Atlanta: A Satirical Look at Reparations

The show ATLANTA follows an up-and-coming rapper and his group from Atlanta, Georgia trying to make it big in the music industry.  But this seemingly innocent plot is precisely why ATLANTA feels different when watching it.  The show takes events and stereotypes in real life and completely flips our original perception of them.  By using realism in how they shoot and make different scenes they then add surrealism to the story which creates a new experience that forces you to look at old ideas and stereotypes in a new light. 

In the third season, there is an episode called, “The Big Payback,” where a whole new cast is introduced and no context is needed from the previous storyline.  It takes place in a time when reparations for African American enslavement are legal and white people are being sued for millions of dollars.  The episode follows a white guy named Marshall who is partially divorced, makes a middle/upper-class income, and most importantly minds his own business.  All aspects of his life start to flip when his job starts laying off people whose ancestors were not enslaved.  A white coworker looking at her DNA chart yelled, “100% Nordic! Are you kidding me,” then a black coworker passed by and laughed.  She snapped back at him and said, “This concerns all of us Will,” and he replied, “No it don’t Ash.”  This satirical hyperbole exposes how white people have ignored the repercussions of slavery by having exactly what happened to many black fathers start to happen to Marshall.  By completely going into a very uncomfortable topic and juxtaposing our original perceptions of what reparations mean to African Americans we can gain a fresh new perspective on the awkward situation between people.

Despite his job being on the line Marshall isn’t very concerned with what’s going on until after he gets home that night.  A black woman named Sheniqua Johnson showed up at his house and sued him for giving her $3 million because his family owned her ancestors.  In the scene, she storms into his house claiming it was hers, and starts rambling on about how nice of a house he has so therefore he must have money to pay her.  This flip of the narrative traces back to how white people arrived in Africa and bought slaves without their consent.  Marshall eventually gets her out of his house but is very confused about how or why this is happening to him.  Eventually, he loses his job, custody of his daughter, and social life in the span of a day just as Sheniquas ancestors went through.  Marshall is initially very angry because he didn’t do anything to deserve the treatment he’s getting, this exposes the feelings African Americans went through even after slavery.  To African Americans, slavery still haunts them in ways that only they can see, Marshall gives us another perspective of how he feels when he gets taken advantage of for something he couldn’t prevent.  

ATLANTA pokes fun at the idea of how serious reparations mean to African Americans.  By using a very realistic scenario in a very surreal way we can uncover a layer behind the scenes of ordinary life.  It’s only when this superficial layer is broken down that we can see Marshall’s perspective just as well as Sheniquas’s.  Bringing this surreal scenario to life in a modern-day outlook toy’s with our minds in more ways than some jump scare movies.  Because of course, African Americans would never just start suing white people for reparations because they didn’t do anything to deserve it.  But just as their ancestors were forced into enslavement and were caused much harm in systematic ways to this day, it makes you reconsider and think more deeply about why they are asking for these levels of compensation.

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