Atlanta’s appropriation of Europe left a bad taste in my mouth
Written By Thierno Deme
Atlanta as a series has been able to captivate its audience in the first two seasons, thanks to it’s stunning cinematography, great scoring/soundtrack , its humour and most importantly for me thanks to its depiction of the afro-surreal. What Atlanta, as a series, has offered so far was not necessarily a new view of blackness, instead, it brought out the strange, surreal, and nonsensical aspects of it, that I do not see too often in media. All of that within the everyday life of a Black rapper, his family, and his crew, despite the invisible cars and omniscient strip club DJs. So when it was announced that the third season of Atlanta would be set primarily in Europe, I was interested in seeing if they would be able to bring out the surreal with black european life or at the very least explore how different versions of blackness would collide (European, American, and diasporic).
The main cast of Atlanta consists of Earn, the failed Princeton student turned wannabe manager, his cousin Alfred (aka Paper Boi) an up-and-coming rapper/weed dealer, their eclectic friend Darius and Earn’s daughter’s mother Vanessa. In the first two seasons, we can see the way their lives change as Alfred becomes increasingly successful. Now with this third season, his status has become a bit more solidified and less precarious. The team behind Atlanta has been able to artistically express to its audience the absurdity inherent in Blackness. That being my view of the series, I was hoping for the team to tap into the absurdity embedded within Blackness in Europe, within Blackness in the Netherlands; however, they missed the opportunity to do so.
I will take this time to say that this text is not interested in criticizing this season overall. I just want to express an uneasy feeling that came out after having watched the entire thing and still enjoying it. That uneasy feeling is that I feel that European Blackness doesn’t seem to be seriously considered at all. To the point that I want to argue there’s a strange sort of appropriation of Europeanness happening here. I say this to mean that I feel that Europe had been used as a sort of backdrop for this season and because of that Black Europeans and black people living in Europe were also used as a backdrop and at points were non-existent. As white as the global imagination of Europe can be, it can’t be denied that Black people are inextricably tied to Europe and make up a big part of it. To ignore them, in the making of this season disappoints me in the sense that the series’ politics is not as interested in pro-Blackness as I thought it would be, or at the very least it lacks a sense of Pan-Africanism.
When, in the second episode of the third season, Sinterklaas Is Coming to Town, the crew are individually involved to deal with their own antics in Amsterdam. Earn seems to be in his manager bag, setting things up so Al can perform at Paradiso. Al gets himself into a threesome turned zwarte piet debate that gets him thrown in jail. Van and Darius find Tupac in a death cult. At first look, Atlanta is doing what many are expecting of the series, it provided strange hijinks within the life of a Black rapper and his friends. However, as I said earlier, what made it special was that these hijinks were laden with doses of the strange and surreal that felt inextricably linked to Black life in the U.S., and for many viewers, it came across as genuine and thought through. For myself, this episode was not thought through and there wasn’t any look into the Black experience regarding zwarte piet. From what I remember there is just one black woman who has a say on it, but she doesn’t have much screen time and she is presented as pretty much a groupie that takes part in a fight.
From an outsider’s perspective, Zwarte Piet alone is a strange thing to make a spectacle out of, but I feel that it would have been more interesting to exhibit the strangeness in Black Dutch life when dealing with Zwarte Piet. Just imagine their take on a child wanting to wash the black off of their skin so that they wouldn’t be called Zwarte Piet around the holidays. Or having to work in the service industry during the time of Sinterklass. I can come up with personal experiences that would have been perfect examples. It would have been interesting to show an interaction with the police that wasn’t framed in a way that suggested that they were submissive and servile (I suppose through a Black American lens they might not seem so violent).
Anyway, all I think I’m trying to say in this thought is that I think it would have been nice and interesting if Black Europeans, Black people just living in Europe, were taken into account in the making of this season because from the way I see it I don’t feel that they were; which feels like a huge missed opportunity in the public representation of Blackness. Of course, the makers of the series can only produce work from their lens, however, there is a tendency for many Black American works to talk about Blackness in a narrow way that borders on solipsism. I don’t mean to say narrow in a way that suggests a lack of nuance or thought but narrow in the sense that American Blackness, Middle Passage Blackness, is always set as a global standard. While Middle Passage Blackness, holds a wealth of knowledge, and a surreal invisible world ready to be exposed, other forms are Blackness, invisible and otherwise are also existing alongside it, no longer willing to reside in its American counterpart’s shadow. If only Donald Glover and his team were cognizant of that.