Beyoncé’s ‘Homecoming’ Emmy snub is historic disrespect Let’s take a look into what made her Netflix concert film excellent

On Sunday, Fox will air the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards show at 8 p.m. EDT. But the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ credibility as an arbiter of excellence will face justified skepticism because Beyoncé went 0-for-6 at the Creative Arts Emmys last week.

She was nominated for her work on Homecoming, a documentary that captured her performance as the first black woman to headline the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. And just as it was with 2016’s Lemonade, her previous visual album, America’s greatest living pop performer was royally snubbed.

For insight on how that snub might have been received, we can look to the self-titled album released at the end of 2013, which was accompanied not just with music videos but also documentary snippets that explained her mindset. One was about losing, and why she chose footage from her first professional loss — her childhood group, Girls Tyme, losing Star Search — to precede the grimiest, most boastful song on the album, “***Flawless.”

“I was only 9 years old, so at that time, you don’t actually realize that you could work superhard, and give everything you have, and lose. It was the best message for me,” Beyoncé explained. “When I put Ed McMahon introducing us as the ‘hip-hop-rapping Girls Tyme,’ it clicked something in my mind. I feel like something about the aggression of ‘Bow Down’ and the attitude of ‘***Flawless,’ — the reality is, sometimes you lose. And you’re never too good to lose and you’re never too big to lose. You’re never too smart to lose. It happens. And it happens when it needs to happen.”

The pop star’s shutout at the 2019 Creative Arts Emmys didn’t need to happen, but it did. And it’s completely reasonable that her team is having trouble embracing the outcome.

Beyoncé’s Netflix concert film Homecoming was nominated for six Emmys: outstanding directing for a variety special; outstanding variety special (prerecorded); outstanding costumes for variety, nonfiction or reality programming; outstanding music direction; outstanding production design for a variety special; and outstanding writing for a variety special.

Here’s what won:

  • Directing — Springsteen on Broadway
  • Variety special (prerecorded) — Carpool Karaoke: When Corden Met McCartney Live From Liverpool
  • Costumes — RuPaul’s Drag Race
  • Music direction — Fosse/Verdon
  • Production design — Rent
  • Writing — Hannah Gadsby: Nanette

The television academy’s decisions for music direction and variety special strike me as, at best, misinformed and, at worst, insulting. To understand why, let’s take a deeper look into what made Homecoming excellent, first with musical direction and then the show.

In crafting the musical arrangements for Homecoming, Beyoncé and music director Derek Dixie did something incredibly ambitious, something that requires an encyclopedic knowledge of black music and a broad imagination and acuity for music theory.

Beyoncé Knowles performs onstage during the 2018 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Field on April 21, 2018, in Indio, California.

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Coachella

What dominates Homecoming is a sustained nod to New Orleans. It extends past the tracks that originated on Lemonade, an exploration of Beyoncé’s Creole heritage. Dixie and Beyoncé didn’t just adapt her music for a marching band; they conducted a sonic archaeological dig and placed her within a continuum of black music. The orchestrations are reminiscent of the approach to pop music at Motown. Queen Bey’s hits benefit from the use of modern technology, which allows artists to take advantage of infinite possibilities. But they’re also written in a way that comes alive with a live band, an indication of top-notch songwriting and inspired orchestration.

See: the Homecoming arrangement of “Deja Vu,” which, after the first few measures of its bassline, drives into the song with horns that take a little from the funk of B.T. Express’ “Do It (T’il You’re Satisfied),” which is sampled on “Deja Vu,” and mixes it with strings more associated with Philadelphia soul.

When Beyoncé offers an assessment of the students’ abilities during an interlude, she’s not being hyperbolic. “The amount of swag is just limitless,” she says.

Ambitious ideas are one thing. Execution is another. And there is evidence that Beyoncé’s famously high standards were present in the show. The horn runs on “Say My Name,” for example, are exquisite — a blizzard of notes, played not by one person but a group. The greater the number of musicians attempting to play the same run in unison, the greater the likelihood that the sound will become muddied, which is why a classic choice for trumpet section battles at football games is “Flight of the Bumblebee.”

