Funerals are always ripe with unfiltered truth. The air of finality that permeates the room creates an environment where no one there is viewed as themselves, but only in relation to the deceased. There’s no reason in hiding the truth in a space that reminds you of your own mortality. That can be unifying, but, as evidenced in this week’s episode of The Chi, it can also reveal the pain in previously hidden certainties.
This episode centers on Kevin dealing with the sudden death of his father from the previous episode. Before Kevin’s mother Nina (Tyla Abercrumbie) and her girlfriend step foot in the funeral, Kevin and Kiesha’s (Birgundi Baker) aunt scolds her for bringing her girlfriend to her ex-husband’s funeral after, she claims, Nina led to his death by leaving him. It’s an emotionally-charged scene that starts the episode but gets little to no visible reaction from Kevin.
Kevin utters no more than nine words for the entire first half of the episode, leaving actor Alex R. Hibbert to convey the pain surrounding Kevin’s father’s death with just his face. While staring at his father lying in the casket, Kevin never shed a tear but, you can see his cheeks and eyes quiver as if to block those tears or contain a bubbling rage. David J. Schonfeld, MD, formerly of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center established that the bereavement process for older kids, at times, involves a reluctance to discuss the death with adults if they see the adults stressed out about the death. Instead, they talk it out with their friends or peers, which is exactly how Kevin dealt with his estranged father’s passing.
After seeing Kiesha barrage his mother with harsh criticism in the kitchen following the funeral, you can see a flustered Kevin searching through his mind for answers before hastily deciding to leave the apartment to meet up with Jake and Papa. It’s only then, with his friend’s ears on his concerns and marijuana in his system, that Kevin begins to unpack the tangled emotions of losing his dad. As he rattles off thoughts about his father not looking how he remembers him, if his dead father is angry with him for not being around and where his father’s spirit is now, you can tell those were the thoughts behind his stoic demeanor at the funeral.
The most emotionally taxing reckoning with the pain of the truth happens in one of the most sacred places in the black community: a barber’s chair. Brandon, his big brother figure who we find out also lost his father, tells Kevin the best thing to do when dealing with such a death is to hold onto the memories you have of them. That’s when Kevin begins crying uncontrollably. Knowing that Kevin’s dad only exists in memories that he limited due to reluctance to see him while he was alive weighs heavy on Kevin’s chest—heavy enough to break the proverbial levees in Kevin’s mind that have held back his tears. For two characters that have watched someone get shot and dealt with the aftermath, this is the most poignant and emotionally arresting scene they have ever been apart of together so far in The Chi series because of what it says about black masculinity.
The camera in that scene hangs around longer than usual as Brandon cut Kevin’s hair even while the young man openly cries. The camera even recedes until we are peering into this tearful moment through the doorway, almost as if we’re peeking into something we’re not supposed to see. That’s because in the black community, black boys’ tears have been stigmatized as weak and unbecoming of a black man. Black toddlers have been murdered by a parent simply for crying. But, black barber shops have always been safe spaces for black men to speak their truths in ways they may never express outside of the shop. The image of Kevin crying as a fellow black man cuts his hair on national TV screens was a great way of dispelling society’s monolithic views of black men.
Kevin’s situation wasn’t the only hard truth that dominated this episode. In theory, police are there to protect and serve the community by following rules meant to curtail any excessive abuse of power. The fact is that is not always the case. Before detective Toussaint and detective Cruz (Armando Riesco) burst into one of the 63rd Street gang’s trap houses, their superior explains proper protocol. Yet, as she’s explaining how they need to knock before entering and not to touch the suspects or the drugs, we see Toussaint and other officers doing the exact opposite of what they were instructed. Their superior even says, “I know about that renegade black site sh*t y’all run on the west side,” already reading Toussaint’s mind..
In 2015, reports surfaced that the Chicago Police Department ran a black site—an off-the-books interrogation facility—at a warehouse on the west side of Chicago, just as mentioned in the show. Those arrested and sent to the black site would allegedly be denied access to attorney and severely beaten by police, with people as young as 15 years old being held without legal counsel between 12 and 24 hours. One of the detainees at the secretive black site went so far as to compare it to “interrogation facilities they use in the Middle East,” in an interview with The Guardian.
It’s always disheartening to know that the stigmatization of the tears of black boys and the almost tyrannical rule of local police over communities are realities for so many in America. Thankfully, there’s a show like The Chi that makes millions of people reckon with that truth in grave details every single Sunday night.