The characters that fill out Showtime’s “The Chi,” which looks at the lives of a mix of people living in the South Side of Chicago, are the kind that often get truncated into stereotypes to boost the stakes of a police case or legal proceeding on television shows: the single black mom working a full-time job while trying to keep her kid on the right path; the black teen who finds himself at the wrong place at the wrong time and is shot and killed; the parents and loved ones grappling with the ramifications of gun violence.
“The Chi,” though, dares viewers to get to know the people beyond the headlines that have come to define their community. And that’s what had actress Yolonda Ross hooked.
“It’s not the stereotypes and cliches,” Ross said when she recently paid a visit to the L.A. Times video studio. “It will give you what is in the headlines — as far as a shooting, or this or that…. But it then shows you how people get into situations…. It shows people who are viewing it that we’re more alike than we think we are. It’s not just like, all black people who [live] in the South Side are getting shot or shooting each other. People are working to make their lives work just like everybody else is. Everybody is trying to have that American Dream.”
In the series, created by Emmy winner Lena Waithe (“Master of None”), Ross plays Jada, a full-time nurse and single mother doing what she can to raise a responsible son (played by Jacob Latimore). For Ross, whose other credits include Netflix’s “The Get Down” and Lifetime’s music biopic “Whitney,” the role of Jada presented the opportunity to play a woman she recognized.
“She’s one of my sisters, she’s friends of mine, she’s friends’ mothers that I know,” Ross said. “She’s that person that we all know and are friends with or work with. [She] could be my mother, you know what I mean? She’s the average woman that’s out there … and in this case, trying to raise a young black boy in this climate. That’s a lot. It really could be the kind of thing of life and death. You don’t know what’s going to happen once they leave that door.”
The conversation didn’t stop there. Ross touched on the show’s role as political art and the influence shooting in Chicago had on her performance. Watch the full interview below.