On “Say My Name,” those runs are clean, tight and distinguishable. But they are part of a bigger sonic and visual machine. Besides the horn runs, there are the vocal harmonies from Beyoncé and her Destiny’s Child mates, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams. Then add the percussive beats, separate from the drum line, that come from the steppers.

Everything has to happen in unison and is being performed in large part by college students. To attempt to do the whole thing not once but twice, and then stitch both performances together in postproduction, is, in a word, crazy.

When Beyoncé offers an assessment of the students’ abilities during an interlude, she’s not being hyperbolic. “The amount of swag is just limitless,” she says. “The things that these young people can do with their bodies and the music they can play and the drum rolls and haircuts and the bodies — it’s just not right. It’s just so much damn swag.”

Then there are the screaming trumpets that are integral to the sound of a historically black college or university (HBCU) band. If you’re listening to the Homecoming album, you can hear them in full force at about 1:37 into the first track, “Welcome,” and again in the last 40 or so seconds. Hitting those notes requires a skilled level of musicianship. Being able to hit them again and again over the course of a two-hour set, as Homecoming calls for, is harder because horn players have to retain their chops, or their embouchure, so that their facial muscles aren’t giving out before the performance is over.

These challenges are different from those faced by the music department of Fosse/Verdon, led by Alex Lacamoire, which won the Emmy for the first episode of the seven-part miniseries. Fosse/Verdon is about the personal and professional lives of dancer and actor Gwen Verdon and her creative and romantic partner director and choreographer Bob Fosse.

Lacamoire was charged with an assignment that was almost the reverse of what Dixie and Beyoncé were doing. He had to take highly recognizable songs across several different musicals, written by different composers, and aurally unify them, creating a soundtrack that feels like it’s a collection of songs from one musical called Fosse/Verdon.

Even though “Big Spender” is from Sweet Charity, and written by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields, and “Mein Herr” is a number from Cabaret, written by John Kander and Fred Ebb, Lacamoire’s arrangements make them sound like they belong in the same television show. In Lacamoire’s case, the artists unifying the collection are a dancer and a director, not a leading vocalist. The Music of Fosse/Verdon is from a variety of artists, from The Fandango Girls to Alysha Umphress to Bianca Marroquín. Creating and shaping that thematic continuity is not an easy feat.

Still, the recording sessions for Fosse/Verdon didn’t have to take place during a live concert in which the musicians are also performing choreography for two hours — without sheet music. The songs of Fosse/Verdon, which included “Cabaret,” “All That Jazz” and “We Both Reached for the Gun,” were originally written for musical theater. That doesn’t mean they aren’t difficult to play, but they were composed with the intention that a live orchestra would do so for eight shows a week on Broadway.

Listen to the Fosse/Verdon version of “All That Jazz,” the opening number of Chicago and one of the most iconic songs in musical theater history:

Sometimes songwriters will torture Broadway musicians with arrangements that test the limits of human endurance, but it’s usually vocalists who suffer. That’s what happened to Audra McDonald when she did Porgy and Bess on Broadway. Her teacher’s assistant at Juilliard described the role as “difficult” and a “voice-killer” because of the range it demanded and the frequency of the performances. In a 2012 Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross, McDonald spoke about the arduous task of singing “What You Want With Bess” eight times a week.

When Beyoncé took the stage in April 2018 at Coachella, the festival livestreamed the performance. In real time, the singer’s contemporaries marveled at what she’d accomplished.

Ambitious ideas are one thing. Execution is another. And, there is evidence that Beyoncé’s famously high standards were present in the show.

“How. in. The. Fuh. Did. She. Pull. That. Shiii. OFF!!!!??? It’s like 170 musicians onstage,” tweeted Questlove. “I mean the stage plotting. The patch chords. How many monitor boards were used??! Bandleading that s— woulda gave me anxiety. Hats off man. Jesus H Christ.”

If Questlove, who is about as experienced and virtuosic a bandleader as a person can be, declares that the job would have given him anxiety, that’s a good indication that what’s taking place onstage is extraordinary.

So why didn’t the television academy see it that way?

