The Chi and Atlanta Provide a Nuanced Look at Black Life


by Ayanna Jacobs-El

We are currently in the new “Golden Age” of Television. With a myriad of channels and access to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, the demand for engaging shows is at an all-time high. Many of the shows of today don’t follow the tired and predictable formulas that have dominated the decades before. Modern shows provide dynamic storytelling and multi-dimensional characters from various walks of life. Additionally, more actors of color are seen starring in shows that are written and produced by individuals who look like them. Two shows that are currently making waves and serving up some fantastic storylines are The Chi and Atlanta.

PHOTO: Lena Waithe taken by Kirk McKoy

The Chi, released on Showtime in January, is created by Chicago native Lena Waithe and delves into the interconnected lives of residents living on the city’s Southside. In the media, the Southside of Chicago is almost always presented in a negative light with stories about ruthless gang violence and drugs. What isn’t represented in the media is that regular, hardworking people also make up these communities, and the reasons behind the violence are often never given much explanation. The Chi is a breath of fresh air because it presents the intricacies of life in the Southside in a non-stereotypical manner.

The Chi’s premise follows the stories of several young, black men, and according to a recent New York Time’s article, Waithe’s mission “is to show these young black men are not born with a gun in their hand. These are kids who come out with all the promise and hope that any other kid does. I wanted to humanize them and show that their lives are valid.” Her mission is definitely being achieved.


Donald Glover‘s hit FX show Atlanta returned for its long-awaited second season on March 1st. The show follows Earn (Donald Glover) and his cousin Alfred, who raps under the stage name “Paper Boi” (Brian Tyree Henry), as they try to find success in Atlanta’s rap scene. Earn, a Princeton dropout, is struggling at a dead end job, but sees an opportunity out, by managing his cousin’s rap career. Like The Chi, Atlanta shows real-life depictions of black men and how they navigate the world.

Atlanta depicts two cousins attempting to overcome the struggles and roadblocks that are placed in their lives, while also providing an air of comedy and absurdity that isn’t often seen in stories like these. With regard to “Paper Boi,” it shifts the narrative, showing that all rappers aren’t hoodlums or gang bangers, but young men who want to achieve a better standard of life for themselves and their families. With Earn, the show illuminates a positive representation of resilience and determination to try to improve his current situation despite the challenges he faces.


The more diversity present on both the small and big screens helps to break down the stereotypical constructs that are too often perpetuated in the media. These new additions to television programming showcase the underrepresented stories of marginalized communities to those who may only have negative ideas about them. Shows like The Chi and Atlanta also allow minority viewers to see their lives and experiences reflected by characters that look like them.



About the Author

Ayanna Jacobs-El
Ayanna Jacobs-El is a composer, producer, songwriter, singer, alto and baritone saxophonist, and DJ dual majoring in Contemporary Writing and Production and Professional Music with a minor in Writing for TV and New Media. You can learn more about Ayanna and hear her music by visiting