atlanta

Atlanta shows us what it’s like to be black & under the middle class in 2016.

The most poignant conversation in the pilot episode of Atlanta happens on a bus. It should be an insignificant setting, a place where you want to be as along with your thoughts as humanly possible. Instead, we see Earnest “Earn” Marks (Donald Glover) clutching his daughter as a man with a bowtie sits next to him. Without warning, the man speaks. Glover peers over to recognize whether or not the words were meant for him. Soon after, he just lets all of his anxiety and doubt out in one twenty-one word statement.

“I just keep losing. Are some people supposed to lose? Are we here to just make it easier for the winners?”

It’s resignation towards insignificance. The feeling of young black men across the country can be rooted in this and in a sense, they can see themselves within the world of Atlanta. The mystic man then offers Earn a bite of his nutella-spread sandwich and the scene goes in the way of David Lynch parallels. Atlanta is not just a story about Earn’s constant battle with the dead end, it’s all of ours.

The Land Where 10,000 Dreams Either Live Or Die

The constant joke about Atlanta as a city is that its a place of rebirth. It’s still anchored by tradition, the coif and seance of the South but it’s where everyone flocks to adjust. Rap music is fertile ground with a new viral star emerging seemingly every week. Beauticians, exotic dancers, Waffle House, Krystal Burgers. Campbell Road, OutKast, Future. Young Thug. Opulence, decadence, Blackness. Atlanta is both nouveau rich and packed with enough nom de guerre to outline a Key & Peele sketch. Atlanta is seen as magical and also the last stop. A reverse Great Migration has taken place with the city and in Glover’s ideal – that place features almost every facet of black life you can imagine.

Not just the black life taught via Worldstar Hip-Hop videos and dance crazes to white people, the actual life people see on a daily occurrence. Where dreams either live or die by choices and decisions. Being young and black comes born with dreams and aspirations hitched along to our skin. We’re asked to tolerate the world and also coexist within it. Watching the pilot episode last night, I couldn’t help but be reminded of two staples of Atlanta, old and new.

The old Atlanta is Cee-Lo Green’s show stealing verse on “Git Up, Git Out” from 1994’s Southernplayalisticcadillacmuzik. The new is how instant fame changes everything around you.

“I agree, I try to be the man I’m ‘posed to be, but negativity is all you seem to ever see,” Cee-Lo rapped in 1994. It’s the dynamic Earn deals with while staying with the mother of his child and the two of them asked to combat reality. Earn’s sales job at the airport (I’d guess Hartsfield) won’t be enough to cover all of the rent. Or provide the life he wants for the both of them. So they coexist as partners, one certain that the future will eventually change and the other cautious in its arrival.

Adjust In The World

The larger story told within the show’s first two episodes is identity. Earn’s being made aware that his cousin (Brian Tyree Henry) is an aspiring rapper makes him shift gears a bit. Their relationship is initially strained due to distance and quirkiness. Their third, a quixotic weed dealer named Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) offers a comedic sense of gravity. While both Earn and his cousin Paper Boi are tasked to adjust to life, it’s Darius that centers them both out.

Fame starved zombies, police brutality, mental health within the prison system, Atlanta’s complex views on sexuality, being a Black man white people are safe to use the N-word around. Each and every one of those topics gets broached within the first two episodes, offering an intersectionality that it usually viewed through a limited lens on television. The sounds of Atlanta are just as important. Dialect and slang are just as country and yet as beautiful. OJ Da Juiceman’s “No Hook”, Migos’ “One Time”, Yo Gotti’s “Law” all arrive to soundtrack select scenes. After a sobering close, we’re left to touch upon Bill Wither’s “Grandma’s Hands”, echoing that even if certain things change, some still remain.

Earn’s stuck in a middle point. A one year break from Princeton has turned into three and all he sees around him is opportunity. It’s the story of so many young blacks, either still at home working towards that end goal or struggling to find comfort. Atlanta is a nuanced black experience – and arguably the most familiar one that I’ve seen yet portrayed.

Watch the pilot episode of Atlanta below.

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