“It’s got everything to do with the voting membership, which skews much older, whiter, and more male than the industry or audience,” tweeted actor Rebecca Metz, who plays Tressa on the FX show Better Things. “The awards reflect their taste and viewing habits. I’m on a mission to recruit young, diverse members for this very reason.”

Let’s turn to the broader picture: What makes Homecoming uniquely great television? What Beyoncé accomplished in two performances at Coachella and with the Homecoming documentary is like a Broadway show. There’s singing, there’s dancing and there’s a story. Remember, the Emmy is not for the live performance itself but for the documentary. We’re asking specific questions here: How do Homecoming and Carpool Karaoke, which won the Emmy, function as pieces of television? What do they offer visually? What role does the music play in the delivery of a larger narrative?

Again, Beyoncé is operating in a space that’s not dissimilar from her competition. Corden, before becoming a late-night host, was an actor. He sings and dances, as evidenced by his stints hosting the Tony Awards. Both Corden and Beyoncé are invested in a type of musical theatricality. Corden is just more self-effacing about it.

“Carpool Karaoke,” Corden’s running gag on The Late Late Show, is reliably great. Corden has a magical capacity for disarming his guests. He offers a fun, anodyne form of celebrity schmoozing that isn’t weighted with self-serious pretension. It’s viral internet gold: Corden drives around with popular musical artists, sings their songs with them, and the whole thing is recorded. Past participants include rappers Migos, singer Adele and even then-first lady Michelle Obama, who rode with artist Missy Elliott.

Look at the episode of Carpool Karaoke that won the Emmy for best variety special (prerecorded) over Homecoming, in which Corden sings with Paul McCartney while driving around the Beatles’ hometown of Liverpool, England.

There’s some editing that takes place when Corden and McCartney are singing the “beep beep beep beeps” of “Drive My Car.” Clearly the show was able to get McCartney to do the bit at least twice, once in the passenger seat and then once as the driver, with both edited together.

Beyoncé does something similar in Homecoming, but she takes it to the extremes we have come to expect but perhaps do not appreciate. Homecoming editors Alexander Hammer and Andrew Morrow are responsible for a great cut that takes place about 6 minutes and 15 seconds into Homecoming, when the band, dancers and steppers are transitioning from “Crazy in Love” to Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up.” First, the band is facing the cameras dressed in yellow. When Juvenile says, “Drop it,” the band members turn. Their backs are to the crowd, and everyone is in candy pink — which was the color of the uniforms for the second Coachella performance. The two were cut together, and the effect is almost supernatural. For that tiny bit of visual trickery to work, all 151 performers had to hit their marks at the same time, in the exact spots, for both performances, doing JaQuel Knight’s choreography.

That’s not for the Coachella audience — that’s just for television.

By the way, that choreography is informed by the history of New Orleans. While it’s identified in modern parlance as twerking, the moves go back to the days of segregated New Orleans, when black dancers performed in the city’s nightclubs that lined Rampart Street, such as the Dew Drop Inn and the Tick Tock Tavern. They performed something called “shake dancing,” one of the many descendants of the mixed-race social dance that took place at events known as quadrilles, held in 19th-century New Orleans ballrooms.

Shake dancing, as LaKisha Simmons explains in Crescent City Girls: The Lives of Young Black Women in Segregated New Orleans, was not just an illicit thrill. It was a rejection of respectability politics and of arbitrary definitions of propriety. It represented creativity and sexual freedom, two of the themes that pervade Beyoncé’s oeuvre. But it wasn’t seen in such generous terms by white writers documenting the culture of Rampart Street, or well-to-do blacks who avoided it. So putting the dance moves of these women onstage at Coachella and setting them off with sequins, discipline and precision becomes a way of honoring them and their labor.

In executing her Coachella set, Beyoncé elevated to an enormous stage an aspect of American culture that tends to be overlooked and misunderstood: the role of HBCUs in shaping pop culture. She used the marching band in Homecoming as both a bridge and a framing device to show how her own sound fits into the broader narrative of the African diaspora. She repeatedly demonstrated how the mélange of cultures in Louisiana, from the French whites to Afro-Caribbean residents to enslaved and free African Americans, influenced American culture.

