‘Widows’ and ‘The Chi’ Found the Secrets of Chicago, Hiding in Plain Sight

Steve McQueen, Gillian Flynn, and Lena Waithe credit the real Chicago for shaping their stories.

Even though Lynda La Plante’s original “Widows” TV show was set in London, Steve McQueen knew he needed Chicago to bring his 2018 adaptation to life. “London wasn’t it. London had moved on,” McQueen said. “I wanted a contemporary place, a modern city, and Chicago seemed to be that place. Politics, race, corruption, policing, gender, all those things, it was all there, in Chicago.”

Between McQueen’s new film and “The Chi,” Lena Waithe’s award-winning Showtime drama, the Windy City is having a moment. Both utilize the city’s history and personality in ways that speak directly to its struggles and distinctions, and remind us just how relevant Chicago is to the country and beyond.

“From microscope to telescope,” McQueen said. “You’re focusing on Chicago, but really, you’re telling a story about where we are in the world. You could be talking about, to a certain extent, what’s going on in London, Munich, Paris, New York, and other places in the world. That’s what it is: It’s a reflection of how we live today.”

Widows Viola Davis Colin Farrell

“Widows”

20th Century Fox

“It was real. That happens in Chicago, [and] it’s crazy.”

A British miniseries adapted by a London-born director doesn’t seem like an obvious vessel for portraying Chicago’s political and racial divisions. But McQueen first came to the city in 1996, when Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art displayed his video installation “Five Easy Pieces.” At the same time, his future wife Bianca Stigter covered the 1996 Democratic National Convention as a reporter, “so my very first footprint in Chicago has always been art and politics — always,” he said.

McQueen immediately noticed the city’s “odd” racial divide, and Chicago remains one of the country’s most segregated cities. “Widows” exemplifies that separation through its women: Veronica (Viola Davis) is a wealthy philanthropist suffering from great losses; Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) is a struggling small business owner; Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) is an abused Polish immigrant, and Belle (Cynthia Erivo) works multiple jobs on the South Side to support her kid. Despite being tied together by their husbands and the city they share, the characters never met until circumstance forced their hands.

“We’re in this city of fantastic, amazing cultures and backgrounds, but also, at the same time, extremely divided by race,” said Gillian Flynn, a Chicago resident and McQueen’s co-writer. “And that’s part of what ‘Widows’ is about — the idea you can live in the same city your whole life and never meet someone who’s different than you, unless you try really hard — or lose your husbands in a fiery crash and become forced to [come together].”

Still, the most striking visualization of Chicago’s segregation is shown in real time during a car ride, as McQueen’s camera moves from a poverty-stricken campaign stop to the luxurious headquarters and home of a prospective city alderman. Captured in one, uninterrupted long take, the audience listens to Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) scream at his assistant Siobhan (Molly Kunz) while they watch the neighborhood change outside the car.

“What [was important] for me was seeing that landscape shift, from a sort of vacant lot in a decrepit area populated by black people, into a much more leafy, upper-middle-class, if not upper-class, neighborhood. And it was real. That happens in Chicago. It’s crazy,” McQueen said.

Daniel Kaluuya and Brian Tyree Henry in Twentieth Century Fox’s WIDOWS. Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox.

Daniel Kaluuya and Brian Tyree Henry in “Widows”

Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth

“I got a guy”

Flynn said they both did “tons” of research and spoke to everyone from local community leaders and cops to the FBI and a professor who helped get Laquan McDonald’s videotape released. Through it all, Flynn remembered McQueen getting hung up on an important local colloquialism.

“[People kept saying] ‘I got a guy,'” she said. “That’s just what you say in Chicago. ‘I got a guy.’ And Steve was like, ‘Excuse me sir, but what does that mean? ‘You got a guy?'” He’s got this ex-con who was explaining it [to him], and the other thing he kept saying to me was, ‘Gillian, what was just being described to me is criminal activity.‘ He kept saying that, and you become so inured to it. The simple, transactional things in Chicago, you just come to take for granted — like, ‘I got a guy.'”

That attitude helped the writers understand Chicago’s ingrained corruption. The film’s central political family, the Mulligans, is modeled in part after the Daleys, a Chicago political dynasty from the early ’80s through today. Richard J. Daley (1955 – 1976) and his son, Richard M. Daley (1989 – 2011), served as mayor for more than four decades combined. They become infamous for taking care of their own at great cost to the rest of Chicago, nearly bankrupting the city.

“Mayor Daley was kind of [the model], but not just him,” McQueen said. “You go back to people like Al Capone and their infiltration of the political system with organized crime. It’s been going on forever and a day, as far as Chicago’s concerned. From day one, these areas were basically gangs which turned into social clubs, which got legitimized. A lot of America is legitimized crime. It’s the foundation of this country. If it’s killing Native Americans or slavery, it’s legitimizing crime.”

Another distinctly American problem is gun violence, which has reached “epidemic” levels in Chicago. McQueen examines it to frightening extremes through Jamal Manning (Daniel Kaluuya) and his brother Jatemme (Brian Tyree Henry), two gang members who challenge the Mulligans for the alderman seat.

