled,” Webb said. “If you have the same racist ideas cycling, you’re going to have the same racist tropes recycling.”

Webb said he has high hopes for series like the “The Chi” because of who is involved in its production. Webb said he was a big fan of Famuyiwa’s 2015 film “Dope.”

“With Common and Rick [Famuyiwa] being executive producers, they’ll have some say on what it looks like,” Webb said. “I’m hopeful that this will be something different.”

Much like Webb, Mary Morten, filmmaker and president of Morten Group, said she feels the presentation of the South Side is based on stereotypes.

“If you’re interested in really understanding a community, you have to go to those communities, you have to talk to people in those communities and get a much deeper understanding of how people are living, and in some cases, thriving,” she said.

In 2012, Morten, who made a film documentary following the stories of five black youth in her film “Woke Up Black,” said watchers applauded the youth she had selected in the film and deemed them “exceptional.”

“They are exceptional youth, but they are not exceptions,” Morten said. “There are many youth with stories like [those] in “Woke Up Black,” those stories just don’t make the news.”