“At least two centuries had passed since those unnamed slaves Thomas Nicholls observed had helped their mistresses in and out of their shoes, so that the white ladies could learn routines increasingly redolent of Africa, perhaps while their servants snuck away to try out some French steps of their own,” NPR music critic Ann Powers wrote in her 2017 book Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black & White, Body and Soul in American Music, making the connection between New Orleans quadrille balls and Beyoncé’s decision to appear in the music video for “Formation” as both a quadroon and a bounce dancer. “In that long span, countless dances had been danced, many identities blended and forced apart. The taboo baby had grown up and become a matriarch.”

She used the marching band in Homecoming as both a bridge and a framing device to show how her own sound fits into the broader narrative of the African diaspora.

Beyoncé was able to seamlessly and coherently weave together the words and cultural contributions of Nina Simone, James Weldon Johnson, Toni Morrison and others with contemporary figures such as Lil Yachty, Fast Life Yungstaz, Sister Nancy and O.T. Genasis. She pulled from the go-go sounds of Washington, D.C., the horn-heavy jazz of New Orleans, J Balvin’s “Mi Gente,” OutKast’s “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” and the music of her own husband, just to name a few, within an epic recounting of her 25-year repertoire. It was all valid, all valuable, all part of a vast quilt of what it means to be black, to be a woman, what it means to be American, to be human. And she was the vessel embodying all of it, from the militant self-love of Malcolm X to the regality of Nefertiti.

In that way, the work is euphoric, forward-looking and optimistic, even as it’s held together by the glue of the past.

The shows in which Verdon danced and Fosse directed and choreographed are in no danger of being overlooked. Chicago is the longest-running American musical in Broadway history. Certainly the legacy of the Beatles has been well-appreciated. These artists have been beatified with awards and decades of recognition.

But the musical and dance tradition that informs so much of American pop music, beyond Beyoncé’s, isn’t regarded with the same reverence for its innovation, its influence, its history. Instead, it remains marginalized as part of the African American story rather than the American story.

What a shame that American institutions such as the television academy still bypass recognition of the epic historical record and scholarship embedded within Beyoncé’s music because it is easier to see it in work that’s long been regarded as classic. This time it is they who have lost, not she.

John Singleton’s ‘Snowfall’ came to a tragic finish The season finale remains gutting a week later

Franklin Saint (Damson Idris) knew the consequences of selling drugs were inevitable, but seeing who suffered as he burned the world around him still remains gutting a week after Snowfall‘s season finale.

Early critiques of FX’s Reagan-era drama exploring the origins of the crack epidemic said that it moved too slowly and neglected the drug addicts.

But while Snowfall, created by John Singleton with Dave Andron and Eric Amadio, spent two seasons building the characters and their worlds, season three wasted no time destroying unblemished characters’ lives. The show’s accelerated pace helped the show emerge as one of the best dramas on television.

Damson Idris plays Franklin Saint, who grows increasingly cutthroat as he makes choices that alter the lives of everyone in his orbit in season three of Snowfall.

Prashant Gupta/FX

At the beginning, Saint is a kid with more ambition than options. Season three shows the young drug kingpin grow increasingly cutthroat as he makes choices that alter the lives of everyone in his orbit. The expansion of Saint’s business draws the ire of Los Angeles Police Department Sgt. Andre Wright (Marcus Henderson), his former neighbor, who is eager to take him down because of the damage he’s causing in their South Central community and his relationship with Wright’s daughter, Mel (Reign Edwards).

Snowfall delivered a crushing blow in season three by turning an innocent, college-bound teenager into a crack addict without the heavy-handed tone of an anti-drug public service announcement.

Viewers see Wright cruising through South Central, appalled by crack’s effect. His most disturbing discovery is a girl, no older than his daughter, who nearly dies while stealing to feed her addiction. He knows the source of the problem: Saint. In turn, Wright drives Saint to a crack house for a closer look at how he’s poisoning the community.

“[Wright] sees what crack is doing more clearly than most people, which is why he’s taking a strong stand against it,” said crime novelist Walter Mosley, who joined Snowfall as a consulting producer and writer in 2018. “And in doing that, he and Franklin [Saint] become nemeses.”

