“A Glimmer of Hope: Donald Glover and the new black creatives”

Isaiah Chapman

November 29, 2017

Cultural representation in television and entertainment has been an issue for decades. Entertainment industries have a significant influence on how minorities are universally perceived. Even though, black people have a substantial impact on pop culture in America; the black community is still often underrepresented or misrepresented in the media and entertainment industries. However, there is a glimmer of hope for our misrepresented people. Donald Glover’s FX series Atlanta is a prime example of a successful television show that represents Atlanta and its rich black culture. To the surprise of many, Atlanta is breeding talented black creatives that are forming a community that is growing and thriving by the day. The city is home to a bustling black entertainment mecca made up of young creatives that substantially influence American culture, and the success of the television show Atlanta reflects this. The show has gained massive critical acclaim, and it features an all-black cast filled with up and coming talent. The show’s soundtrack features mainly black artists, including the Migos, who are also at the forefront of this new black culture wave in America. The New York Times states that there is a “new black group of creatives who are reshaping American popular culture through their unique lens.” Despite all this achievement and awareness, the majority of people are still unaware of the issue of the lack of positive and accurate cultural representation of the black community in television and entertainment. The image of black people in entertainment is an

issue that is important to those within the cultural group, but it is often not widely addressed by public agents. This issue is usually irrelevant to people that do not view cultural representation as an important matter. However, Donald Glover’s television show Atlanta created a likable, humorous, and realistic portrayal of life for a black man in the city of Atlanta. The television show also helped to make the city much more relevant to people all over the country in an honest and vivid way. The television show Atlanta and its success prove that black creatives, particularly in the city of Atlanta, are taking American culture by storm. Although black people have often been misrepresented or underrepresented in media and entertainment, Donald Glover’s television show Atlanta tastefully shows the cultural impact and great creative influence that black people provide America. The show Atlanta does a great job at culturally representing black people in television and its success proves that the city of Atlanta is an influential entertainment mecca.

Morris stated, “Donald J. Trump has indulged a fondness for the equation of black life and hell: Happiness is scarce, and misery, poverty and violence afflict all. That’s a certain white man’s view of black life, as seen on his TV set — in 1989, when the Huxtables were the only prominent African-Americans visible amid proliferating news images of “dangerous” black people. Television in 2016, … both rebukes and complicates that dehumanizing assessment. And the show doing that …at the moment, is “Atlanta.” Donald Glover’s FX series Atlanta paints a realistic portrait of the life of a young black male in the city of Atlanta. Earn Marks, played by Donald Glover himself, is a Princeton University dropout who is trying to get his drug-dealing cousin, Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles’, rap career off the ground. Darius, Earn’s right-hand companion, is played by Keith Stanfield, an actor who also had roles in popular black films such as Dope, Straight Outta Compton, and Get Out. The series follows the everyday lives and

adventures of Earn, Paper Boi, and Darius as they navigate through life in Atlanta while trying to help Paper Boi reach stardom. Earn is motivated by the need to improve his own life and his daughter’s life. Paper Boi lives by and has been raised by the streets. These two main characters have their distinct differences but are also alike in many ways. Paper Boi and Earn’s characters can help the audience observe two different black men living in Atlanta. The FX series portrays similarities and differences between the two men by showing how they interact with each other and the world around them. We get to see so many different sides of these characters. At times the audience will see a compassionate, warm side of Earn when he is doing things like waking up in the morning with his on and off girlfriend, Van, or when he is with his young daughter, Lotti. At times we’ll see a confused or even lost side of Paper Boi when he is maneuvering through the maze of fame. Atlanta depicts a concise portrayal of these young black men because we see different, very relatable sides and emotions of these characters. The characters in Atlanta are complicated, and they have depth, and they are not cliché like many characters of a racial minority tend to be.

