If you haven’t heard of Atlanta, FX’s new critically acclaimed show, then expect to hear about it soon. A quasi-comedy, slice-of-life drama, the show is created and produced by Donald Glover, also known under his rap moniker as Childish Gambino. Focusing on the modern day life of Earn, a Princeton dropout played by Glover, the viewer watches as he maneuvers his way through the common struggles of being a young black male in America. Deftly navigated, when heavy issues arise in the show, they feel like an accidental brush of shoulders rather than a full-on collision.
These quiet de-escalations insert flashes of neutrality into the complicated issues that are often so polarizing . Achieved largely by its touted all Black writing staff, these moments are uncomfortably organic, as the audience doesn’t know whether to laugh or sigh. Though especially resonating for people of the Black community, the existential themes provide plenty for any viewer to mull over. Still, at the Pleiad we wanted to know what it’s like to watch a show largely targeted at the Black community when you’re not Black. The following is a dialogue between two staff writers, Saginaw seniors Jamal Yearwood and Chel-C Ford along with Midland sophomore Arturo Cuellar-Ramirez who sit down on a vintage leather couch every Tuesday at 10 p.m. to watch the show.
Jamal Yearwood: Well since I’m the Black guy, I figure I’ll start off first. I love the show, one for being part of this trend of ethnic shows like Black-ish and Fresh Off The Boat that are tailored for the minority (soon to be majority) community and second because it feels so surreal. Gambino is such a talented and intelligent musician, but I was scared that it wouldn’t transfer well to television.
Chel-C Ford: I did not have any initial hesitations or doubts about the show. Having seen him in concert and formerly watching Community, I had a feeling that Glover’s creative mind would flourish in a television show like this.
Arturo Cuéllar-Ramírez: Going into the first episode, I really didn’t know what to expect other than to probably laugh. As the show progressed, I started noticing that the show was highlighting quite a few social issues that are very relevant to today’s society.
JY: Yeah and that’s definitely an aspect of the show I appreciate. I really haven’t watched a black-centered show on mainstream television since The Proud Family *pays respects*. So to see what it’s like just “being black” on modern television reminds me of some issues while making me rethink others.
CF: I thought it was bold that in the first couple of episodes homophobia, transphobia and mental illness were all addressed.
ACR: Yeah, like the scene where everyone is laughing at the mentally-ill prisoner, I really was just taken back by it and thought that it sent a very strong message.
JY: That’s my favorite part of the show. Those moments of clarity hidden within all of the moving parts of the plot. I remember flinching at that scene when the police officers started beating the guy. I was thinking like, “Really? He can’t even process his own situation.”
CF: What does it for me is the realness in Earn’s character. He is young and awkward, making his identity relatable to me despite the fact that I am not a Black male.
JY: That’s interesting to me because it is obvious how I can I identify with Earn and the show in general, but do you feel like you’re getting the allusions to black culture in the show?
CF: Because the show is so fluid in its humor, I don’t find myself analyzing each joke. I just laugh when it is funny, but I have noticed you laugh sometimes when I don’t.
ACR: Yeah, sometimes I’ll look over at Jamal, and he has a grin on his face. And I think to myself if I missed something. Later he’d say something about it, and then I’d realize what happened.
JY: Well that’s good to hear because then I feel like you guys are both experiencing the show for what it’s supposed to be. One of the things in the show that even throws me off is its use of the n-word, especially with the hard “r.” I didn’t even know you could say it like that on TV.
ACR: Yeah, it was definitely something that stood out because it was totally not expected. I think Darius’s [Earn’s oddball friend] scene in the shooting range was really eye-opening too. What did you guys think about the scene?
CF: While he was getting set up I was very curious as to what was on the target. When it ended up being a dog, I was taken aback. I kept wondering why is there a dog on the target, and are people going to be mad at him?
JY: That was one of those scenes where, because of the writing, I was able to look at the issue with complete neutrality. On the one hand, you had a guy shooting a dog target, but then he brings up a good point. Like why is it more acceptable to shoot a human target over a dog?!?
CF: Though I probably will never shoot a dog, I was able to empathize with his logic. In his community a vicious dog may be the equivalent of a human target for another. It’s these wildly different perspectives that keep me wanting to watch more.