Special Edition Roundtable: ‘Snowfall’ uses the past to explain the present and the cast explains it all

In a reference to the gang sweeps that the LAPD executed in advance of the 1984 Olympics, Wright gains support for his mission within the department by telling his superiors that crack is making its way toward the site of the Games: the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The police, led by Wright, attack Saint’s operation and family. As quickly as Wright becomes a hero within the department, he’s disgraced after Saint orchestrates the theft of his badge and gun in retaliation. His resulting suspension from the force, despite the successful initiative he led, is a harsh reminder that he’s black first and a cop second. This is underlined when he’s assaulted during a traffic stop by two white cops who only check to confirm that he’s a colleague after beating him.

In reality, Wright’s fate is sealed the moment he faces off against Saint. Both know the other’s vulnerabilities because of their complicated relationship, turning their battle into an antagonistic chess game. While Wright recognizes Saint is no longer the kid he watched grow up, underestimating him proves to be a fatal mistake. Before Wright meets his demise at Saint’s hands, he endures the pain of seeing his worst fear confirmed: Mel, his only child, is ensnared by the drug that’s ravaging the streets of Los Angeles.

Franklin Saint (Damson Idris, left) and Mel (Reign Edwards, right) have an on-again, off-again relationship. It has always been one of Snowfall‘s bright spots, even with the knowledge that it couldn’t last.

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP Photo

Mel’s descent into addiction has been Snowfall’s most heartbreaking development. In just a few episodes, she goes from Spelman-bound to vanishing the day Wright is supposed to take her to college because she’s trying to score crack. Her shocking turn illustrates not only how widely available crack was during the 1980s but also how quickly it could dismantle anyone’s life, no matter how bright their future or sturdy their support system.

By ramping up the chaos it’s been building since the pilot, Snowfall depicted crack’s impact on a human level. John Singleton would be proud.

“In the beginning, people didn’t think, ‘Oh, this is terrible, I’m gonna be addicted,’ ” Mosley said. “But the next thing you know, it does happen.”

And no one thought it would happen to Mel. Her arc this season was a harrowing look at addiction, which erases morals, scruples and, in some cases, all traces of who the victim used to be. “Once the rock get a hold of they ass,” Saint’s friend and enforcer Leon (Isaiah John) tells him, “the person you knew, they’re gone.” Mel is sweet-natured and radiant, but as her addiction worsens, Wright, serving as a proxy for the audience, stops recognizing the person he raised. One chilling sequence, a montage set to Roy Ayers Ubiquity’s “Everybody Loves the Sunshine,” ends with Wright realizing that he can’t stop his daughter.

It’s through Mel’s addiction that Saint is forced to reckon with the weight of his own actions. He’s in his early 20s and establishing generational wealth for his family in less time than it would have taken him to finish college. Creating this life on his own terms is how Saint justifies selling crack.

According to Mosley, Saint sees his exploits through “million-dollar glasses,” a myopia that blinds him to the societal impact of what he’s doing. He’s able to rationalize everything as “just business” until he’s forced to pull Mel out of a crack house. It’s easier to sell drugs if you don’t humanize the people buying them. In Saint’s mind, he’s giving them what they want from a safe distance.

He’s rattled, however, after seeing what they do to someone he loves. “It takes him a while to realize the absolute devastation of those drugs, and I think toward the end of season three, he’s seeing that and more so experiencing it,” Mosley said.

Saint and Mel’s on-again, off-again relationship has been one of Snowfall’s bright spots, even with the knowledge that it couldn’t last. Needless to say, it’s unlikely that a drug dealer and a cop’s daughter have a future together.

That’s what crack did as it spread throughout the nation during the 1980s. It turned neighbors into enemies. It turned the girl next door into an addict. It turned the boy next door into a monster. Seeing this unfold so rapidly has been tragic, but it’s the payoff of Snowfall’s meticulous approach to storytelling. That Snowfall has even arrived at this point is a testament to patience and the power of slow-burning drama.

John Singleton (left) and Damson Idris (right) arrive at the Oscars on March 4, 2018.

Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP Photo

Viewers stuck with Snowfall without much buzz or critical acclaim because the show keeps improving as the drama mounts. Snowfall’s evolution is proof that some shows need room to grow. Imagine if HBO gave up on The Wire after season two.

