The Chi Star Tiffany Boone on Dumping Flat Irons and Embracing Her Natural Hair
No city is having a bigger month in pop culture than Chicago. After all, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West did just name their newborn daughter after the windy city. And Showtime's recently premiered series The Chi has us as glued to our screens as KimYe's youngest. Created by Master of None star Lena Waithe and executive produced by Common, the drama follows a group of South Side residents and the friendships, romances, and ever-present violence that shapes their lives.
The series is a passion project for its stars—and one that took a while to get off the ground. “I first read the original script for The Chi about two or three years ago, and I was immediately obsessed with it,” says Tiffany Boone, 30, who stars as Jerrika, an educated and well-to-do go-getter trying to keep her less privileged boyfriend on the path to success. “It tells a story about the South Side from a very human point of view. There are so many headlines about all of the murders taking place, but you never get to see the humanity behind these stories. You don’t get to see the complexities of these dark situations and the people who are just trying to survive from day to day. The Chi lets you fall in love with these people and feel empathy for them, and it shows the light in the darkness.” Scroll down for our full chat with Boone, and catch The Chion Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime.
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How do you relate to your character, Jerrika? Playing Jerrika was a perfect fit because she felt so close to me and my real friends and family members. She’s very strong and pretty stubborn. She’s loving and protective in this relationship that she’s in. She’s the biggest supporter of her boyfriend, but she’s not going to put up with any crap. She’s very career oriented, too. I’m all of those things. We’re different in the sense that Jerrika comes from an area on the South Side of Chicago called Hyde Park—it’s a more affluent area of the South Side where the University of Chicago is and the Obamas actually had a house. There are a lot more resources in that area, so Jerrika comes from a well-off background. I do not—I was raised by a single mother in Baltimore. I don’t come from money. In that regard, I think her outlook is a little different than mine. But at the end of the day, we’re both young black women trying to start our careers, and we’re both passionate about our relationships and our families.
How does The Chi offer a three-dimensional take on Chicago's South Side? Honestly, we are overwhelmed with negative news every single day—and not just about places like Chicago. It’s hard to really truly care about stories because there’s so much all at once, you don’t even know where to focus your attention. For a city like Chicago, when all people are hearing about is the murders, it’s easier to just bypass it because people don’t know how to help or what they can do. A series like The Chi shows so many different sides of young love and kids growing up in Chicago, and I think people will see themselves in that even if they’re not from the inner city or have never lost someone to gun violence.
Is this solely a Chicago story? The thing is, Chicago is uniquely Chicago, but we have a lot of cities facing similar situations. I’m from Baltimore—which actually has a higher murder rate than Chicago—and then there’s Detroit, New Orleans, South Central LA. There are all of these places where people are impoverished and stuck in situations that often lead to a lot of terrible, senseless murders. In showing this side of Chicago, I hope people are moved to help out and push their resources wherever they can and wherever they want to. I hope people’s empathy grows, however that might manifest. That might mean befriending someone who’s different from you or, at the very least, showing compassion for them. My biggest hope is that people volunteer, donate, and do whatever they can do to help so that these situations can be less and less.
Was Lena Waithe's involvement a draw for you? Lena being a part of it and being from Chicago, obviously that gives us a stamp of approval already. And then Common rides so hard for that city, too. The things he does there are amazing. When you’re with the two of them in Chicago, everyone is obsessed with them. People are constantly yelling for them and asking to take a picture with them. A major reason that most of us signed on to do the show is definitely because of Lena. We all really believe in her voice, and I think she has a really long and great legacy ahead of her.
Does it feel more empowering to work on a show created by a woman? It does! She won the Emmy [for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for Master of None] while we were shooting. She became the first black, queer woman to win an Emmy for writing for a comedy. That’s incredible! It’s amazing to be a woman in this industry right now because we’re breaking down doors and we’re about to take over. Lena started that for us, and we’re all just trying to run with it.
You also make your own rules, especially when it comes to your beauty routine. Yes! Three years ago, I stopped straightening my hair and putting any heat to it. I was just over putting in all of the work—not to say that natural hair isn’t a lot of work, because it is, but I was over damaging my hair and doing weaves. It’s a lot of pressure on your head, and I honestly didn’t feel like my authentic self. That’s not to take anything away from other black women who straighten their hair or get weaves done; we should be able to do whatever we want. But for me, I felt like I was being more authentically myself wearing my hair natural. So when I’m not wearing protective styles, my everyday routine is just to wash and go. I wash my hair, put leave-in conditioner, and just go about my business, which is great. I pretty much swear by Kinky Curly’s Knot Today leave-in conditioner. I don’t even want to know how much money I’ve spent on that, but that’s always my go-to. I’m doing some protective styling at the moment because my hair was out and natural for the entirety of us filming, and sometimes you need to take a break, so I have it in blonde faux locs right now. But it’s fun to switch it up.
Why was that an important change for you? When I was straightening my hair and getting weaves, I was trying to live up to this image that I felt Hollywood had for black women. Your hair had to be straight in order to be sexy and commercially beautiful, as well as to get the “any ethnicity” roles that anyone can supposedly go out for. I just didn’t believe that. All my other friends were natural, and every time I saw a black woman on the street with her hair natural, I was like, “Oh my gosh, she’s gorgeous.” There is that moment when you’re scared to make that leap to go natural, and I think every girl thinks, “What are my curls going to be like? Am I still going to feel sexy? Am I still going to feel feminine?” And it is a struggle, but I feel so much more confident now. By being a young, educated, career-oriented black women who wears heels and a pencil skirt everyday and has her little afro on this show, I’m hoping that little black girls will see that and say, “I can do that. I don’t have to straighten my hair or put a perm in my hair. I can wake up just the way I am and be enough.” It’s definitely a part of my message and what I stand for.
What’s the best hair advice you’ve been given? All my friends went natural before me, so I had a lot of help. But you really have to learn your own texture, because every woman has a different texture. Even with tips from friends and hairstylists, it’s really all about how dealing with and wearing your own hair. You have to make your own process. My friends will tell me how to do a twist-out, or how to do a braid-out and I’ll try it, but it doesn’t work. All I can really do is a wash-and-go, but all that another friend of mine can do is a twist-out. It’s all about discovering how you feel your best, and the best advice you can give a girl who’s going natural is telling her that it takes time. It takes time to get used to it, and it takes time to learn your hair. It’s going to be a little bit of work, but once you get it, it’s so worth it.