Atlanta chronicles the everyday life of its characters. Glover’s character, “Earn”, has a child and is not married to the mother, his cousin, “Paper Boi” is a rapper who commits an act of violence, and there are talks of drugs, however, in the world of Atlanta those are not stereotypes; it is reality. What is the line between stereotype and reality?
Stereotypes in television are often caricatures. They are over the top. When people say someone is being a stereotype, it’s usually extreme.
Atlanta is not extreme. It is a slow, easy paced show, often taking place in real time. Yes, they are showing rappers. But guess what, people in the “hood”, actually do try to rap. People actually do have guns. This is reality. What I found interesting when I was watching the show is that it showed the emotional response the characters were having to the situations around them. For example, as Paper Boi (played by Brian Tyree Henry), is becoming popular (once his song is on the radio), we see him moving through society and being treated differently. We see his interaction with the man at the wing shop who gives him extra perks. We see on his face, the way that he is affected by the things that this man is saying to him. We see his interaction with a woman who starts off angry and then changes her tune when she realizes who he is. We watch his reaction to little children playing violently as they imitate him. To me, that’s real. That’s realistic. It’s not a stereotype. And it begs the question of whether or not we should preserve the culture of our ghettos or be ashamed of it. The truth is, ghettos exist. And certain cultural aspects come out of those ghettos. If we are to be ashamed of the ghetto and get rid of all things associated with it, that would require us to get rid of some of the things we like, such as jazz, hip hop and street culture. Those are things that have been accepted into popular culture. But other things are not, such as, talking loudly, speaking with heavy colloquialisms, and aspiring to be a rapper or ball player. We look down on these things. But why? We can’t pick and choose what parts of people we like. And by doing so, we are buying into the stereotypes.
“I chose these characters because they represent every type of person. We based these characters off of our friends. I don’t think a lot of people understand how someone like Donald Glover is friends with a drug dealer and that’s what I’m trying to get at. It just happens, it’s not crazy at all.” – Donald Glover
I find it interesting when I hear people of color refer to stereotypical portrayals in TV and film. While I do agree, that sometimes people of color are reduced to stereotypes, I do think there is a difference between reducing someone to just a stereotyped caricature, and having a multi-dimensional character that fits a description of a certain type of person. These people are real. These people actually exist. And they deserve voices. Everyone is a stereotype in one-way or another. People who are against loud speaking, lip smacking girls, are a stereotype. They are a stereotype of “uppity. Someone who speaks “white” is a stereotype. There are positives and negatives to each one. But at the end of the day, these are people who exist. Stereotypes come from somewhere. The negative connotations are really attached to the caricature of such stereotypes.
“Stereotypes come from somewhere. People just don’t know people. I just tried to show a real person. With everybody on the show, it’s like, let’s make sure they’re real people. The second they don’t feel like real people, it feels more like a sitcom to people, which we didn’t want to do. I was like, I don’t want to make it a sitcom. I don’t want it to feel like what people think about when they say, "sitcom." Let’s make sure these characters feel like people and you’re surprised and interested when they make a decision based on their experiences. So, with Earn and Paper Boi and [Paper Boi's friend] Darius, I was like, let’s make sure that their friendship feels honest and then after that they can do whatever they need to do. I feel like people forget how much they’re different from their friends, how often people’s friends are very different and have different ideas and they come together to smoke or chill, but you live completely different lives and sometimes your philosophies cross and sometimes they don’t. And that's what makes for an interesting relationship.” – Donald Glover