It’s just unfortunate that Singleton isn’t alive to see Snowfall’s progress, although Mosley says Singleton’s vision and faith in the writers, producers and directors empowered them to make something they’re sure he’d love.

Snowfall delivered a crushing blow in season three by turning an innocent, college-bound teenager into a crack addict without the heavy-handed tone of an anti-drug public service announcement. Mel’s undoing was a tragedy, but it was presented as just a reality, making it more haunting. Wright fell victim to his own morality, and Saint was forced to face the consequences of his actions in a way that changed him for the worse. No one in this complicated triangle emerged unscathed.

By ramping up the chaos it’s been building since the pilot, Snowfall depicted crack’s impact on a human level.

John Singleton would be proud.

Tony-nominated playwright Dominique Morisseau wants to make American theater better for black people She’s nominated for her work on the hit Broadway musical ‘Ain’t Too Proud’

Dominique Morisseau wants to make American theater better for black people, and she’s doing it by paying homage to her hometown of Detroit.

The 41-year-old playwright has been having a banner year. In October, she was one of 25 fellows to win grants from the MacArthur Foundation. Morisseau wrote the book for one of Broadway’s hottest shows this season, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations. Now, it’s nominated for 12 Tonys, including best musical. There’s a possibility Morisseau could be taking home a statue for herself on Sunday night, as the show is nominated for best book (for spoken dialogue and storyline).

Oprah Winfrey (standing, center) poses with the cast and creative team backstage at the hit musical Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations on May 17 at the Imperial Theatre in New York City.

Photo by Bruce Glikas/WireImage

The jukebox musical tells the story of one of Motown’s most beloved groups as it soars to worldwide fame while balancing the needs and egos of a rotating array of singers. Founding member Otis Williams, played by Derrick Baskin, narrates the timeline from his beginnings as a teenage singer straight up to the modern day. At 77, the real Williams is still very much alive, and Ain’t Too Proud is based on his memoir. The musical briefly touches on issues that affected the group’s many singers, including being an absentee father, drug abuse and the pressure to avoid commenting on the Vietnam War, segregation or anything else that might pierce the melodic escapism they came to represent. But those issues are never allowed to overtake the tone of the show.

A big Broadway musical is a departure for Morisseau, and as her profile continues to grow, it’s something she’ll likely have to navigate more in the future.

“There are some things about writing a musical that are different than writing a play,” Morisseau told me. “The scarcity of language, how fast I have to convey an idea because we don’t have a lot of time between songs. The songs are really the story.”

Morisseau is married to musician James Keys, and music factors heavily in her plays. She figures they’ll likely write a musical together.

Before Ain’t Too Proud, Morisseau was a queen of off-Broadway, which is typically less commercial, racking up plaudits including a 2015 Steinberg Playwright Award and an Obie for her play Pipeline in 2018. Her work challenges audiences with complicated, interweaving social issues, especially when it comes to race. Pipeline, for instance, is about a black mother and public schoolteacher confronting her feelings of powerlessness in trying to prevent her son from getting sucked into the school-to-prison pipeline.

Morisseau is a passionate advocate for her fellow black playwrights and actors, and for ways to improve the faults she sees in contemporary American theater, whether or not there’s a proscenium involved.

“Across the theater board, they seem to think that money only exists in old white communities, which means that they don’t understand the buying power of any other people.” — Dominique Morisseau

“I will say no to very shiny productions of my play if it does not feel like everything around it has the kind of artistic integrity that I want,” Morisseau said. “I’ve had to stand up to theaters several times around the curation of my work or my relationship with them. … I have a really great relationship with a lot of theaters in the city, but it comes from push and pull and us developing mutual respect, because I’m just not going to be the kind of artist that you can tell what to do.

“When it comes to making decisions about who’s going to be in my plays, who’s going to direct my plays, I take a strong stance. I collaborate with a theater. Sometimes they want to push a director on me. I have worked with directors that the theater has brought to the table, but those directors that they brought to the table have been African American women directors or African American directors. Then I’ll go, ‘Oh, OK, well let me meet that person.’ ”

She’s also vocal about calling for more black artistic directors, the people in charge of programming theater seasons who are responsible for maintaining an existing donor base of largely white patrons while courting new, younger and browner audiences. When Hana Sharif was named artistic director of St. Louis Repertory, Morisseau shared her huzzahs on Facebook.

