Previously on Atlanta, “Value”
Atlanta is handily the most woke show to have ever awakened in recent television history with its brutally honest satirical take on practically every issue Black America faces in a continually embattled nation. Though guised as a dramedy that revolves around the hustle Earnest and Alfred live and breathe to become successes in the rap game, Atlanta has slowly yet steadily steered from the pedestrian narrative of the rise of Paper Boi to providing timely commentary on the divisiveness and controversies that bombard a community that’s no stranger to being dragged by the majority.
In this week’s episode, the only lead given screen time is Alfred, who is meant to play the fool on a late night chat show on the fictional Black American Network. When the host and the other “expert” guest go on the offensive to chide Alfred for his brusque tweets, Paper Boi claps back in a crude yet effective response to their slanted views of why he’s an angry Black man.
After Alfred posted a single tweet about not wanting to have sex with Caitlyn Jenner, he’s invited on “Montague”, a B.A.N. show whose host is essentially the love child between Tavis Smiley and Don Lemon. Immediately delving into Paper Boi’s “controversial” tweet, Franklin Montague (Alano Miller) and guest Dr. Deborah Holt (Mary Kraft) dissect Alfred’s statement and shape his words into a transphobic persona influenced by toxic masculinity prevalent in Black communities. The abstractions flew wildly across the table with Holt coldly declaring Alfred as the quintessential Black American male in regards to his stance on homophobia, misogyny, sexism, and violence. All the while, Alfred sat there in stoic contempt as he permitted Holt to “tell me about myself”.
To watch these segments is not unlike watching any of the pundits on practically every news outlet, espousing half-truths and generalizations about subjects they’ve no reason to be discussing. While Dr. Holt attempts to piece a reason why Paper Boi hates trans people (he doesn’t, Alfred just learned about them), Montague goes on the attack, desperately flinging untruths until any one of them stuck. In the great experiment that was this episode, the pervasiveness of media was condemned by Donald Glover by using their own techniques against them.
The most evocative segments in “B.A.N.” were the fake commercials that book-ended “Montague”; each one more critical and unapologetically Black than the last. Glover cut to the core that is the scourge of advertising with stinging perceptiveness, be it for Arizona Tea and its increased price in some liquor stores (“The price is on the can, though”) to the glamorization of Mickey’s malt liquor (“You’re drinking it wrong”) and the awesomely hilarious Swisher Sweets TV spot that features original and brand new ‘pre-dump’ cigarillos, finally catering to our real needs.
In the meantime, Montague introduces a segment that covers the tale of a Black teen who identifies as a 35-year old White male from Colorado. On the surface it’s a farcical take on the whole Dolezal ordeal, but it could be posited as the submission of Black identity to achieve a (slightly) privileged lifestyle. The only danger in these segments is viewers may harmlessly conflate the two concepts of identity as similar, which could be farther from the truth. Ironically, Harrison proudly admitted his disdain for gay marriage and the trans community. Montague and Holt were equally stunned by the man-teen’s admission while Paper Boi couldn’t help but crack up in the corner… because he’s already in on the joke.
In a world that every other concept, person, and turn of phrase is constantly analyzed, scrutinized and chastised for not fitting in with socially dominant views, Alfred has every right to sit back and laugh as another shining example of insolent white heteronormativity – manifest within a Black teen, no less – quashed Holt’s contemptuous, nitpicky progressive agenda. While everything Alfred said was true about the concerns and physical/mental/social welfare of Black men being dismissed for a long ass time, the pretentious conceit that everyone would be on the same page is as silly on Atlanta as it is in real life. For an academic like Dr. Holt to presume Harrison would be supportive of LGTBQ rights because he’s trans-racial is an indictment of her own privileged notions of minorities in distress.
“B.A.N.” instantly made a huge impression on Donald Glover’s already exceptionally subversive show. While relentlessly cutting through the bullshit that’s been thrust into The Culture through duplicitous means, Atlanta has been a vanguard in generating further conversation about the diversity thriving within the African-American experience. Concurrently, Atlanta is both a celebration of our uniqueness and examination of our hypocrisies, affirming the lengths we’ve come and how much farther we must go.