In 2012, Visual artist Alisha B. Wormsley has embarked on a multi-year project in Homewood, one of Pittsburgh’s historic Negro neighborhoods. Deeply influenced by the teachings of Afrofuturism and the belief that Blacks are the authors of their future, she began collecting objects from the town’s inhabitants. Among the people she gathered, she inscribed on them an emphatic statement: “There are black people in the future.” Years later, in 2014, I came across one of Wormsley’s “artifacts” on Tumblr; it was a window frame with thick writing, its edges rusted and chipped. At first glance, the saying seems to be fading away. In fact, the opposite has happened — words are being brought into view. The feeling of seeing Wormsley’s artwork for the first time was immediate: I simultaneously felt conveyed, energized and proud.
AtlantaDark comedy FX created and starring Donald Glover, has given me the same feeling since its debut in 2016. Alas, it’s time to say goodbye. The show will culminate with a fourth season — which kicks off Thursday with a two-episode premiere — and closes an era of television that embraces the Black future.
In its final season, the show’s main takeaways remained the same: invisible thrills. The excellence of the series has always been about the unspeakable and unseen (sometimes quite literally; remember invisible car charge through a club car park in season one?). For its sake, Atlanta learned to speak between lines. It is all in knowing, in what does not need to be said or explained in great detail – because what has been understood has been understood. Its most transcendent, Atlanta is a nod. If you have it, you’ve got it. Nothing else needs to be said.
That’s probably a bit ironic when you think about it. The show has never lacked voice – although it sometimes struggles narratively with overtones; season three has a lot of thematic problems — it just asks us to listen with open ears.
Afrofuturism asserts that Negroes are the creators of their destiny. AtlantaTheir central quartet tried, sometimes to hilarious effect, to manipulate their lives on their terms. As characters, they are an outstanding study of motion. In its four seasons, not once did they stop running to or from the strangeness of the world, its darkness and wonder, and all the questions within.
Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) is the best example of this distinct kineticism. He’s both the northern star of the show, and Doreen St. Felix Was observed, also “Odysseus figure.” A local rapper who finds fame, his story is colored by the upheaval of his career structure as well as inner conflict. (Go back and watch episodes of “Woods” and “New Jazz.”) That’s part of its radiance, too. Even as it sinks into the surreal, as it often does with Paper Boi, the film’s rich imagination is always tied to reality. Atlanta is fictional only in genre; The series’ organs — the heart, brain, and lungs — have been adapted from living organisms.