“You don’t see artistic directors of color, period,” Morisseau explained. “And you don’t see women artistic directors very often. There’s a few white women artistic directors of a few regional theaters, significant regional theaters, but not enough. St. Louis Rep, that is a huge regional theater, so for Hana to run that regional theater, it’s a big seismic shift in our industry.”

Actress Simone Missick, who is best known for playing Misty Knight in Luke Cage, told me she considers Morisseau “one of the pre-eminent writers of our time in the theater world and in television.” Although Morisseau’s chief focus is theater, she was also a co-producer on the Showtime series Shameless, and she is currently developing projects for FX and HBO.

Missick starred in Paradise Blue, the middle play of Morisseau’s Detroit Project trilogy. Set in 1949, Paradise Blue follows a talented trumpeter named Blue, who is trying to decide what to do about the jazz club he owns in Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood. It’s not bringing in much money, and Blue wants to move on. At the same time, white speculators are buying up property in the neighborhood intending to gentrify it and pushing out the black residents. Oh — Blue also has a serious mental illness, and he’s troubled by the fact that his girlfriend, Pumpkin, wants to stay in Detroit even though he wants to leave. A mysterious woman from out of town, a literal black widow known as Silver, raises everyone’s hackles. Morisseau, who played Silver in the play’s original staging, describes the character as “Spicy. Gritty and raw in a way that men find irresistible. Has a meeeeeaaaannnn walk.”

“Dominique has a mastery which I wish more writers had,” Missick said. “When you read it, it reads the way that people talk.

“You could drop a microphone in Detroit or in Alabama, where some of these characters are from, or Louisiana, where my character was from. You could drop a microphone and those people would sound exactly the way that Dominique has written. And that is a beautiful thing because so often when I read work as an actor, you read things and you think, people don’t talk like that. … But she also gives her writing a musicality, and if the rhythm of it does not sync with her spirit, then she changes it.”

Within Morisseau’s story of gentrification and the upheaval it brings is another story about Pumpkin and the fights black women face battling racism and sexism. Morisseau chuckled when I referred to her in conversation as a feminist August Wilson. It turned out that I’d tripped over one of the things she hopes will change about theater, which is that the press compares every black playwright to Wilson, no matter how incongruous their styles may be.

“I laugh when people liken me to August Wilson in any way or shape or form,” she said. “They do that for so many of us young black playwrights. It’s like any of us that have poetry in our language and kind of capture this unapologetic rhythm of black dialect, we all are writing in the fashion of August.

“Some of us actually really are, and would own that. And I don’t think others are doing that at all or intending to do that. I think that they’re getting called that because that’s the easiest go-to reference for a lot of people.

“I can’t ever deny August’s influence on my work,” Morisseau said. “I started writing the Detroit [Project] because I was reading August Wilson’s work. I read his work back to back, and I read Pearl Cleage, who was from Detroit, I read her writing back to back. I was just so inspired by their canon of work. … I just thought, Wow, what his work is doing for the people of Pittsburgh, how they must feel so loved, so immortalized in his writing, I want to do that for Detroit.”

“All of these layers, details that Dominique weaves into her characters, gives every single person a motivation that is not perfect.” — actress Simone Missick

Like Wilson, Morisseau focuses on working-class black people, and her Detroit trilogy (Paradise Blue, Detroit ’67 and Skeleton Crew) shares some broad ideas with Wilson’s famous Pittsburgh Cycle.

Furthermore, Morisseau writes fully realized black characters who exist in a racist society without being polemical. The contours of white supremacy are very much part of the worlds she creates, but her plays are about people, not arguments. Detroit ’67 is set during the infamous riot that took place in 1967, and Skeleton Crew, set in 2008, examines the difficult decisions autoworkers face as their industry weathers storm after storm. All of them seek to portray a Detroit that’s more than a collection of pathologies, as evidenced in Morisseau’s dedication for Skeleton Crew, which is pointed and personal:

“This is for my Auntie Francine, my grandfather Pike, my cousins Michael Abney and Patti Poindexter, my Uncle Sandy, my friend David Livingston, my relative Willie Felder, and all of the UAW members and autoworkers whose passion for their work inspires me. And this is for the working-class warriors who keep this country driving forward.

