Bestinau got that-
tAtlanta’s highly anticipated third season kicks off with a lesson on whiteness. In the premiere, Three Slaps, a white man tells his black companion that the remains of an all-black city, flooded by the government, lies under the lake where they fish so late at night. Hardly a ray of skepticism appears on the black man’s face; such an abomination falls quite believably within the realm of possibility (this lake is almost certainly based on Lake Lanier in Georgia, not to mention countless other razed black enclaves across the country). “The thing about being white is that it blinds you,” the white man muses, before turning to the camera with his eyes closed.
Atlanta has some of the most refined stories in recent years, a genre-defying venture to trace the intricacies of its particularly captivating characters and the inevitable black life. The individuality of the show flows together under the austere vision of its heavyweight creative team: namely creator and star Donald Glover, his screenwriter brother Stephen Glover, director Hiro Murai and executive producer Stefani Robinson (also behind FX’s What We Do in the Shadows). The series escaped the “sophomore slump” so successfully that its lengthy hiatus — initially to accommodate the meteoric rise of its cast (one superhero movie for Brian Tyree Henry, two for Zazie Beetz, and an Oscar nomination for LaKeith Stanfield) — was fetched, understandably, with a widespread groan. The premiere marks a triumphant, if somewhat unusual, return: the main characters – Al, the rapper better known as Paper Boi (Henry), his manager cousin Earn (Glover), Al’s best friend Darius (Stanfield), and Earn’s ex-girlfriend Van (Beetz), with whom he shares a toddler, are largely absent. But the episode stays true to the show’s fundamental architecture: a series of moving forays into the surreal.
Whiteness as blindness has the ring of a certain Du Boisian concept, which, roughly speaking, holds that if black people are supernaturally perceptive—necessarily so, for survival reasons—then white people are woefully, dangerously short-sighted. But this is only the prologue (admittedly a better horror film than the mass supply of late). The episode centers around high school student Loquareeous (Christopher Farrar). In a mischievous outburst, he jumps on his desk and starts dancing in class. His mother and grandfather are summoned by school principals, and their abrasive response — including the grandfather’s eponymous three blows — alarms the white guidance counselor, a villain blinded only to her own damaging condescension. She interrupts the black female headmistress, proposes that Loquareeous be placed in remedial classes, and finally, the tragic coup: fulfills her promise to have the child removed from his home.
Social Services places Loquareeous with a white hippie-lesbian couple, Amber (Laura Dreyfuss) and Gayle (Jamie Neumann), who already have three black foster children and immediately call him “Larry.” They harass the children, feed them raw chicken and avocado – if they feed them at all – and force them to sing field songs as they toil in the yard. It might seem like some kind of hyperbolic modern fable, were it not so squarely based on heart-pounding true events, an antidote rewritten here, just before Earn, lying in bed, sleepily opening his eyes, seemingly to ascertain anything that could be attributed to a dream. preceded .
The shot becomes rather illustrative of what this episode links to the second Saint Nicholas coming to town (if not the series’ implicit project at all): reframing the world through the weary lens of its black characters recasting – on those occasions they must confront directly it – “white culture” as exotic and often grotesque. In the episode we are finally reunited with the foursome in Amsterdam where Al is preparing for a concert; only it is december, the season of Sinterklaas and his helper Zwarte Piet, popularly depicted in blackface. Tradition is at odds with the otherwise friendly and polite interactions Earn and Al have with the Dutch in particular. Meanwhile, Van and a very senior Darius end up on a field trip to a mysterious residence where they witness the supposedly assisted death of a black man, whom Darius speculates may be Tupac. In a sea of hushed, mostly white mourners, Van and Darius exchange shocked looks as the man suffocates.
Later, Al refuses to perform at a concert full of Dutch people in blackface, much to the anger of the white organizer of the event. It does give rise to one of the best lines of the episode as delivered by Henry: “Turn the clogs on, bruh. We’re not doing this shit.” (Closely linked, at least nominally, to his late night text to Earn: “I need 300 pieces of fried chicken. All the legs.”)
Sinterklaas will of course draw comparisons to Helen from last season, where Van dragged a reluctant Earn to mostly white Fasnacht celebrations. But we are prepared for a consideration of the politics of viewing. Indeed, the origin of Loquareeous’s troubles was the instinctive understanding that he might somehow be rewarded for turning himself into a racialized spectacle; harmless or not, it certainly supports what his mother and grandfather fear so gravely. In that way, these episodes also refer back to the much-talked-about Teddy Perkins, where Darius encounters the eerie Michael Jackson-esque figure brought on by devastating child abuse and alienating fame. It seems from Atlanta, the encounter with whiteness can be an absurd and creepy daydream at best, and a nightmare at worst.