In early September, I saw an early trailer for Donald Glover’s FX series Atlanta in a movie theater. I immediately got excited because I had already heard several great things about the show, namely its ode to Southern Blackness and the struggles that Black millennials have when defining their path to success.
Atlanta features issues that Black men face when seeking out success that doesn’t equate to higher education and/or a steady job. Throughout the season, viewers begin to learn that both Earnest “Earn” (Donald Glover) and Alfred “Paper Boi” (Brian Tyree Henry) both have something in common: their hustle. The series sends a message that is loud and clear to the viewer that no matter what you know or who you know, the struggle is and will always be real for young Black men.
Atlanta’s social commentary on what it means to be young, Black, and hungry for success is not only timely, but also refreshing. For many viewers like myself, the shows speak to the constant struggle of Black men and how complex we truly are. While some may view this show as a collection of stereotypical characters, there are numerous vital points that Atlanta makes about what it means define your own success, especially when others may not believe in your vision.
Several notable themes that Atlanta touches on in season one (and yes it’s been renewed for a second season), one’s that are worth highlighting. From transracialism to the problematic ways that Black up and coming celebrities are represented in the media, Atlanta is never afraid to actually go there. In episode five not only is Justin Bieber depicted as African American, but subjects that are addressed include what it is like to go unrecognized and unappreciated for the work you do, and how much harder Black men have to work just to get recognized when they won’t belittle their self-worth.
The salience and timeliness of this show is highlighted in episode seven when Paper Boi is asked to give his thoughts on media and cultural appropriation, and how easy it is for you to lose sight of yourself once the money begins to pour in. I find this message to be important for Black youth as many of them spend a great deal of their life aspiring to be noticed by the general public not for who they are, but for what they can give to make someone else rich. This episode makes a very valid point that no matter how successful one may get, there will always be a cost attributed to how you got there.
The greatest message from this show provides to Black millennials is that there never a testimony without a test. This show reminds us how important it is for us to embrace what it means to be different, why being different is a good thing, especially when you are trying to make a name for yourself. This show also reminds us that no matter how terrible life may seem or how many bumps you cross in your journey, the only option you have is to keep trying until something or someone opens a door for you.
In all, Atlanta taught me to stand strong in my journey. As a young Black queer man, it can be overwhelming to define my own path to success, especially when it doesn’t look the way others believe it should. This show is a great introduction into the complex lives of young Black men and I am excited to see what other lessons can be learned in season two.