by Jasmine Sanders | via Vulture
The Chi is attempting a kind of episodic vivisection of black masculinity, from its turgid constraints and limitations to its progressions and stagnations as one traverses boyhood and manhood. But this week’s episode is a bit scattershot, sagging beneath the weight of its myriad characters. The cast has quickly become more overwhelming than kaleidoscopic, so I decided to examine “Alee” with a focus on its four principals, who could each be understood as representative of certain black male stereotypes: the hypersexed (Emmett), the burnt-out (Ronnie), the unlikely success (Brandon), and the boy (Kevin) who’s young enough to fall into any of the aforementioned.
The pilot was enlivened by the presence of Kevin and company, with the familiar, refreshingly inane antics of middle schoolers suffusing much-needed buoyancy into an otherwise dour episode. “Alee” finds much of that jejune charm extinguished with the introduction of Maisha (Genesis Denise Hale), a chubby girl-bully who’s the cousin of Kevin’s crush, Andrea. Maisha’s arc — progressing from archetypal, largely harmless antagonizer to underage sexual harasser — is the most perplexing and off-putting element of the episode.
The boys are idling in the school halls, attempting to quell Kevin’s anxieties regarding witnessing Coogie’s murder at the hands of Ronnie, when Maisha enters, shoving and threatening them. Later, with the diminutive Kevin hemmed up against a locker, Maisha reveals that she and Andrea are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and threatens to do him harm if he attempts to sully the virtues of her cousin. On his way home from school, Kevin is pursued by Ronnie, who hilariously holds his ever-present chewing stick in his mouth even as he chases the younger boy. After narrowly evading Ronnie, Kevin is once again accosted by Maisha, who tackles and straddles him. Sitting atop him, her voice gone soft, she reveals her own crush. Kevin’s face puckers, initially in terror, then repulsion. “You like my hair?” she asks, fingering a spiraled tendril. Kevin stutters a yes and Maisha, still straddling him, licks his face before departing.
It’s possible that Kevin’s reaction, his face pinched as he emits a shudder, is akin to anyone’s natural response at having their face involuntarily licked. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that the scene, and Maisha’s bullish presence in general, was animated by the collective understanding that of course, the boys would find her unattractive and repellant. Of course, she’s a sexual deviant, though she is all of 12 years old. “You like my hair?” is a perfect summation of the angst that many young black girls have felt regarding their appearances in general, their hair especially. What girl hasn’t desired for a boy to find her hair pretty, to find her pretty? What black girl hasn’t been forced to realize that so often, it’ll be boys who look like you who frequently will not?
“Alee” begins with a party, which is interrupted when Emmett’s girlfriend Keisha confronts a female partygoer for eyeing him. A party scene or gathering in a TV series presents an opportunity for the show makers to really delve into the characters and their settings: The music they choose, how they move to it, and the décor and layout of an apartment have the possibility to be deeply revelatory and engaging. That this opportunity was squandered for the sake of a cringeworthy, neck-rolling confrontation between two black women is a little disappointing — and it represents a continuation of what I felt about the pilot’s refusal (or inability) to render black women as realistic, multidimensional characters.
Click HERE to read the rest of the recap, “Alee (S1 E2)”