“Violence makes violence, unfortunately,” McQueen said. “Take the example of Jatemme. His life has been about violence, but at some point he gets numb to the violence, gets bored with the violence, so then he gets perverse with violence. […] At a certain point, he gets so bored with it that he doesn’t even participate. So that’s how it is, and it happens to a lot of young black men in Chicago and elsewhere — not just black men elsewhere. But you’re numbed by it, and it has an effect on you in a real way.”

While America regularly reels from mass shootings, Chicago is still trying to correct an unprecedented spike in gun violence. Multiple reports have linked Chicago’s racial segregation and income inequality to the violence in its poverty-stricken neighborhoods, and political corruption lies at the root of both issues. “Widows” manages to incorporate all of these topics into a thriller ostensibly about a heist.

But if “Widows” focuses on the darkness, then “The Chi” strives to find the light.

The Chi Season 1

Michael Epps, Alex Hibbert, and Vonzell Scott in “The Chi”

Matt Dinerstein / Showtime

“This is where I’m from, and this is the story I wanted to tell.”

Created by Lena Waithe, “The Chi” features an expansive, predominantly black cast and focusing on how a fateful tragedy affects the surrounding community. However, Waithe didn’t want the show to be another sad story about poverty, pain, and oppression.

“The thing is, it’s not all darkness,” Waithe said. “Every city has its own personality, so you go to any city and there’s darkness and there’s light. For me, [‘The Chi’] is about capturing both. The reason I’m telling the story is it’s about where I’m from, so it’s really about trying to shed light on the darkness and the positivity in the city.”

Waithe contends that a lot of Chicago-set TV shows and movies are told from an outsiders’ perspective. Amidst the divisions, corruption, and violence, Waithe sees people going about their lives.

“You see stories of people in Chicago, and it’s a perspective from people who aren’t brown or haven’t lived there,” Waithe said. “I think Chicago is really commodified, particularly by major networks and certain TV shows because it’s just a backdrop. I think they try to use it as a way to be important, or tell a story that needs to be told. For me, I just want to tell a story of the people that live there. Not the people that police them, not the dark stories all the time — just the human stories. That’s my goal.”

Waithe even holds herself accountable for not going far enough in Season 1 to capture the city in full. “I felt like it could’ve been more authentic, it could’ve been more rooted,” she said. “But we kind of had to figure our shit out, and we tried to figure it out for Season 2 by being more authentic and actually shooting on the South Side of Chicago and not being afraid of going into certain areas.”

Just as it’s important for the people of Chicago to have a voice outside the city’s issues, Waithe said it means a lot to show real locations on screen. She hires directors who are eager to seek out new spots in Chicago, especially in neighborhoods that might intimidate.

“They get to see themselves,” she said. “They get to see places they recognize, they understand, and they’re familiar with. That’s why it’s important for us not to be afraid to go to certain places that most white people are afraid to go to in the South Side of Chicago.”

“I think Chicago has a very cool, dual vantage point,” Flynn said. “One, it’s a lot like all American cities: It has the same sort of baked-in problems, like race, corruption, and education. At the same time, Chicago is so incredibly unique and is one of the most visually fascinating cities in the world. And it’s so underused. It’s criminally underused.”

McQueen agreed, saying “I think it’s always important to tell Chicago stories. I’m surprised there’s not been more. […] It’s indicative of what’s going on in the world at large. You’re taking a local and making it global.”

Halle Berry & Lena Waithe Add Serious EP Spin To BET’s ‘Boomerang’ Reboot

Over 26 years after she had her breakthrough big screen appearance in Boomerang, Halle Berry is now going to put some serious spin on BET’s small screen sequel of sorts, and Lena Waithe is joining her.
The Oscar winner and the Emmy winner will be execu…

Over 26 years after she had her breakthrough big screen appearance in Boomerang, Halle Berry is now going to put some serious spin on BET's small screen sequel of sorts, and Lena Waithe is joining her. The Oscar winner and the Emmy winner will be executive producers on the 10-episode half-hour BET Networks and Paramount Television produced series, which is set to drop next year. "I'm thrilled to team up with Lena on this project as she is without a doubt a leading voice…

‘The Chi’ Casts Kimberly Hebert Gregory, Carl Lumbly, Curtiss Cook for Season 2 (EXCLUSIVE)

Kimberly Hebert Gregory, Carl Lumbly and Curtiss Cook are set to recur on season two of Showtime’s “The Chi.” Gregory will play Kimberly Hendricks, described as a razor-sharp power attorney working on behalf of Ronnie (Ntare Guma Mbah…

Kimberly Hebert Gregory, Carl Lumbly and Curtiss Cook are set to recur on season two of Showtime’s “The Chi.” Gregory will play Kimberly Hendricks, described as a razor-sharp power attorney working on behalf of Ronnie (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine). Her previous film and TV roles include “Kevin (Probably) Saves the World,” “Better Call Saul,” “Brooklyn […]

Common Signs Overall TV Deal With Lionsgate

Lionsgate TV has signed Common to a development deal.
The Emmy-winning rapper, actor and producer will develop new projects for the studio under his Freedom Road Productions banner. The agreement expands Lionsgate’s relationship with Common, who …

Lionsgate TV has signed Common to a development deal.

