By now, you should have watched the inaugural episode of The Chi on Showtime. Emmy winner Lena Waithe has effectively created a love letter to Chicago and a drama series worth watching. Waithe, a queer woman of color, is exactly what the film and television industry needs — more people with diverse identities moving stories forward in behind-the-scenes leadership roles. Even with only one episode of the series under our belts, The Chi is already producing desired results: a gripping story, a rich setting, and perhaps, most importantly, a truly diverse cast. The characters represent people of different ages and races, reflecting a world — even on the Southside of Chicago — that is full of people with all different kinds of identities. And, keeping this ethos in mind, there was one scene in the premiere that particularly stood out. I’m not sure how important it will be to the overall plot, but it meant something, and you might have missed it. If you haven’t watched the first episode yet, stop reading now. Spoilers are coming.
The Chi is about a murder that has ripple effects in a neighborhood on the Southside. Ronnie’s (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) son was the casualty of that crime, and he’s out for both answers and vengeance at the request of the deceased’s mother. One of his first stops is see a local drug dealer by the name of Reg (Barton Fitzpatrick). One of Reg’s lookout boys has information about what happened the night Ronnie’s son was killed. However, as Ronnie approaches Reg on the sidewalk, there is another character getting into the passenger seat of a fancy car just a few feet away, and she appears to be trans.
Although uncredited in the pilot, it seems clear this woman knows Reg and has taken up her seat in the car to give him and Ronnie privacy. She keeps her eyes on the two men while casually snacking. The camera lingers on her as she descends into the passenger seat with her wig and makeup in impeccable condition. It’s a glamour shot if there ever was one. Even though it only lasted a few seconds, this was not just a filler shot. Viewers were meant to see this woman.
Black people exist all over the gender spectrum, despite attempts to make trans and gender non-conforming people invisible. It may seem insignificant, but it’s kind of a big deal that the presence of someone who may or may not be trans did not become a distraction to the issue at hand, nor was she meant to signify Reg’s “otherness” in some form. She was simply part of that block and that community in the moment.
If these are the kinds of details we can look forward to, Waithe really has something special on her hands. We need to see trans people as just that, people. They don’t always need to be postured in front of others as poster kids and advocates for LGBTQ+ issues. Nor should their entire existence be contextualized in relation to someone else. They are our siblings, parents, children, friends, lovers, and coworkers. If this simple scene was any indication, Waithe won’t let us forget that.