Darius probably did go to Morehouse
With every treatment of Donald Glover’s cultural masterpiece ‘Atlanta,’ the prose on its bold humor, slick intellect and cinematic simplicity takes black millennials into deeper levels of jubilee that finally, TV gets what we’ve always needed to see: the best and worst of black life as delivered in its most guttural forms.
So with season two, and a basket full of praise on the show’s high-risk, high-reward approach behind it, the natural critique in us all (meaning just me) wants to overlay our (my) imagination onto where the mind of Glover can venture next. And the answer is to nether regions that most black artists in television don’t usually think to go with our satire, or drama, or social commentary: HBCUs.
The off-ramp for artistic takes on HBCUs is easy to speed past for many of the exact reasons that made ‘Atlanta’ such a runaway hit — there’s just too many important areas where black folks need healing and representation, that its difficult to catch them all; even with 10 episodic throws of the black life Poké ball in a season. Glover took on police brutality, black love and family construct, the black middle class, black poverty, hip-hop, Black Twitter, black crime and (no) justice, who is allowed to say the word ‘n*gger,’ and black affluence.
It went places that even its most closest relative, ‘The Boondocks’ was not able to go because of the background of its creator, and the nature of its design as a hyper-satirical cartoon.
But everything we’ve seen with ‘Atlanta’ so far, and all of the things we will miss in its offseason, leads us to natural assumptions about what’s next on the hit list. And given that the show is at once an ode to and diss track of the city and the global black culture it represents, black colleges seem to be the next natural fit for the natural way in which Glover can side-eye and put his arms lovingly around exactly who and where we are as people in 2016 with his words and sounds on film.
Earn, Van, Alfred and Darius lived their complex lives last season without being touched by HBCUs in anyway, which for most folks living in Atlanta, is an impossibility as a native or college transplant. Paper Boi never got played out by HBCU students on Twitter. Earn’s parents never inquired about his thoughts on transferring his Stanford credits to Clark Atlanta. Van looks and sounds every part of a Spelman woman, but never did we see even a pennant, sticker or mug in her home or classroom. Darius never dropped the fact that he was Rhodes Scholar at Morehouse, to the surprise of everyone around him.
Not even a reference to HBCUs on BAN commercials.
What makes it so interesting is that Brian Tyree Henry’s Paper Boi is loosely based folks he knew as a Morehouse undergrad, so the fact that the character looks and sounds like fellow Morehouse graduate Killa Mike in an alternative warp zone shouldn’t shock anyone.
But this isn’t to criticize ‘Atlanta’ for missing the moments, because the omission in itself is an accurate reflection of the role and resonance of HBCUs in Black America itself. No one remembers outside of the orbit of our 100+ schools remembers the schools, unless they actually are on campus at one of the schools or one of the schools is about to close.
Most of that is our fault, deficits of vision as people and as institutions. Henry is a Morehouse Man with one of the most successful shows on television: try to find his name on the university’s website.
But Fonzworth Bentley made it tho.
Atlanta, the city proper, has every HBCU angle known to human and Hollywood alike. It has the nation’s best HBCU in Spelman, and it’s best known example of how it all falls apart in Morris Brown College. And in between, some of the most authentic sights and sounds of black college life in the AUC strip.
In the painstaking effort to do for Atlanta what ‘Sex in the City’ did for New York, ‘Atlanta’ came and earned an outright ‘A’ for its season one thesis. For black millennials working hard to ward off cynicism, regret, suicidal ideation and haters like that Mr. Krabs meme, ‘Atlanta’ is a weekly 30-minute absurdity check as seen through billows of smoke or in the first seconds when a cookie finally reaches the brain cells. We rely upon it for hashtag fulfillment, for unexpected and fitting musical accompaniments, and for invisible cars driving through crowds and black actors portraying Justin Bieber.
But honestly, we’re depending on ‘Atlanta’ to do for our schools what ‘A Different World’ used to do back in the 90’s. That in some form, however positive or negative it may be, we can trust Glover to put our schools out front, skewer the hell out of them for their failings and pretentiousness, and just before it gets too real, put his arms around them to say ‘but we actually do need these damn schools. Like seriously.’
Because if ‘Atlanta’ can’t nail it on HBCUs, no one can. And scarier, outside of whatever form BET’s ‘The Quad’ takes, there’s a fear that no one will.