The Emmy-winning rapper, actor and producer will develop new projects for the studio under his Freedom Road Productions banner. The agreement expands Lionsgate’s relationship with Common, who starred in installments of the studio’s “John Wick” and “Now You See Me” film franchises.

“We’re thrilled to have the talented multi-hyphenate Common join our television team along with his longtime manager and producing partner Derek Dudley, President of Production Shelby Stone, and creative executive Melisa Resch,” said Lionsgate executive VP and head of worldwide scripted television Chris Selak in a statement. “Common’s expertise from working across all different artistic platforms offers a rich and exciting creative vision to our group. We look forward to the bold, premium content Freedom Road Productions will bring to our deep and diverse television slate.”

On the TV side, Common co-starred in AMC’s post-Civil War drama “Hell on Wheels” and appeared in Lena Waithe’s Showtime series “The Chi.” He also lent his voice to Disney Junior’s “Lion King” sequel series, “The Lion Guard.”

Common joins Lionsgate Television’s roster that includes “Dear White People’s” Justin Simien and Yvette Bowser, Eric and Kim Tannenbaum (“Two and a Half Men”), Courtney Kemp (“Power”), Eugenio Derbez and Ben O’Dell (“Overboard,” “Instructions Not Included”), Jenny Bicks (“Sex and the City”) and “Dexter’s” John Goldwyn, among others.

“I’m proud to expand my relationship with the innovative content creator Lionsgate,” said Common in a statement. “The studio offers a collaborative, creative freedom that is unique in the entertainment industry, which makes them a perfect partner for Freedom Road Productions. I’m looking forward to teaming up with Kevin, Chris and the Lionsgate collective on exciting and fresh television programming.”

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Joseph C. Wilson Inks Overall Deal With Fox 21 TV Studios; Joins ‘The Chi’ Season 2 As Co-EP

Writer-producer Joseph C. Wilson has signed an overall deal with Fox 21 Television Studios. Under the pact, he’ll serve as a co-executive producer on the second season of Showtime’s drama series The Chi, produced by Fox 21.
“We are thrilled to ha…

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Showtime wants to stay in the Lena Waithe business

Lena Waithe became the first black woman to ever win an Emmy for Outstanding Writing For A Comedy Series last year, so Showtime has wisely decided that it would be a good idea for it to keep her around. Waithe is the creator of Showtime’s The Chi, and …

Lena Waithe became the first black woman to ever win an Emmy for Outstanding Writing For A Comedy Series last year, so Showtime has wisely decided that it would be a good idea for it to keep her around. Waithe is the creator of Showtime’s The Chi, and according to Variety, she has also just signed a first-look deal…

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‘The Chi’ Ups Shamon Brown Jr., Barton Fitzpatrick & Michael Epps To Series Regulars For Season 2

We’ll be seeing more of Papa, Reg and Jake in the upcoming season of Showtime’s The Chi.
Shamon Brown Jr. Barton Fitzpatrick and Michael Epps, who recurred as Papa, Reg and Jake, respectively, in Season 1, have been promoted to series regul…

We’ll be seeing more of Papa, Reg and Jake in the upcoming season of Showtime’s The Chi. Shamon Brown Jr. Barton Fitzpatrick and Michael Epps, who recurred as Papa, Reg and Jake, respectively, in Season 1, have been promoted to series regulars for the second season of the drama series, created and executive produced by Lena Waithe (Master of None), and executive produced by Common (Selma). The Chi is currently in production in Chicago and will return for Season 2 in…

‘The Chi’ Creator Lena Waithe: Inclusive Casting Changed My Writing and My Life — Toolkit Podcast

Waithe shares a funny story about testing for “Master of None” and her advice to actors auditioning when “the safe choices aren’t happening anymore.”

The Chi” creator Lena Waithe moved to Los Angeles to pursue her dream of writing for television. Never did Waithe — who recently played a major supporting role in “Ready Player One” and was first put on Hollywood’s radar with her role in “Master of None” — aspire to be a performer.

“If someone was going to tell me I was going to be on a Netflix show or Spielberg movie, I would never have believed them,” said Waithe when she was a guest on IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit podcast. Waithe credits casting director Allison Jones for giving her the unexpected break, which she believes is a great example of why diversity hiring works. “The thing with the casting situation with ‘Master of None’ was unique because [creators Alan Yang and Aziz Ansari] said, ‘Just send us interesting people before we start reading folks.’ I’m just thankful that [Allison] thought of me as one of those interesting people and sent me to his house and my whole life changed.”

Subscribe via Apple Podcasts to the Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast

After winning an Emmy for penning the “Master of None” script in which her character, Denise, comes out to her family, industry doors started to open for Waithe’s considerable talent as writer with an Emmy-contending series on Showtime (“The Chi”) and a number of shows and movies far along in the development process. Yet the lessons she took from being on the other side of the casting process informed her collaboration with casting director Carmen Cuba (“The Florida Project”).

