Every day, a cultural object scrutinized by a free and assumed criticism. Today, focus on an American series whose last season has just ended: “Atlanta” of Donald Glover
Transcription of the radio chronicle of Lucile Commeaux: It’s a great discovery for me that this series in four seasons, signed Donald Glover, also a rapper, who holds it almost entirely, since he officiates there as “showrunner”, screenwriter, director sometimes, and also actor . He camps there Earn, who on the threshold of the first season tries to get out of multiple galleys – family, financial, professional, by becoming the manager of his cousin Paper Boy, a rapper launched by a hit that has gone viral. Around this duo gravitates Darius, Paperboy’s roommate, with mysticism and strange habits, but also Van, who forms a distended couple with Earn. Over the course of a few years, we see them evolve in the world of rap and show business, in their intimate relationships – the romantic and complicated one that binds Earn and Vanessa and the professional and family one between the two cousins. Chronological but bumpy, the four seasons of Atlanta alternate genres. Sometimes it feels like a comedy series of buddies, camping homies smoking joints and cracking jokes on a couch. There’s love drama too and plenty of social satire. Some episodes take unique forms, I’m thinking of the one that reproduces in full, including ads, a television show to which Paperboy is invited: a masterpiece! Or this episode in which Darius goes to buy a piano and finds himself taken hostage by a kind of psychopathic Michael Jackson. Above all, the series does not hesitate to sometimes totally abandon its recurring characters to offer single episodes, small stories in history, often with a slightly dystopian character, as in the British series “Black Mirror”. I am thinking of an episode which tells of the adoption of young black children by a couple of white women which turns into horror, and in front of which Jordan Peele could well go get dressed. There is a principle in Atlanta that explodes the traditional functioning of the series by multiplying it, a principle that draws from all genres, but which, without scattering the subject, serves a powerful reflection on racism by attacking it with all the formal weapons that she can find and make her own.
Arming the television form against racism
It is as if the American systemic racism suffered by the black community is radicalizing the known forms and genres of television fiction. I think of this episode which replays a famous episode of the pioneering series Seinfeld, in which the characters get lost in the underground parking lot of a shopping center. In Seinfeld it’s funny and a bit disturbing, in Atlanta, it becomes downright horrifying and supernatural, precisely because the characters it happens to are black. If the African-American condition is the main subject of the series, there is no naturalist ambition. The title functions from this point of view as a decoy. Atlanta is not a critical portrait of the city, as
TheWire for example in many ways could be Baltimore. Atlanta is less a city than the somewhat abstract emanation of a particular historical reality – a former slave city in the South, whose geography appears little over the course of the episodes: Atlanta is a space where the characters evolve as in a decor. I think of this strange episode where Paperboy, attacked by a gang of young people, gets lost while fleeing in a forest in the heart of the city – a forest which corresponds both to the reality of Atlanta, riddled with large green spaces, but above all to a kind of metaphorical place, a mental space, a tale where the phobias and neuroses of Paperboy take shape. Neurosis and phobia are at the heart of the series, which aligns few characters but digs them into a singular movement, a movement that is both psychology and political analysis and articulates them in a remarkable and quite unprecedented in the landscape of series with political ambitions. Through these heterogeneous episodes emerges a fine, complex and incisive reflection on what it is to be a Black in the United States outside and inside, in society and in the head. It is both to be afraid of the police and institutions and to constantly suffer, at all levels of existence, and in all classes, racism and injustice. But it is also a culture anchored in itself to the point of the symptom, being Black is ultimately a form, the form of a nightmare, of a piece of rap, that of an episode, these forms can be confused with each other. Lucile Commeaux
- More information : “Atlanta”, four seasons are available (the first two on Disney Plus, the last two on OCS)