All Commentary
Friday, September 9, 2016

“Atlanta” Delivers Cultural Enlightenment and Black Excellence

"Atlanta" humanizes the black experience in ways that defy the narratives of both ends of the political spectrum. It shows the black experience as nothing more or less than the human experience.

This week, the premiere episode of the new FX original series “Atlanta” aired. Let me tell you, I haven’t experienced such an accurate portrayal of the black experience on a screen since, coincidentally, the movie ATL (a 2006 drama starring native Atlanta rapper T.I.).

I don’t know how mainstream this show is. But for me, a 22-year old black man living in Atlanta who absolutely loves FX productions, missing this premiere was not an option. And I’m glad I considered it so, because this show is incredible. It stars Donald Glover as Earnest, “Earn,” a young father who’s pursuing a chance to escape poverty by managing his cousin’s rap career.

Neither patronizing nor demonizing, the viewer sees the black experience as no more nor less than the human experience.

If you’d like a more in-depth bio, here is the show’s About page. I don’t plan to bore you guys with a bowtie analysis of this show. I’m just going to tell you why I believe it’s going to be a homerun, not only with the black community, but also with demographics who have any association with black culture.

The Story Is Real

According to the official website for the show, “Atlanta” isn’t based on a true story. Even if it’s not, it feels like it is. The plot line surrounding Earn is something that I can relate to, because I know people in real life who are living this story right now. They must toggle between tending to a fragile family life, struggling to achieve professional success in traditional industries, and trying to preserve relationships with a social coterie, all while working hard to create a life that’s better than what currently exists for them and their loved ones. The story doesn’t rely on overly exaggerated drama or a quasi-fairytale state of affairs like Tyler Perry movies. Nor does it devalue black culture as a mere amalgam of violence, degeneracy, and poor life choices.

This show has humanized the black experience in ways that defy the usual narratives of both Right and Left. Neither patronizing nor demonizing, the viewer sees the black experience as no more nor less than the human experience. Perhaps that doesn’t sound earth-shattering, but in today’s polarized political environment, nothing could be more important.

The Humor Is Definitely Not Lackluster

There were so many laugh-out-loud references to the black community in episode one. Two worth noting have to be the proper honoring of the sacred “Lemon Pepper WET” and the cameo appearance of the infamous Nation of Islam brotha in the brown suit that sells bean pies on Sunday. If these references happen to leave you lost, don’t feel disparaged. “Atlanta” offers great dialogue in the form of sardonic family exchanges and impaired confabulation. To put it simply, you will find something relatable in this show regardless of who you are.

What I like most about the comedic elements in this show is that they’re not like other mainstream Hollywood imitations. There’s no over-the-top surreal stereotypes, and everything seems realistic. In fact, not only does it seem real, it seems relevant, like something me and my patnas would go through over the weekend.

When we craft our own destiny via spontaneous liberty, we flourish in all facets of our lives.

Many are awarding the credit for this achievement to the fact that this show is comprised of a black writing team and a black cast. While I’m sure that plays a role, I’m not going to let race overshadow the brilliance and talent of all those associated with the production of this series. This show is awesome on pure merit. The fact that it’s representing black folks is just a bonus. Though the comedy is impressive, that’s not where this show shines brightest.

The RIGHT Way to Approach Cultural Awareness

There were countless high points of social awareness relevant not only to the black community, but to the overall current state of America. That also contributes to the show’s authenticity – they’re not looking to misrepresent problems, but are also not interested in trivializing them and pretending they don’t exist.

Here’s a list of a few issues I noticed they touched on:

  1. Fatherless homes and the praise of improper idols by youth due to lack of family structure.
  2. Irrational black-on-black crime, usually the result of petty disputes and toxic valuation of pride.
  3. Homophobic and transphobic attitudes, which are common in general, but higher among black populations.
  4. Mental health and the dismissive approach society at large has towards addressing it.
  5. Disintegrated relations between blacks and police due to engagements with enforcers of illiberal laws and the occasional instances of police brutality that’s associated.

There are many more highlights beyond these, which is why I’ll once again recommend that you watch it.

The Integral Importance of Black Individualism and Free Enterprise

There truly is something like a “black experience” in America, just as there is a Polish, Islamic, Chinese, Brazilian, and rural experience. To try to understand it, appreciate it, and have special sympathy for its peculiarities is a necessary step toward seeing the special culture of any group, organized along any lines, as being a variant of a universal human problem.

And herein we find the solution that this country has so long sought in the presence of a heterogenous population living in a single nation. The answer is always and everywhere the same: human beings must find the answers for themselves without top-down impositions stemming from unsophisticated caricatures of people and their problems.

Individualist pursuits are what allow us to find happiness, fulfillment, and betterment. The entrepreneurial attitude exists within all of us, not only occupationally, but intellectually. Throughout this episode, there was no mention of Hillary Clinton or the State in general being necessary for the people to enjoy passions, find love, or realize ambitions. There was only a desire to live free on one’s own terms and to operate via opportunities provided by liberalism and free markets. This is something that I feel has, unfortunately, become lost among black communities.

Between your brother, cousin, spouse, or coworker, one of them has a mixtape.

Black people seem to have forgotten how well we perform if given freedom. Opportunities we create for ourselves translate into structure, innovation, and, above all, wealth. When we craft our own destiny via spontaneous liberty, we flourish in all facets of our lives. When we allow our destiny to be controlled and regulated by politicians and central planners posing as altruistic representatives of the people, we become dependent, isolated, and left behind by those who didn’t sell their freedom to the state.

The Glory of Atlanta

Atlanta is a city where people still hold the tradition of intellectual freedom, Blacks included. We embrace diversity in people and personalities. We market our culture rather than isolate it. We respect hustle and ambition. We have cookouts with family, smoke an occasional gram or two with friends, and every day we continue to work for the pursuit of prosperity.

Coincidentally, that often includes trying to make a million dollars come up off of your cousin’s mixtape, something that any Atlanta resident can attest to. Between your brother, cousin, spouse, or coworker, one of them has a mixtape. Can’t knock ‘em for being honest.

The show “Atlanta” captured these qualities of my city and my people with such quintessential accuracy and honesty that I could do nothing but offer applause for the producers of this masterpiece as the ending credits rolled down the screen. Though only the pilot episode has been revealed to us so far, it’s my belief that FX and Mr. Glover really hit a homerun with this one.

And like millions of other fans who swarmed Twitter opening night to give digital ovations, I too am patiently looking forward to next week’s presumably awesome episode.

  • Taleed J. Brown lives in Atlanta and hosts a YouTube channel.