“With Carmen, I always joke that she is sort of the co-writer of [‘The Chi’] pilot because her choices for the casting really affected the way I adjusted the script,” said Waithe. “I think it’s good to have casting directors that don’t have a list: ‘Here’s my list for young, hot black girl. Here’s my list for older, debonair white guy.’… [T]hose casting directors that send you an overweight black dude for your romantic lead [are] awesome, because it’s like, ‘Oh, ha, that’s interesting, I didn’t think of it that way, but now I am and want to change everything about this script.’ A great casting director is making you want to do rewrites.”

For example, Cuba introducing Waithe to actor Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine made her see the Ronnie character as being older than she’d originally planned, while considering Jason Mitchell for Brandon – conceived as being reserved, tall and handsome, but became a more open, funny and light-hearted character – opened up new story possibilities. While Waithe acknowledges that there are always roles that require a trained actor to morph, her advice to actors going out for auditions is to be more themselves.

The Chi Jason Mitchell Season 1

Jason Mitchell in “The Chi”

Parrish Lewis / Showtime

“Bring whatever you have to the role, rather than trying to fit into whatever that role is because you are going to be like everybody else that come in for the role that day and you aren’t going to stand out,” said Waithe. “For Aziz and Alan, they were like, ‘We kind of like your take on what this is, because you obviously aren’t straight, you’re obviously not this straighted-laced girl, but there’s something interesting about the fact that you aren’t any of those things and we now want to change the character.'”

Not only does “The Chi” creator believe that this advice can open more doors to performers, but that trying to bend to a preconceived notion of a character is how stereotypes get ingrained and archetypes created. Waithe points to when she tested for NBC/Universal and Netflix for “Master of None” — creatives present a production studio and network two or three casting options to sign off on — as to how the industry is changing along these lines.

“So I go in for the test looking the way I do —I think I had on a Bulls t-shirt, jeans, whatever — and you have to wait with the person that you are testing with, which is also odd,” said Waithe. “The person I’m sitting with could not be more lily white, or more heterosexual, and she’s looking at me — because that’s the other thing too, the person you are testing is often a carbon copy of yourself because there’s a type — so she’s sitting next to me and I’m looking at her and this is my first test, I’d never really gone out for anything like this. This is probably her hundredth, and she’s like, ‘We go out for all the same stuff all the time.’ She made the joke, because I was like, ‘This is really weird.'”

Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe, "Master of None"

Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe, “Master of None”

Netflix

Waithe believes Ansari, Yang, and executive producer Michael Schur very intentionally broke the mold and strategically presented two very different options for Denise.

“I think what they were trying to say is you can try to be different and unique and off-the-beaten path, or we can go with what people expect us to go with – this cute white girl – and have her in the mix and the show will be fine, but we have an opportunity to do something really cool if we go with this route,” said Waithe. “I think what they did – and excuse the pun – it couldn’t be more black and white: Here’s what we’re trying to do and and here’s what we’ve always done, so the choice is yours. You want to do something fresh and cool and interesting, or do you want to do something that feels safe and commercial.

To Waithe, the fact that her version of Denise won out is no longer an aberration: “I think to me that is a great representation of what the industry has become. The safe choices aren’t happening anymore.”

While on the podcast, Waite also talked about how “The Chi” pilot director Rick Fukuyama unlocked her vision, plans for Season 2, and how not being the showrunner of the series she created opened so many other creative opportunities for her.

The Filmmaker Toolkit podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, OvercastStitcherSoundCloud and Google Play Music. Previous episodes include:

Lena Waithe Partners With AT&T and Fullscreen to Mentor Diverse Aspiring Filmmakers

Lena Waithe seems to be doing all she can to discover and mentor diverse filmmakers.

The actress, writer and producer from such shows as Netflix’s “Master of None” and Showtime’s “The Chi” is teaming up with Fullscreen and AT&T’s Hello Lab to mentor diverse aspiring filmmakers.

“The only way change can happen is by helping to create it. And that’s exactly why I’ve invested in this mentorship program,” Waithe said in a statement. “These diverse and talented filmmakers need guidance to get them where they need to be. We’re here to help them find their place in this business and tell their story.”

Also Read: Lena Waithe Is ‘Tired of White Folks Telling My Stories’

Earlier this month, Waithe also joined Eva Longoria, Franklin Leonard of “The Black List” and Charles King’s production house Macro to launch an initiative to discover and advance the work of writers of color in TV.

The AT&T Hello Lab mentorship program Waithe is now a part of is in its second year. Its mission is to pair entertainment industry leaders with aspiring filmmakers from groups traditionally underrepresented in the industry.

This year the program features scripts from majority-female writers stories from often underrepresented Native American and Asian American communities.

“The stories are as deep, beautiful and amazing as the voices telling them.  It’s crucial we help find more ways to support the world getting a chance to see them,” Valerie Vargas, head of advertising and creative services at AT&T, said in a statement. “The AT&T Hello Lab Mentorship Program elevates independent voices, providing them with a large platform, and helps emerging artists navigate challenges that come with bringing a project to life by pairing them with leaders who have walked down this path before.”

