Atlanta: Season 1 created by Donald Glover (FX Productions)
Starring Donald Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, Keith Stanfield, and Zazie Beetz.
Last year’s Oscar nominees commenced a necessary conversation around representation. Despite many worthy submissions from minority candidates, the prestige categories saw no nominees.
For people in the old guard, the line of reasoning stays consistent: the best quality programming is nominated, regardless of color. If quality is quality, the cream rises to the top and representation will happen, providing the content merits consideration.
And yet, the counter argument holds weight. I first encountered the idea from Vox critic Todd VanDerWerff. In essence, diversity is required to allow for the most interesting stories to be told. The old guard will continue to nominate the same formulaic content because it is what they know.
Diversity of actors, writers, and directors allows for diversity of artistic voice, thus creating better art. For this reason, careful attention must be paid to diversity not only because good work occurs outside the mainstream, but it also promotes a wider variety of artistic expression within the ubiquitous access which award nominations provide.
Given this premise, I hope Donald Glover’s ambitious series receives all the reward buzz.
Twin Peaks with Hip Hop
More a short story collection than a serialized dramatic comedy, Glover describes Atlanta as Twin Peaks with hip hop.
At a high level overview, the series depicts Earn (Donald Glover), a down-on-his-luck college dropout hoping to hit it big managing his cousin, Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry), an underground hip hop artist.
Earn navigates the duality of the hardcore Atlanta hip hop scene and life at home with his girlfriend Van (Zazie Beetz) and their young daughter.
Magical Realism and Real Realism
The magic of Atlanta, however, emerges in its surreal representation of Atlanta and the serious nature of the topics it discusses.
For starters, Atlanta could almost be classified as magical realism. Thus, Glover’s Twin Peaks callout. Every episode includes a couple of Easter eggs out of left field.
Invisible cars, Black Justin Biebers, and well-dressed men walking into the woods offer a few examples of the insanity orbiting the edges of Glover’s script.
More importantly, Glover and his team of writers tackle difficult themes surrounding the African-American experience.
What does it mean to be a young African-American male in our society? What does the hip-hop scene say about masculinity?
Glover brings agency to every character on the screen and this attention to detail makes the series sing. For example, a Van-focused episode begins at a Thai restaurant and as the drama escalates, the 8-minute take forces the viewer to continue immersion within the dinner. It’s a stunning scene.
Atlanta is case study #1 on the value of diversity in entertainment. This incredibly localized point of view offers a unique viewpoint into important issues.
Go watch Atlanta.
Verdict: 5 out of 5