According to Maurice Hobson’s All Black Everythang: Aesthetics, Anecdotes, and FX’s “Atlanta”, Glover stated in interview, “I had to make people feel a certain way. Let’s … give people a feeling that they can’t really siphon or make into something else. Most things lie in the gray area. [We] just play around in the gray areas.” Glover’s decision to create characters that live in the “gray area” is strictly a political one. Especially now, due to police shootings and several other injustices, it is easier for the black community to gain sympathy. People, especially the black community itself, will blame the “system” for the mistreatment of blacks when it is not only the “system” which holds them back. Many different elements are to blame for black people’s secondary status in America, and although without a doubt America’s racist institutions

deserve blame, one of the biggest elements is the community’s own bad habits. Glover artistically shows the flaws of the black community through these characters. For example, Earn had the chance to succeed in an ivy league school, however, due to his own poor decision making, he is back home taking care of a daughter. Furthermore, Paper Boi has shown himself to be fond of violence, and throughout the show, he has shown his carelessness with money. Glover does not want his characters to be pitied; he wants people to sympathize with them and their situations however he does not want people to feel sorry for them. Overall black people are people and writing them as figures that can only be pitied is a form of cliché writing and only takes away from their own humanity. Glover wants his characters to be as real and human as possible.

Glover has made it clear that he is against stereotypes, he states that “stereotypes exist, but the way they exist [are] not how they are to most people. They’re usually very cartoonish.” The characters in Atlanta are your average, everyday people and that is why they are so likable, relatable, and realistic. In the All Black Everythang: Aesthetics, Anecdotes, and FX’s “Atlanta” article, Glover also states that “The thesis of the show was kind of to show people how it felt to be black, and you can’t really write that down. You kind of have to feel it.” This statement affirms that the purpose of the television show Atlanta is to let other people know how it feels like to be black. Glover wants viewers to feel empathy and compassion for black people since the show gives them a humble, authentic, and thorough view of their lives. By seeing this view, audiences can learn to understand and relate to people like Earn, Paper Boi, and Darius. The characters are certainly not perfect or idealistic. Instead, they are flawed. The characters are realistic to the point that it is easy for viewers to find things in common with them. From Earn’s often rocky relationship with his girlfriend to Paper Boi’s real personality behind his rap persona,

we see the more vulnerable sides of these characters. For this reason, we can see ourselves in these characters. Hobson stated, “Atlanta abandons the “Black Mecca” and “Hotlanta” tropes by examining the lived experiences of Atlantans, who are black at all times; void of the western gaze or any interaction with whites.” The uniqueness of the characters in Atlanta helps to fight common stereotypes. The stereotypes of black people that are usually perpetrated by the entertainment industry affect the black community as a whole. Negative and cliché depictions of black people in film and television feed stereotypes. For example, it’s common to see movies in which the only black person in the film is a criminal or comic relief. Therefore, it’s refreshing to see Donald Glover realistically portray the lives of a couple of young black men in a tasteful, entertaining way.

There is no doubt that Atlanta has received exceptional acclaim. Lanre Bakare of The Guardian stated the fact that “The show became the highest-rated premiere of any basic-cable primetime scripted debut in more than three years among the coveted 18-45 age bracket.” He also claimed that “Atlanta is what television looks like when writers and creative teams are allowed to take risks.” The way that Atlanta appeals to and constantly entertains viewers seems almost effortless. The show is not extremely glamorous or riddled with fancy special effects like some television shows are. Atlanta is refreshing and well made in a simple and effective way through its risks and attention to detail. The show even tackles social issues, like the discussion of black culture and the transgender community on the “B.A.N.” episode, internet criticism on the “Streisand Effect” episode, or police brutality on the “Streets on Lock” episode. Atlanta addresses social issues in different ways. The show does it in lighthearted ways, satirical ways, innovative ways, realistic ways and more. This variety is another thing that critics praise about Atlanta. The Atlantic has coined Atlanta as “one of the most versatile shows on TV.” Sims stated

that “Donald Glover’s show is about rap music, race, celebrity culture, the city of his birth, and how those things all intersect. But it can also be a moody relationship drama, a madcap sitcom, a social commentary on gentrification, or, most recently, a surreal sketch comedy.” The versatility of Atlanta is another reason why it appeals to so many people and why it innovatively represents black people in entertainment.