Also Read: Study: Male Indie Filmmakers Outnumber Women 2 to 1 at Major US Film Festivals

Along with Waithe, other mentors this year include Common, Tessa Thompson, Taika Waititi, Cary Fukunaga, Rachel Morrison and Shelby Stone.

The filmmakers will debut their short films on the Hello Lab channel on AT&T’s DIRECTV and DIRECTV NOW later this year.

“We’re so thrilled to kick off the second year of this mentorship program with AT&T, giving a new wave of filmmakers the opportunity to bring their creative ideas to life,” said Maureen Polo, senior vice president of Fullscreen’s Brand Studio in a statement. “This effort was created with the vision of giving a voice to diverse creators in the entertainment industry, and we can’t wait to build on the success of our inaugural year. We couldn’t have done this without the support of our talented group of mentors and the rising stars participating in this year’s mentorship.”

Also Read: How ‘On My Block’ Creator Lauren Iungerich Brought Diversity to Young Adult TV

Here’s a list of the filmmakers and their projects:

“Further Away” by Sean Frank Johnson and Casallina Kisakye (mentored by Lena Waithe)

Logline: A black woman who is institutionalized in a psych ward meets God.

Bio: Sean Frank is a London raised, New-York based filmmaker and creative director. His interest is rooted in real, relatable environments, situations and subcultures that combine cinematic compositions with inspirational stories. A graduate of both Goldsmiths and Central St Martins, Frank’s films have been nominated and screened internationally. Some of Frank’s work to date includes his short film “Every Kind of Way” for artist H.E.R, Nowness short; Crazy legs and most recently music documentary “Mas Fuerte.”

Bio: Casallina Kisakye was born in Kampala, Uganda and immigrated to the U.S. when she was 10-years-old. Her work has appeared in McSweeney’s and The New Yorker. She is currently a writer on the Showtime series “The Chi.”

“The Line” by Melisa Resch (mentored by Common and Shelby Stone)

Logline: A punk rock love story. Sparks fly between two women when they meet at a clinic defense demonstration.

Bio: Melisa Resch is a graduate of DePaul University’s Digital Cinema program, where she obtained an MS in film. She has written, directed and produced several short films. For the last two years, she worked at Freedom Road Productions as a Creative Executive, working on both film and TV projects. During her tenure, she’s worked on a variety of projects for Freedom Road including the critically acclaimed, “The Chi” for Showtime and the feature documentary, “They Fight” by director Andrew Renzi. Melisa previously served as executive assistant to Oscar, Emmy and Golden Globe-winning hip-hop artist and actor Common.

“Your Name Isn’t English” by Tazbah Rose Chavez (mentored by Taika Waititi)

Logline: Every time Tazbah steps into an Uber she is repeatedly confronted with the reality that she doesn’t exist in the minds’ of average Americans. “Your Name Isn’t English” explores the ten-minute car-ride history lessons she’s been giving for free.

Bio: Tazbah is a Los Angeles-based multi-media artist working in the disciplines of film, music, performance poetry, and artistic direction. She is Nüümü (Paiute), Diné (Navajo), and San Carlos Apache, originally from the Bishop Paiute Reservation in Payahüünadü (Bishop, Ca). She wrote and directed her first film at age 16. “Composure,” a short experimental documentary combining film, music, and spoken word which went on to be showcased at film festivals internationally. Her most recent work as a writer and poet includes writing the script for Nike N7’s Dare to Rise for Equality campaign, and as the ongoing artistic director, writer, and producer for the B. Yellowtail fashion brand’s video marketing campaigns.

“Little King” by Chelsea Winstanley (mentored by Tessa Thompson and Rachel Morrison)

Logline: When love is forbidden we sometimes do the craziest things.

Bio: Chelsea Winstanley is a filmmaker, mother of 3 and hails from the beautiful country of Aotearoa, New Zealand. She has been making films for over a decade as both a producer and director. As a producer, she screened short films in competition at Cannes, Berlin and Sundance. In 2014, she produced the cult mockumentary “What We Do In The Shadows” written and directed by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement. Last year she made her directorial debut with a film called “WARU.” It was one of 8 shorts weaved together to make a feature and all the directors were women and of Māori decent. “WARU” internationally premiered at TIFF. She is currently in post-production with a feature documentary about the incredible Māori filmmaker Merata Mita.

“October Lull” by Constance Tsang (mentored by Cary Fukunaga)

Logline: An irreverent financial thriller where the thrill is in the company you eat.

Bio: Constance Tsang is an American filmmaker living in New York. She is a graduate of New York University’s Gallatin School, where she obtained a B.A. in Individualized Studies, concentrating in Film and Critical Theory. Her previous work includes “Third Party” (2017) and “First Snow” (2018). “October Lull,” her upcoming short, is in production. She is currently a screenwriting and directing MFA candidate at Columbia University, where she will also be Richard Peña’s teaching assistant this fall 2018.

