FX’s Atlanta: Bringing Color to a Bland World

FX’s latest hit tv, comedy-drama, series Atlanta, created by Donald Glover, has gained much popularity by fans and critics alike as one of the best shows Glover has been apart of to date. Glover is well-known for his acting, stand-up comedy, and most notably, for his music under the rap name Childish Gambino. Glover, or Gambino, has always been known for creating and thought-provoking material that touches on different stereotypes and social norms when it comes to topics such as sexism, racism, and black culture through these different mediums. His newest series Atlanta, doesn’t stray far from this path. The series follows Earn, who is played by Gambino, as he tries to make a living and redeem himself in the eyes of his family by getting a job managing Earn’s cousin Alfred, aka Paper Boi, who is an up and coming rap star in the streets of Atlanta, played by Brian Tyree Henry. Additionally, Paper Boi, is accompanied by his best-friend and right hand man, Darius, who played by Keith Stanfield, as they attempt to make it big through rap music and selling drugs on the side. Although by the initial synopsis of the series seems like a stereotypical “rapper trying to make it big in the hood” story, it is anything but. Atlanta is one of the most intelligent shows in recent memory. It’s a series that is not afraid to show a different, more colorful side of black men in America.

*Warning: Mild Spoilers*

The first few moments of the Atlanta set the tone for the series and how it beings to turn the stereotypes and preconceptions viewers have about these characters on their head. Starting with an intense altercation with Earn, Paper Boi, Darius, and an unnamed attacker, it leads to a gun shots being fired and the screen goes black. After, the show backtracks
to earlier in the day as it beings to show the life of Earn, a financially unstable, father, who lives with his baby mama, and feeds off of everyone he is around for money and stability. Viewers are then introduced to Earn’s cousin Paper Boi and his friend Darius who are dealing with the new fame Paper Boi has accumulated for his hit track. Following the main character’s misadventures throughout the first handful of episodes, the colorful silliness and bright mindsets bring an unexpected breath of fresh air to the series, and this is mainly shown Paper Boi and Darius.

Although each character is different and has their own personality, both Darius and Paper Boi share similar characteristics of being intelligent and thoughtful black men even given their unideal circumstances. One would think because of the cultural stereotypes that surround an individual like Darius, would be someone who isn’t very bright, who is lazy, and who has no direction in life. In reality, Darius is one of the most intelligent and passionate characters in the series. He constantly remarks about his existential thoughts and represents himself as an kind, almost “soft” individual. Something that is not typically represented in a series of this nature. After getting into the initial gun altercation where Darius and Paper Boi were faced with death, Darius comments on this by saying; “ Life itself is just a series of close calls. I mean how would you know you were alive unless you knew you could die.” This type of higher-thought and light-hearted behavior in the face adversity is what separates Darius from a normal man in his situation. He contradicts and lives outside of the norm while bringing a degree of color and brightness to a typically bland and dismal situation.

Equally, Paper Boi has numerous moments in the series that continue this trend. In many cases, Paper Boi is trying to do the right thing and does not want to be seen as the “bad guy” or as the way society would paint an individual in his shoes. After news beings to circulates of the same gun altercation mentioned earlier, he stops a group of kids playing with guns and emulating this now well-known shootout. Paper Boi says “shooting people isn’t cool” and in his heart he genuinely means well and does not want these kids growing up negatively. Paper Boi does not want to prosper that negativity and serve as a living stereotype of what people expect from a man in his position. Although he sells drugs and can be seen as a thug in the eyes of some, in actuality he is a sweet and caring person. Interestingly, the latest episode, “B.A.N,” affirms this deeper level of thinking and opposition to his stereotypical expectation. While being interviewed throughout the episode, Paper Boi questions “I should be able to say something weird without people hating on me.” With this, he addresses how his actions as a black man are more harshly criticized than individuals of other races and cultures. Again, this is a moment in the series shows how Paper Boi is not afraid to make himself vulnerable and put his thoughts and feelings out to the world to separate himself from norms being placed upon him. Paper Boi brings a level of thoughtfulness, and kindness that again, would not be typically expected.

Overall, these examples serve to show how both characters are not afraid to expose themselves and be open about their feelings and thoughts. This behavior is a breath of fresh air in a genre of “black culture” within shows/movies that simply represent certain characters as thugs, or drug dealers, and may be too afraid to dive deeper and work to show a different side of these characters. Both Darius and Paper Boi are not simply two-dimensional characters who fulfill the tropes of “an ignorant black man in the hood.” These are men who aren’t afraid to not only be tough, or cool, but also be afraid, vulnerable, happy, and even silly. Many moments in the show represent both characters in a silly way that is also not regularly shown in this genre, and it works extremely well in the context of the show itself. Although the circumstances in their lives may be a stereotypical, black-and-white view of black men and black culture in America, both Darius and Paper Boi bring a bright and fresh twist of what viewers may have come to expect. Atlanta may seem like a typical “come up” story about a rapper living in the hood, but on a deeper level, it’s a show that serves to represent a different side of black men; a brighter, funner, and much more colorful, side that is much needed and well-done.

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