The television show Atlanta was filmed all over Georgia, especially the Atlanta area. Moreland Avenue’s Zesto Drive-In, J.R. Crickets on North Avenue, Cameli’s Pizza, Cobb Civic Center, Blue Lounge, and Buckhead are just some of the many locations and areas in that made an appearance in Atlanta. It’s common to see films and television shows shoot at fake locations, so the fact that the show was actually shot in Atlanta just adds to its authenticity and accuracy. The attention to detail is definitely evident in various scenes. For example, Paper Boi being given a box of lemon pepper wet wings from J.R. Crickets was a scene that was extremely relatable and personal to Atlanta natives. Little details like this are what help to make the television show Atlanta such a concise portrayal of everyday life in Atlanta. The show proves that Atlanta’s media industry has more to offer than The Real Housewives of Atlanta or Madea’s Halloween 2. The success of Donald Glover’s television show Atlanta proves that the city of Atlanta is an influential entertainment mecca. Galuppo stated, “Seventeen features filmed in Georgia in 2016, meaning the state has outpaced the previous frontrunner, California, as the top location for feature film production,” Tussey also stated, “With 320 film and television productions shooting in the state in 2016, Atlantans are growing accustomed to seeing their neighborhoods become Hollywood backdrops.” Atlanta is one of the many successful pictures that is filmed in the state of Georgia. The success and well done representation in Atlanta also positively contributes to the representation of Atlanta itself. It allows for people to be more

knowledgeable of the city and also to be aware of Atlanta’s rich media industry. The city and its representation is thriving thanks to great works like Atlanta.

The black community can indeed be considered a counter-public in America. For this reason, this group of people has often been misrepresented or underrepresented in media and entertainment. For years, stereotypes, be it negative or simply cliché, have been common when representing black people. The issue of cultural representation in media is often not widely addressed, but innovative television shows like Donald Glover’s FX series Atlanta helps to alleviate this issue. Well-developed characters, an exciting but realistic plot, and variety are some of the many strengths that Atlanta brings to the table. The high attention to detail in this television show also contributes to its effectiveness. The audience is introduced to what life is like for a black man in Atlanta, not in an idealistic or cynical way, but in a realistic way. The show also represents the city of Atlanta with pride and accuracy. Donald Glover’s Atlanta is innovative and honest and it serves the black community and Atlanta with authenticity.

Works Cited

Bakare, Lanre. “Atlanta: Donald Glover’s Show Is the Smartest – and Funniest – on TV.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 19 Oct. 2016, www.theguardian.com/tv-and- radio/2016/oct/19/atlanta-donald-glover-show-example-young-black-writers-creative-tv.

Galuppo, Mia. “Feature Film Production in Georgia Outpaced California Last Year, Study Says.” The Hollywood Reporter, 23 May 2017

Hobson, Maurice. “All Black Everythang: Aesthetics, Anecdotes, and FX’s.” Atlanta Studies, 3 Nov. 2017

Morris, Wesley. “’Atlanta’ Walks a Line Between Magic Realism and Keeping It Real.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 19 Oct. 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/10/23/arts/television/atlanta-has-brilliant-characters-and-some- of-the-best-acting-on-tv.html.

Sims, David. “Atlanta Is One of the Most Versatile Shows on TV.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 12 Oct. 2016, www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/10/in-praise- of-atlantas-versatility/503870/.

Tussey, Ethan. “An Emerging Media Capital or Just An Inexpensive Filming Location?: Exploring Atlanta’s Evolving Media Ecology.” Atlanta Studies, 31 Aug. 2017