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Lena Waithe’s ‘Twenties’ Lands Pilot Pickup at TBS

Lena Waithe Tops Out 100 List, Reflects on Historic Emmy Win for ‘Master of None’

Lena Waithe seems to be doing all she can to discover and mentor diverse filmmakers.

The actress, writer and producer from such shows as Netflix’s “Master of None” and Showtime’s “The Chi” is teaming up with Fullscreen and AT&T’s Hello Lab to mentor diverse aspiring filmmakers.

“The only way change can happen is by helping to create it. And that’s exactly why I’ve invested in this mentorship program,” Waithe said in a statement. “These diverse and talented filmmakers need guidance to get them where they need to be. We’re here to help them find their place in this business and tell their story.”

Earlier this month, Waithe also joined Eva Longoria, Franklin Leonard of “The Black List” and Charles King’s production house Macro to launch an initiative to discover and advance the work of writers of color in TV.

The AT&T Hello Lab mentorship program Waithe is now a part of is in its second year. Its mission is to pair entertainment industry leaders with aspiring filmmakers from groups traditionally underrepresented in the industry.

This year the program features scripts from majority-female writers stories from often underrepresented Native American and Asian American communities.

“The stories are as deep, beautiful and amazing as the voices telling them.  It’s crucial we help find more ways to support the world getting a chance to see them,” Valerie Vargas, head of advertising and creative services at AT&T, said in a statement. “The AT&T Hello Lab Mentorship Program elevates independent voices, providing them with a large platform, and helps emerging artists navigate challenges that come with bringing a project to life by pairing them with leaders who have walked down this path before.”

Along with Waithe, other mentors this year include Common, Tessa Thompson, Taika Waititi, Cary Fukunaga, Rachel Morrison and Shelby Stone.

The filmmakers will debut their short films on the Hello Lab channel on AT&T’s DIRECTV and DIRECTV NOW later this year.

“We’re so thrilled to kick off the second year of this mentorship program with AT&T, giving a new wave of filmmakers the opportunity to bring their creative ideas to life,” said Maureen Polo, senior vice president of Fullscreen’s Brand Studio in a statement. “This effort was created with the vision of giving a voice to diverse creators in the entertainment industry, and we can’t wait to build on the success of our inaugural year. We couldn’t have done this without the support of our talented group of mentors and the rising stars participating in this year’s mentorship.”

Here’s a list of the filmmakers and their projects:

“Further Away” by Sean Frank Johnson and Casallina Kisakye (mentored by Lena Waithe)

Logline: A black woman who is institutionalized in a psych ward meets God.

Bio: Sean Frank is a London raised, New-York based filmmaker and creative director. His interest is rooted in real, relatable environments, situations and subcultures that combine cinematic compositions with inspirational stories. A graduate of both Goldsmiths and Central St Martins, Frank’s films have been nominated and screened internationally. Some of Frank’s work to date includes his short film “Every Kind of Way” for artist H.E.R, Nowness short; Crazy legs and most recently music documentary “Mas Fuerte.”

Bio: Casallina Kisakye was born in Kampala, Uganda and immigrated to the U.S. when she was 10-years-old. Her work has appeared in McSweeney’s and The New Yorker. She is currently a writer on the Showtime series “The Chi.”

“The Line” by Melisa Resch (mentored by Common and Shelby Stone)

Logline: A punk rock love story. Sparks fly between two women when they meet at a clinic defense demonstration.

Bio: Melisa Resch is a graduate of DePaul University’s Digital Cinema program, where she obtained an MS in film. She has written, directed and produced several short films. For the last two years, she worked at Freedom Road Productions as a Creative Executive, working on both film and TV projects. During her tenure, she’s worked on a variety of projects for Freedom Road including the critically acclaimed, “The Chi” for Showtime and the feature documentary, “They Fight” by director Andrew Renzi. Melisa previously served as executive assistant to Oscar, Emmy and Golden Globe-winning hip-hop artist and actor Common.

“Your Name Isn’t English” by Tazbah Rose Chavez (mentored by Taika Waititi)

Logline: Every time Tazbah steps into an Uber she is repeatedly confronted with the reality that she doesn’t exist in the minds’ of average Americans. “Your Name Isn’t English” explores the ten-minute car-ride history lessons she’s been giving for free.

Bio: Tazbah is a Los Angeles-based multi-media artist working in the disciplines of film, music, performance poetry, and artistic direction. She is Nüümü (Paiute), Diné (Navajo), and San Carlos Apache, originally from the Bishop Paiute Reservation in Payahüünadü (Bishop, Ca). She wrote and directed her first film at age 16. “Composure,” a short experimental documentary combining film, music, and spoken word which went on to be showcased at film festivals internationally. Her most recent work as a writer and poet includes writing the script for Nike N7’s Dare to Rise for Equality campaign, and as the ongoing artistic director, writer, and producer for the B. Yellowtail fashion brand’s video marketing campaigns.

“Little King” by Chelsea Winstanley (mentored by Tessa Thompson and Rachel Morrison)

Logline: When love is forbidden we sometimes do the craziest things.

