HomeHealthcare‘Atlanta’ Season 3 Leans Into the Absurdity of Blackface

‘Atlanta’ Season 3 Leans Into the Absurdity of Blackface


Anybody will be white. So proclaims a drawling, drunk white man to his Black fishing buddy within the opening scene of Atlanta’s long-awaited third season. They sit in a small skiff floating on a lake at night time. The vibes are eerie. The pair, dressed virtually identically, are unfamiliar to viewers and are left unnamed. The present’s central solid, led by the cash-strapped and fumbling Earn (performed by creator Donald Glover), is nowhere in sight. The plot, on this scene and for a lot of the premiere, doesn’t join again to the place Season 2 left off 4 years in the past. But the person’s phrases make one thing plain that Glover has been threading by Atlanta since its first episodes: Race is a efficiency, one as horrifying as it’s hilarious. “With sufficient blood and cash,” the nameless man says, “anybody will be white. It’s at all times been that manner.”

Atlanta, a comedy-drama that’s each surreal and sharp-toothed, likes to play with the thought of race as a sort of masks. Within the first two seasons, Glover was primarily fascinated by how Black individuals invent themselves. In Season 1, because the present shook off its sitcom exterior and revealed its weirder, impressionistic essence, it launched a smirking Black boy who trolls his college in whiteface, and a Black teen with a penchant for Patagonia who decrees himself a 35-year-old “transracial” white man. Atlanta embraced its satirical dreaminess in Season 2. The episode “Teddy Perkins” contains a Michael Jackson–adjoining recluse who invitations, at turns, terror, ridicule, and pity from his visitor, the perpetually bemused Darius (Lakeith Stanfield). These interludes weren’t simply whimsical gestures. Every posed a query: If race is a efficiency, what occurs when a Black particular person rejects his assigned position?

Within the second episode of Season 3, white of us are appearing silly. “Sinterklaas Is Coming to City” brings us again to our core solid, who’re gallivanting in Amsterdam. Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry), additionally recognized by his rapper identify, Paper Boi, has booked a brand new tour, a yr after the one he was making ready for in Season 2’s finale. (Now he’s the headliner, not the supporting act.) Right here, blackface is given the lurid therapy that the present beforehand reserved for whiteface—town, and the live performance venue, are crammed with Dutch individuals painted black in celebration of the racist, tiresome vacation custom of “Zwarte Piet.” Previously, in lieu of easy minstrelsy, the principle characters confronted extra insidious caricatures of themselves. Alfred, specifically, has struggled with the stereotypes projected onto his Paper Boi persona, as reporters and shitposters alike tried to cut back him to a “thug” rapper. He needs to money in on his expertise however fears turning into a minstrel for the leisure business within the course of. That personal worry turns into a public taunt in Amsterdam, when the rapper is greeted by a horde of individuals in blackface. When it’s showtime, Alfred refuses to take the stage.

However that call will not be the episode’s climax and is depicted with out melodrama or extended deliberation. As an alternative, the highlight in “Sinterklaas” is aimed on the crowd that’s oblivious to the ugliness of its personal efficiency. At one level, a white character can’t even distinguish between black paint and actual Black pores and skin—in a case of mistaken identification, he assaults a white reveler for one thing that Earn did. Toni Morrison addressed an identical sort of myopia in a 1974 essay. She wrote of the “dumbfoundedness” she feels towards white individuals who insist on a simplistic picture of Blackness. “Absolutely they knew that intelligence was judged by the power to inform the distinction between one factor and one other … That the finer the distinctions, the upper the mind,” she wrote. “The shortcoming, then, to inform one black particular person from one other was tantamount to a public admission of mind harm.” Atlanta’s script appears to riff off Morrison’s analysis, suggesting that the absurdity is much more amplified when a white particular person can’t inform the distinction between their very own fantasy and Black actuality.

Fittingly, within the season premiere, the drunk man on the boat observes that whiteness prevents an individual from seeing the world clearly, and the best way racist programs injure everybody concerned. “It’s simple to see the Black man as cursed since you’ve separated your self from him. However you don’t know, you’re enslaved similar to him,” he says. “You lose logic. You see the blood, and also you assume another person is bleeding.” However Atlanta has at all times seen the place the blood comes from. And it has lengthy proved itself adept at lining wounds with laughter. In Season 3’s first act, the present faucets additional into whiteness, and suggests it might be essentially the most ugly comedy but.

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