Last Sunday night, celebrities and industry leaders of entertainment television were honored for their creative contributions at the 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards. Amongst the winners was Donald Glover, who was twice awarded for his FX original series ‘Atlanta’. He simultaneously earned the honor of being the first black Emmy award winner for directing a comedy – one heck of a night for the young and talented Hollywood aficionado.
‘Atlanta’ marks the dawn of a refreshed market: one that seeks to transcend the stale output of the last four decades.
Last year, I reviewed the pilot episode of ‘Atlanta’, highlighting its innovative approach to storytelling and social awareness. While I extend my sincerest congratulations to Mr. Glover, the success of ‘Atlanta’ proves more than just the brilliance of his directing and acting. To be specific, it proves that future milestones in black entertainment will absolutely need dynamic cinema.
Above and Beyond the Norm
In my opinion, ‘Atlanta’ marks the dawn of a refreshed market: one that seeks to transcend the stale output of the last four decades.
Since the early 70’s, network television has offered the same ol’ same ol’ when it comes to black entertainment: the family sitcom. I don’t intend to disparage the classics, but it seems as though black mainstream TV has been consistently monotonous. Good Times, The Jeffersons, Martin, The Cosby Show, Everybody Hates Chris, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Family Matters, The Wayans Bros., Sanford and Son, you get the idea.
The format of single stage comedy sitcoms isn't as captivating as it used to be. While some modern iterations such as ABC’s ‘Black-ish’ and FOX’s ‘Empire’ attempt to revitalize the aging structure, they too are struggling to retain an engaged audience.
In the meantime, shows like ‘Atlanta’ continue to creatively dominate even without the backing of huge legacy media platforms. The reason for this is that modern viewers crave more cultural competence. They expect comprehensive and realistic cultural representations out of production studios. And frankly, black culture is more encompassing than the ingroup dynamic of a family living room.
Black Americans yearn for a real depiction of our experience.
Shows that showcase more intersectional plots and that integrate socio-political relevance (without becoming agenda-driven soapboxes) are siphoning the viewership of primetime demographics. Titles like Power, STAR, Insecure, and Greenleaf, just to name a few, succeed beautifully in this.
Black Americans yearn for a real depiction of our experience. ‘Atlanta’ delivers on that by truly capturing the ethos of a city and a people, while maintaining the dignity, significance, and authenticity of their culture. Much of that is thanks to an all-black writing staff. But it is also thanks to their courage in defying the conventionalism of networks and offering an innovative product to the market.
Is the Film Industry Next?
The demand for original concepts can also be seen in film. The hype surrounding titles like ‘The Black Panther’ illustrates the craving for a new kind of black story. In an article from Blavity, the Marvel cinematic thriller was described as “already a game changer, two years before the release,” citing the excitement for a POC – a protagonist of color. But if we’re being honest, it’s not just that.
Like television, black storytelling on the big screen has suffered from a lack of originality. It seems like we’re limited to either another depressing reflection on the history of slavery and civil rights or the 27th installment of the Madea franchise. For what reason, I don’t know. But I do know that we are capable of venturing beyond that imaginative inhibition. I look forward to the next generation of black entertainment with avid excitement and anticipate a great surprise.