Bio: Chelsea Winstanley is a filmmaker, mother of 3 and hails from the beautiful country of Aotearoa, New Zealand. She has been making films for over a decade as both a producer and director. As a producer, she screened short films in competition at Cannes, Berlin and Sundance. In 2014, she produced the cult mockumentary “What We Do In The Shadows” written and directed by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement. Last year she made her directorial debut with a film called “WARU.” It was one of 8 shorts weaved together to make a feature and all the directors were women and of Māori decent. “WARU” internationally premiered at TIFF. She is currently in post-production with a feature documentary about the incredible Māori filmmaker Merata Mita.

“October Lull” by Constance Tsang (mentored by Cary Fukunaga)

Logline: An irreverent financial thriller where the thrill is in the company you eat.

Bio: Constance Tsang is an American filmmaker living in New York. She is a graduate of New York University’s Gallatin School, where she obtained a B.A. in Individualized Studies, concentrating in Film and Critical Theory. Her previous work includes “Third Party” (2017) and “First Snow” (2018). “October Lull,” her upcoming short, is in production. She is currently a screenwriting and directing MFA candidate at Columbia University, where she will also be Richard Peña’s teaching assistant this fall 2018.

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Lena Waithe Tops Out 100 List, Reflects on Historic Emmy Win for 'Master of None'

Lena Waithe on Bringing ‘Chi’ Style to Her L.A. Writer’s Space

“The Chi” creator Lena Waithe has lived in Eagle Rock for the past three years — but oh, how her life has changed since the moment she moved in, along with her fiancé, Alana Mayo. Not only is there an Emmy statue now hidden among the books on her shelv…

“The Chi” creator Lena Waithe has lived in Eagle Rock for the past three years — but oh, how her life has changed since the moment she moved in, along with her fiancé, Alana Mayo. Not only is there an Emmy statue now hidden among the books on her shelves (for writing on the previous […]

The Importance of Leaning Into Dark Dramas During Dark Times in History (Column)

Some of the strongest television dramas are cautionary tales — giving viewers tools to stop our future from becoming a dystopia. As tough political, racial and social issues continue to divide the country and darken news headlines, it is imperative tha…

Some of the strongest television dramas are cautionary tales — giving viewers tools to stop our future from becoming a dystopia. As tough political, racial and social issues continue to divide the country and darken news headlines, it is imperative that audiences don’t look away from equally dark television. Sure, after being bombarded with Trump […]

A quiet finale ends a successful first season of The Chi

After weeks of building momentum that seemed to be leading to a reckoning between The Chi’s sordid characters, “Ease On Down The Road” is a casual finale. There aren’t any shocks or twists, nearly everything happens as one would suspect. Ronnie turns himself in. Quentin avenges Jason’s death and we finally learn the…

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After weeks of building momentum that seemed to be leading to a reckoning between The Chi’s sordid characters, “Ease On Down The Road” is a casual finale. There aren’t any shocks or twists, nearly everything happens as one would suspect. Ronnie turns himself in. Quentin avenges Jason’s death and we finally learn the…

Read more...

Brooklyn Nine-Nine returns to add much-needed levity to Sunday nights

Here’s what’s happening in the world of television for Sunday, March 18. All times are Eastern. 

Read more…

Here’s what’s happening in the world of television for Sunday, March 18. All times are Eastern. 

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‘The Chi’s Lena Waithe, Common & Cast Talk Chicagoan Authenticity And The Need For Different Black Narratives — SXSW

The Chi creator Lena Waithe, executive producer Common and cast members Jason Mitchell and Jacob Latimore took the dais in a featured session at SXSW on Monday to talk about putting an authentic spotlight on the titular city and how the Showtime drama gives a different portrayal of the Black community that isn’t often seen on television.
“We’re just being,” said Waithe of the critically acclaimed series.”We’re not tap dancing, we’re not trying to get out of the hood…

The Chi creator Lena Waithe, executive producer Common and cast members Jason Mitchell and Jacob Latimore took the dais in a featured session at SXSW on Monday to talk about putting an authentic spotlight on the titular city and how the Showtime drama gives a different portrayal of the Black community that isn’t often seen on television. “We’re just being,” said Waithe of the critically acclaimed series.”We're not tap dancing, we're not trying to get out of the hood…

The Chi sets up major conflicts as it heads into a promising finale

“Namaste Muthafucka” is a showcase of a lot of The Chi’s narrative problems in terms of pacing, but it gets a lot done. A lot of things are revealed, but none of it is particularly surprising. Tracy and Quentin’s horrific connection is revealed and it turns out Quentin is Jason’s father. This doesn’t really change…

Read more…

“Namaste Muthafucka” is a showcase of a lot of The Chi’s narrative problems in terms of pacing, but it gets a lot done. A lot of things are revealed, but none of it is particularly surprising. Tracy and Quentin’s horrific connection is revealed and it turns out Quentin is Jason’s father. This doesn’t really change…

Read more...

