The Dismissal of Black lives and Black pain collide on screen in 'Atlanta'


For someone who binge-watches Netflix for sport, fixating on a television show is nothing new to me.

But at 4:31 AM, something about last week's Atlanta episode transfixed me. I mean, wow. Just wow. This episode was so brilliantly executed; I watched it no less than five times because I wanted to make sure I picked up everything they were putting down so to speak. Seriously my favorite TV episode in recent memory since "Thanksgiving" on Masters of None. What is excellent about this season is the focus on robbery; its different insidious, selfish, and myopic forms; and its impact on the victim.

When I first watched "Teddy Perkins," I opened up tab upon tab (what can I say, some habits [link to the previous post] die hard) of think-pieces analyzing every facet of the episode. The common themes centered around apparent metaphors to abusive father/son dynamics, cinematic hat-tips (seriously if Get Out ever had a sequel), and even some damn good conspiracy theories. I choose not to focus on those things because they were done ad nauseam and frankly, very well. No need to crack that egg open.

What is absent from the conversation is the robbery of actualization. Not just of childhood, with the apparent overtures to musical prodigies and star athletes, but of humanity. I choose to focus on Lakeith Stanfield's Darius and his representation as a Black male rather than larger societal themes. So if you haven't seen it, stop reading right now. Because, spoilers. Within the first two minutes, he establishes that he marches to the beat of his own drum and has a unique perspective on the world. The absurdity of asking for jicama, ginger, and dehydrated mangos at a hardware store is as ridiculous as expecting them to carry it, but not for Darius. For me, he is a non-monolithic depiction of Blackness, the unexpected for a world that probably never expected much, to begin with.

And then there's this hat. His ability to take a symbol that incites pride, anger to make a provocative statement earmarks the boldness of his Blackness. In a day of GPS apps, the man is navigating to the Perkins' Gothic estate with a map.

Even with all of his eccentricities, its no match for Theodore Perkins, who shakes hands like this and eats ostrich eggs.

Donald Glover appears in "white-face" but represents a Black man that has either altered his appearance out of self-loathing or as an on-the-nose (and foreshadowing) reference to Michael Jackson in his later life. A man that has stripped away his own identity and imposes ideals that entrap and endangered his life.

Many of the events that follow raise suspicion that the titular character has an ulterior motive for stalling the piano-moving process. It drudged up all of the "don't go in there," "you 'bout ta die, son." Mid-episode, Darius steps outside for a call to Al (Brian Tyree Henry) detailing his suspicions that Teddy is up to no good. Al asks him if he is willing to die for this piano to which he asserts that he wants it because of its free and colorful keys, an actual embodiment of his Blackness. He'd rather be taken out than regret any decisions given his "two-regret life limit pact."

As he goes to sign papers for ownership of the prized piano, he wipes away blood from one of the keys. Perhaps symbolic of how Black men are marked for death in our society in spite of their carefree expression of Blackness. The media surveillance room showing Darius move through the house eerily reminds me of the consumption black bodies in today's media-centric world. Earlier, In an anecdote about his prodigal pianist brother's talent, Teddy said "Benny played what he knows," referencing pain as Darius looks at pictures of the mysterious brother. This voyeurism of black pain also occurs later in the episode when he sees home video of Benny beaten for incorrectly playing a song. There he walks through the atrium as if walking through the multi-dimensions of childhood traumas and abuse in their lives (shout out to the cinematographers on the details).

His life didn't matter to Teddy Perkins who reveals that he intends to blame him for killing his brother Benny in a home invasion. When he realized he was only a pawn, lured like an insect to a spider web, you could see the heartbreak in his eyes at the dismissal of his humanity, like so many Black people struck down by gun violence. Throughout the episode, each character is dismissive of the abuse they wither witnessed or endured. Perhaps Darius and Teddy were two sides of the same coin. Perhaps, a coin that would be different if given love instead of pain.

Once he moves the piano, he gets into the elevator which leads to another destination, foreshadowing that he may not have as much control over his livelihood as he should. In the last scene, Darius finds himself forced to handcuff himself to a chair to stifle his identity and pursuit of its carefree express. In a final plea for his life, he says, "not all great things come from great pain, sometimes its love not everything is a sacrifice." In a turn of events, events turn in his favor but very likely to leave some scars. Ironically, he almost taken out by the embodiment of carefree Blackness; he was willing to die for. The disappointment on his face is palpable as he looks back at the piano being ushered away into police evidence. How many times have we had to sacrifice our joy for our realities? Just recently, Water Tower Place, a popular Michigan Avenue mall in Chicago, issued an apology for kicking out a group of Black teens. How many other instances will there be? Sure, this might not be that deep and I damn sure don't want to speak for Black men or assume their relationship with identities but as an advocate and in many ways a keeper, it was important to acknowledge their humanity here. Vision is a big theme here, with sounds from and nods to my favorite artist Stevie Wonder throughout the episode. My favorite line of the episode probably best represents my view on the necessity for healing: "What if you would have seen love instead of all the other shit like Stevie (Wonder)."

Also see:

Atlanta season 2 episode 6 'Teddy Perkins' review: Creepy, Kubrickian horror from the show that takes the most risks (The Independent) Don't Compare Atlanta's "Teddy Perkins" To Get Out (Refinery 29) Ostrich Eggs, Attics, and a Michael Jackson Look-alike: ‘Atlanta’ Embraces Horror (The Ringer) Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and the Other Cultural Allusions in the Creepiest ‘Atlanta’ Episode Yet (The New York Times)

#vulnerability #vision #healing

© 2020 by Brittany Maria Wright. All rights reserved.