#BlackBoyJoy and “The Chi”

Alex Hibbert as Kevin, Michael Epps as Jake, and Shamon Brown as Papa in The Chi (Season 1, Episode 08, “Wallets”). – Photo: Parrish Lewis/SHOWTIME

When people hear Chicago, they envision a variety of things: gang wars, President Obama, deep dish pizza, the musical, golden-era Bulls, and more. And in its own way, Lena Waithe’s The Chi tries to capture all these sides of the city. While most of the show focuses on gritty, aggression-driven storylines, there are still moments of “fresh air” that remind you that these characters can be quite carefree as well.

The south side of Chicago, in particular, has always had an image of gang violence surrounding it, but there is a lot more going on than meets the eye. Not everyone is in a gang. And not everyone has an arsenal of guns stored beneath their mattress. And even if they do, The Chi finds a way to balance the two and not miss a beat. In one scene, someone could be getting beat into submission, while in the next, they could be learning how to roller skate, much like they would in real life.

As this season of The Chi draws to a close, we are presented with more and more instances of Black boys and men being portrayed as complex human beings, instead of the violent, one-dimensional caricature the media often tries to sell us. From Coogie’s big-ass hair and neon ensembles to Papa teaching Kev and Jake how to shop for tampons and dance, The Chi proves that Black boys can be whatever they choose to be and not what society has already planned out for them.

In this Sunday’s episode, I couldn’t help but point out all the instances of #BlackBoyJoy I saw in each scene. Most of them were standalone events, while others were strategically paired with darker, more sinister scenes, as if to lessen their seriousness. I’m going to share a couple of those scenes with you and discuss why I found them to be so important in the movement that is: #BlackBoyJoy.

In one of the first scenes of the episode, Kev calls Papa to discuss his concerns about Jake bringing the gun to the skating rink in the previous episode, and before the conversation can even begin, Papa’s “whittling music” blasts through the phone. Although Kev pleads for him to turn it off, Papa tells him that he can’t because Kevin called him during his “me time” and that his music is a very important part of this time.

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Shamon Brown as Papa in The Chi (Season 1, Episode 08, “Wallets”). – Photo: Me

This scene really stuck with me because rarely, if ever, do we get to see Black boys enjoying themselves in arenas outside of sports, girls, clothes, or music. But here, in this scene, we have Papa, a little Black Boy on the south side of Chicago, unabashedly  whittling away to R&B music in his workshop, making gifts for his mother and friends. Definitely #BlackBoyJoy!

In the next scene of this episode, Greavy, Brandon’s mother’s new husband interrupts a conversation between Brandon and his mother to inquire about the whereabouts of his tea tree oil. Brandon jokes that he should check next to his yogurt, but Greavy quickly lets him know that he takes his skincare VERY seriously, so the joke’s on him.

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David Alan Anderson as Greavy in The Chi (Season 1, Episode 08, “Wallets”). – Photo: Me

In a society where men can be accused of being gay for even wanting to wipe their own ass, it’s a breath of fresh air to see Greavy comfortable in caring about his appearance. There’s nothing wrong with caring about the way you look, and anybody could benefit from taking a moment to moisturize and exfoliate. Greavy’s self-care is undoubtedly another instance of #BlackBoyJoy!

One of my favorite auxiliary characters in the show is Brandon’s cousin, Hannibal. Hannibal could be the poster child for the #BlackBoyJoy movement, like seriously. When he’s not practicing tai chi in his backyard, or on a business trip to Japan, he can be found tending to his marijuana plants like the Plant Dad™ that he is. Hannibal is full of surprises, and this week was no different.

When Brandon goes to visit Hannibal to seek his investment into his food truck business, he is caught extremely off guard when Mr. Wu, Hannibal’s Chinese “tenant” bursts out of the kitchen pantry and the two, without batting an eye, begin to engage in a conversation in Mandarin. And with the same amount of fluency, Hannibal switches back to English and explains to Brandon why it’s important to have different streams of revenue, and he shares a couple of other tips with the budding entrepreneur.

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Wai Yim as Mr. Wu, Chris De’Sean Lee as Hannibal, and Jason Mitchell as Brandon in The Chi (Season 1, Episode 08, “Wallets”). – Photo: Me

Hannibal is, in my opinion, the most #CarefreeBlackBoy on The Chi. Since his first appearance on the show, he immediately gave me similar vibes to Atlanta‘s eccentric character, Darius (portrayed by Lakeith Stanfield). Both characters epitomize, to me, what it means to be a #CarefreeBlackBoy. They say what they want. Do what they want. And if somebody disagrees, they don’t care! There was no way I could make this post and leave Hannibal off of it. He took the SAT high as hell and got a 1490 for crying out loud. He is certified #BlackBoyJoy!

Now to switch the focus back to Kevin’s carefree crew.

Pretty much all of the scenes with Kevin’s crew make me laugh, but no scene this season has made me laugh more than the one of Kev, Papa, and Jake trying to buy tampons for Kevin’s mother. The boys make their way around the grocery store, picking up staple items, like potato chips and peanut butter, discussing what it’s like for Kevin to have two moms, and joking about video games, until they get to the last item on the shopping list: TAMPONS.

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Michael Epps as Jake, Alex Hibbert as Kevin, and Shamon Brown as Papa in The Chi (Season 1, Episode 08, “Wallets”). – Photo: Me

Kevin and Jake are overwhelmed with all of the choices on the feminine hygiene aisle, but Papa adroitly takes the lead and begins to share his knowledge about feminine care products and menstrual cycles with his confused comrades. He also manages to slip in the fact that he got his 10,000 steps in for the day, and that if Kevin messes up this purchase, he won’t be helping him on the second go-around. After a quick (and maybe more embarrassing for Kevin’s mother) phone call, Papa gets all of the information that he needs and skillfully picks out a couple boxes of tampons, so that the boys can finally go home and play some more 2K. Thanks to Papa’s extensive knowledge on menstrual cycles, his friends are saved. And also thanks to Papa, I have another addition to my list of #BlackBoyJoy!

A few more honorable mentions of #BlackBoyJoy in this week’s episode include, but are not limited to:

  • Meldrick sharing his childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut after patching Ronnie up for a second time. Shout out to his friend for sharing his cobbler dreams as well!
  • Hannibal and Brandon’s conversation at the junk yard about the drag queens from the Crane Club. Hannibal advises Brandon to stop “limiting” himself.
  • Tiffany’s new boyfriend intimidatingly cutting and eating an apple to show Emmett that he needs to leave. It’s never a bad time to have a healthy snack, right?
  • And Quentin’s friends casually critiquing his cooking, as Reg looks on in a state of obvious distress. When a dish needs chili powder, it needs chili powder, I guess…

As you can see, this week’s episode of The Chi was full of instances of #BlackBoyJoy, and in a setting like the one in which the characters reside, it is quite important to show these moments. Life is already hard enough as is, so why not add a few light-hearted moments in every now and again? I appreciate the show reminding us that Black males are very complex individuals, something that the media (especially in our current times) would have us forget.

As The Chi continues on (and we know it will because it was recently okayed for a second season), I look forward to seeing how these Black boys and men evolve. And perhaps, we’ll even get some Black Girl Nerd magic thrown into the mix as well! That’s not too much to ask, right?

The Chi comes to us at a very appropriate time, and it has introduced us to some amazing characters in the process. I can’t wait to see what happens over the course of the series, and in the meantime, I’mma need Papa to share his “whittling playlist” on Spotify! Real talk.


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