As seen in his work on 30 Rock and Community, Donald Glover’s comedic genius has long been obvious, but the full spectrum of his creativity truly came to light in last night’s episode of the FX hit Atlanta.
Entitled “B.A.N.,” which stands for Black Access Network, the dramedy’s latest installment veered away from its usual day-in-the-life narrative for an entertaining and unconventional 30 minutes. in the form of the episode’s titular fictional television channel and talk show Montague.
Aimed at exploring the “growing outlook on accepted sexuality and its effects on black youth and culture,” rapper Paper Boi (a.k.a. Alfred Miles) joined the roundtable alongside Center for Trans-American Issues head Dr. Deborah Holt. The episode felt like a forum for pretty much any given topic, from the stereotypes placed on African Americans to transphobia and police brutality.
Run through the best moments from episode 7 below.
Paper Boi vs. Caitlyn Jenner
In hopes of turning around his image, Earn booked Paper Boi a spot on Montague as one of the week’s guests, alongside Dr. Deborah Holt, head of the Center for Trans-American Issues. Just minutes in, he realized this wouldn’t be an easy task, as Dr. Holt immediately brought up his tweet about not wanting to sleep with Caitlyn Jenner: “Y’all the n—-s that said I was weird for not wanting to f— Caitlyn Jenner.” He later clarified, “I just don’t think I have to have sex with Caitlyn Jenner ’cause y’all said so.”
The show’s host Franklin Montague then probed, “So how long have you disliked trans people?” Paper Boi fired back, “Man, I just found out they exist.” The conversation then turned into Holt playing the race card, claiming that certain communities, particularly rap, were having a tougher time embracing gender expression. Pinpointing masculinity as the culprit than actual homophobia or transphobia, Dr. Holt offered, “Black men aren’t ready to accept the implications of a trans-accepting culture.” Despite the episode being a parody, there are people who side with Holt’s blanket statement and generalized notion of the black community.
The panel also shed light on the controversy that media can stir up from a single comment, and shows the consequences of one’s words, especially in the Internet age. “Isn’t a lack of a father the reason you hate trans people?” Montague asked Paper Boi. Annoyed, the rapper admits that the topic isn’t one he feels a responsibility for. “It’s hard for me to care about this when nobody cares about me as a black, human man,” he said, adding that Caitlyn Jenner “is doing what rich white men do all the time, which is whatever they want.”
Nileseyy Niles as Harrison, the “Transracial”
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you recognized Maryland-based YouTube comedian and Viner Nileseyy Nile’s face in last night’s episode. Among his ridiculous sketches, the most popular would be his disappearing videos that leaves anyone who presses play in stitches. Apparently, Donald Glover was among his many fans, giving him an opportunity to share his comedic gift and shine on a larger platform.
Niles’ appearance took form in Montague’s special report segment titled “Transracial,” where he played Harrison (né Antoine Smalls), a black teenager who believes he’s a white man in his mid-thirties. According to Harrison, he’s embraced a “transracial identity,” explaining that “race is just a made up thing.”
“I’ve always felt different,” he told the interviewer. “I go to the store and movies and just be thinking to myself, ‘Why am I not getting the respect that I deserve?’ And then, it just hit me: I’m white. And 35.” As the segment continued, he showed his everyday behavior like wearing Patagonia and thick brown leather belts, playing golf, and shopping at the farmer’s market. Harrison’s mother was unmoved by his epiphany, quipping: “I’d love to wake up one day and say, ‘Hey, everybody. I’m Rihanna.’ But I ain’t.” Her son also revealed he’s planning surgery for a “full racial transition.”
As funny as the bit it is, it’s also strangely familiar to the real life of Rachel Dolezal, a white woman whose racial identity became national news when her self-identification as black became the subject of controversy. And in the same way that Dolezal and her defenders believed her racial identity was genuine though not based on biology or ancestry, so did Harrison.
“Coconut Crunch-o’s” Takes on Police Brutality
As a show that is pretty much at the front lines of what it means to be young, black and somewhat poor, Atlanta’s dialogue has resonated each and every week. Take the commercials that flanked Montague. Among several that played, the Coconut Crunch-o’s ad stole the show. What initially seemed like a harmless cereal commercial quickly turned violent. Remixing Trix’s “for kids” tagline, a plot depicting a wolf trying to eat kids’ cereal turned dark as a cop arrested and physically abused him. “Stop resisting,” the cop said several times, kneeling on the back of the cooperating wolf. As the kids stared in shock, one pulled out his cell phone to record the terror.
The Blatant Urban Marketing of Swisher Sweets
Another standout commercial centered on the popular, flavored cigar brand Swisher Sweets. Equal parts hilarious and “OMG, is this over yet?,” the spot was loaded with stereotypes directed at black audiences. A pseudo-movie star gushed over its family-grown tobacco (which eventually gets replaced with weed) as the video cut to various black guys raving about the product. “I only smoke Swisher Sweets,” one offered. The ad emitted the same undertones as Mary J. Blige’s leaked Burger King commercial, which was widely criticized for playing into African-American stereotypes as the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul belted out a tune about fried chicken. But even if smoking is a past time for some, the Swisher Sweets commercial demonstrated the stereotype that all black people smoke weed or at least know where to get it — that is, if they aren’t selling it themselves.