Lena Waithe, Common Talk ‘The Chi,’ Cultural Change and the New Black Renaissance

The entertainment industry is in the midst of a cultural transformation that is driving a new renaissance for African-American artists, Lena Waithe and others observed Friday night during a panel session for Waithe’s Showtime drama “The Chi.” Cast members and producers gathered at the DGA Theatre for an FYC event that featured “Chi” executive producer […]

The entertainment industry is in the midst of a cultural transformation that is driving a new renaissance for African-American artists, Lena Waithe and others observed Friday night during a panel session for Waithe’s Showtime drama “The Chi.” Cast members and producers gathered at the DGA Theatre for an FYC event that featured “Chi” executive producer […]

The Chi finds a compelling story in one of its quietest characters 

Even at its best, The Chi still feels like four different shows that are forced to exist within the same ecosystem. There’s a gritty inner-city drama that looks at the choices black men are forced to make under corrupt systems with Quentin, Emmett, Ronnie and Reg. Kevin, Jake, and Poppa anchor a show about the…

Read more…

Even at its best, The Chi still feels like four different shows that are forced to exist within the same ecosystem. There’s a gritty inner-city drama that looks at the choices black men are forced to make under corrupt systems with Quentin, Emmett, Ronnie and Reg. Kevin, Jake, and Poppa anchor a show about the…

Read more...

‘The Chi’ Star Yolonda Ross on Portraying a Single Mother, Helping Other Women in the Business (Video)

On Lena Waithe’s Showtime drama “The Chi,” Yolonda Ross plays a single mother, an often “thankless” role she says doesn’t get enough attention.

“It’s an epidemic, I feel, in our country. In a lot of countries,” Ross said in an interview with TheWrap. “Women have to take care of themselves — which are usually the last to get any care — the home, the kids of the kids.”

Single mothers are often asked to dedicate their lives to others, but Ross says its time for them to get the attention and respect their hard work deserves.

Also Read: ‘The Chi’ Renewed by Showtime for Season 2

“I feel there just needs to be more for women to have a rapport with other women,” she said. “And just let it be known that we do a lot of stuff on a daily basis that people just do not look at.”

Ross plays Jada on the Showtime drama, a full-time nurse, caregiver and single mother to her reckless, but charming son Emmett (Jacob Latimore). Ross joined “The Chi” when it was picked up to series, stepping in for Aisha Hinds, who played the character in the original pilot.

The actress says she owes her career to the generosity and mentorship of fellow actresses Viola Davis and Alfre Woodard, a favor she feels compelled to pass on to the next generation.

“Helping [others] is such a big thing because the business is set up in such a way where a lot of times people kind of function for self,” Ross said. “You can’t bring everybody up that way. You can’t make those major moves when you’re thinking of self. When you can include others and help others do their own thing — not take from you, but just do their own thing — we can all flourish so much more.”

Related stories from TheWrap:

‘The Chi’ Renewed by Showtime for Season 2

Showtime’s ‘The Chi’ Gets New Trailer Ahead of Premiere (Video)

Showtime Picks Up ‘The Chi,’ ‘White Famous’ to Series

On Lena Waithe’s Showtime drama “The Chi,” Yolonda Ross plays a single mother, an often “thankless” role she says doesn’t get enough attention.

“It’s an epidemic, I feel, in our country. In a lot of countries,” Ross said in an interview with TheWrap. “Women have to take care of themselves — which are usually the last to get any care — the home, the kids of the kids.”

Single mothers are often asked to dedicate their lives to others, but Ross says its time for them to get the attention and respect their hard work deserves.

“I feel there just needs to be more for women to have a rapport with other women,” she said. “And just let it be known that we do a lot of stuff on a daily basis that people just do not look at.”

Ross plays Jada on the Showtime drama, a full-time nurse, caregiver and single mother to her reckless, but charming son Emmett (Jacob Latimore). Ross joined “The Chi” when it was picked up to series, stepping in for Aisha Hinds, who played the character in the original pilot.

The actress says she owes her career to the generosity and mentorship of fellow actresses Viola Davis and Alfre Woodard, a favor she feels compelled to pass on to the next generation.

“Helping [others] is such a big thing because the business is set up in such a way where a lot of times people kind of function for self,” Ross said. “You can’t bring everybody up that way. You can’t make those major moves when you’re thinking of self. When you can include others and help others do their own thing — not take from you, but just do their own thing — we can all flourish so much more.”

Related stories from TheWrap:

'The Chi' Renewed by Showtime for Season 2

Showtime's 'The Chi' Gets New Trailer Ahead of Premiere (Video)

Showtime Picks Up 'The Chi,' 'White Famous' to Series

Lena Waithe Teams Up With Sight Unseen Pictures

“The Chi” creator Lena Waithe and her production company Hillman Grad have entered into a partnership with Sight Unseen Pictures, the financing and production company that most recently premiered the Special Jury Prize-winning “Monsters & Men” at Sundance. The deal will include developing and financing independent projects that identify and champion emerging voices currently underserved […]

“The Chi” creator Lena Waithe and her production company Hillman Grad have entered into a partnership with Sight Unseen Pictures, the financing and production company that most recently premiered the Special Jury Prize-winning “Monsters & Men” at Sundance. The deal will include developing and financing independent projects that identify and champion emerging voices currently underserved […]