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Photograph: Courtesy of Elizabeth Sisson for Showtime

The cast of 'The Chi' talks Chicago, combating narratives and the best places to eat

Ahead of the show's season six finale, cast members and Chicagoans Hannaha Hall and Jason Weaver look back.

Isaiah Reynolds
Written by
Isaiah Reynolds

Since 2018, The Chi has followed a fictional group of Chicagoans on the city's South Side. 

From restaurant owners to elementary school lovebirds to local politicians, the Showtime series depicts the ins-and-outs of a community bound not only by geography, but a need for connection. Filmed on-site in Chicago, The Chi stars a large cast, including Jacob Latimore, Luke James, Alex Hibbert, Yolanda Ross and Chicagoans Jason Weaver and Hannaha Hall. The show has also featured guests like Iman Shumpert, Lala Anthony and Vic Mensa.

After six drama-packed seasons, a pandemic production halt and a months-long SAG and WGA strike, The Chi has covered a lot of ground. Part two of season six will premiere May 10 on Paramount+. Produced by hometown heroes Lena Waithe (Master of None, Queen & Slim) and three-time Grammy award winner Common, The Chi sets out to humanize characters and bring a level of authenticity from the producers’ own experiences.

“I wanted to take people that I knew growing up, and my family members as well, and write them in a way that I know them,” creator and executive producer Waithe told Backstage in 2021.

Chicagoans aren't just behind the camera—they're in front of it as well. Time Out Chicago spoke with real-life locals Hall and Weaver about their experiences on screen. Hall, a Marquette Park native, has had recurring appearances on The Chi since season one and been on Chicago Med, too, while Weaver joined the cast in season four and rose to fame as the singing voice for young Simba in The Lion King (1994) and for playing a young Michael Jackson in The Jacksons: An American Dream (1992).

Here’s everything the two had to say about the upcoming season, what it’s like to film at home and, of course, the best places to grab a bite to eat in Chicago.

Photograph: Courtesy of Elizabeth Sisson for Showtime

On overcoming narratives:

Both Hall and Weaver talked about the balance of navigating real Chicago issues while combating the conventional depictions of their hometown by the mainstream media. While the show does not sugarcoat the impact of violence on the city, shoutouts to local culinary institutions or imagery of iconic Chicago streets are a breath of fresh air amid the frequent, negative portrayals. 

Weaver: “As a Chicagoan, there's a distinctive type of connection that I have telling these stories because I want people to see the other side.”

Hall: “I’m a huge advocate for Chicago, so I’m going to always speak on the positive beauty of the city.”

In 2021, the New York Times surveyed nearly 60,000 online readers in regard to cities with the highest murder rates. 53% of respondents incorrectly guessed that Chicago had the highest murder rate in the country, and 31% thought it was No. 3. In actuality, only 8% got it right by ranking the city at No. 7. The source of these misconceptions about crime trends points to politicians and media, often using the city as a buzzword for the perceived flaws of liberal-leaning politics. In order to fight back against mischaracterizations, creative productions set in Chicago, including The Chi and HBO’s South Side, are often vocal about the task of dynamic representation.

Weaver: “It is our duty and responsibility to help tell a truthful and honest story. Being from Chicago, I think we handle that with extreme care.”

On the upcoming second half of the season:

Hall: “We're bringing some grittiness to it that people have been asking for. So our writers are giving the fans what they're asking for. And I think that's beautiful when we give you what you asked for and to see how receptive you are to that.” 

Weaver: “What I'm excited about is for the audience to see these performances that have been put up the second half of the season.” 

Photograph: Courtesy of Elizabeth Sisson for Showtime

On the success of the show:

Part one of The Chi’s sixth season, which premiered in 2023, was welcomed with open arms by viewers—the opening six episodes saw a 65% increase in streaming viewership on Paramount+ and was lauded as one of the top premieres on the platform

Hall: “I want to express just gratitude and appreciation that we survived all this, from the strike to the pandemic. You know, six seasons is huge for a Black TV drama. It connects me more to what we're doing. I’m so connected to this show and just trying to do our best to make this run as long as possible because it means a lot that we're still here and people still want to hear from us and see what's happening.”

Weaver: “We've had Black cinematographers, [directors of photography], writers, our producers and directors. To have an opportunity to be a part of a show like that for six seasons, to survive a pandemic and a serious strike … that was a really big deal. But our audience remained engaged with us. It was like the level of engagement on social media with the fans just escalated and went to another level. And that’s what kept the show running.”

On their favorite places to eat in Chicago:

Hall: “Don’t get us started!”

Weaver: “We all love Harold’s, Portillo’s, Italian Fiesta we have on set sometimes.”

Hall: “I love the West Loop—Au Cheval, La Josie.

Weaver: “As a cast, we always go out to dinner together and try to support different restaurants, especially Black-owned restaurants like Bronzeville Winery.

Hall:Rickette’s for barbeque, Mimi’s Tacos in the South Loop.”

Weaver: “You got Lem’s BBQ on 75th.”

Hall: "I-57 [Smoke House], that’s on the South Side.”

Weaver: “Shoutout to Brown Sugar Bakery, shoutout to Dock’s [Great Fish].

Hall: “It’s a restaurant hub, everything here is good.”

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