“This is also for the politicians, financial analysts, and everyday citizens who echoed the negating sentiments, ‘Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.’ Yep, this is for you, too, dammit.”

In some ways, Morisseau plays a role in theater similar to the one Ava DuVernay occupies in film. Both women are vocal about inequities in their fields and the way they affect whose stories get told and the budgets allotted to tell them. Just as DuVernay has been committed to creating a pipeline of female directors with her OWN drama Queen Sugar, Morisseau has pushed to work with black directors in theater.

Like DuVernay, Morisseau’s writing is ambitious, deeply researched work that focuses on characters surmounting challenges large and small stemming from racial inequality.

“All of these layers, details that Dominique weaves into her characters gives every single person a motivation that is not perfect,” Missick said. “It’s not trivial. It’s not trite. There is no character that is used to push the story along. I very rarely see that onstage or on screen, that every single person has something that they’re fighting for. … It’s something that I think makes her writing something that actors for generations will want to perform.”

Morisseau wants to keep challenging audiences. And she wants artistic directors to internalize that approach. She told me that artistic directors too often underestimate how much white audiences are willing to be pushed. And their conception of potential audience members remains blinkered.

“Across the theater board, they seem to think that money only exists in old white communities, which means that they don’t understand the buying power of any other people,” Morisseau said.

John Singleton’s storytelling legacy will live on for generations to come As the first black filmmaker nominated for best director at the Oscars, Singleton helped pave the way in Hollywood

Perhaps John Singleton’s biggest contribution to popular culture isn’t the gripping, relatable portrait that is his 1991 instant classic Boyz n the Hood. It’s that he introduced so many talented players to the Hollywood cinema landscape — both on camera and behind the scenes.

Director John Singleton attends A Conversation With John Singleton: Celebrating 25 Years of Boyz n the Hood at The Gathering Spot on Aug. 23, 2016, in Atlanta.

Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images

That film, in all its glory, was a first for so many significant voices in this industry. It was Ice Cube’s first film. Regina King’s first film. Morris Chestnut’s first film. It gave Angela Bassett and Cuba Gooding Jr. their first major film roles. And, as Singleton excitedly quipped before giving a pound to a nearby friend as he watched the 2019 Academy Awards telecast from the Dolby Theatre bar earlier this year, it was Peter Ramsey’s first. When Ramsey, who collected an Oscar for SpiderMan: Into the SpiderVerse, stood up onstage to accept his accolade, Singleton rushed to the TV monitor and quieted most of the people around him (celebrities included) and hooted and hollered at the appropriate moments. It was the second time that night that someone from Boyz got up on Hollywood’s biggest stage (King picked up the first award of the night for her work in If Beale Street Could Talk) and collected the town’s most beloved token.

He was a proud papa that night, as he should have been.

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This is where it all started. The Genesis – The Genius – The Genre Maker/Star Maker (Taraji P. Henson, Ice Cube, Tyrese Gibson, Lawrence Fishburne, Regina King,Nia Long, Angela Basset, Cuba Gooding, Jr. – in no particular order as these are all great actors/actresses). John Singleton gave me a chance. When I left the audition for "Boyz N' The Hood" as he shook my hand, he gave me a stronger grip than normal and looked me in the eye. I felt he was basically giving me a signal that I had the job without telling me. From there, there was no comprehension of the massive chain of events that were about to follow. People from all over the world literally tell me how they’re affected by Boyz ‘N The Hood. The magnitude and world-wide impact that his ground-breaking film would have for society cannot be measured. Helping to bring awareness of what it takes to come to maturity as a black male in the 'Hood, or die trying… Helping to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges faced. Dealing with challenges and adversity in life and in general. From that lesson, for anyone who watches Boyz N’ The Hood, we are able to learn a little more about ourselves and each other. Hopefully, we are able to grow, evolve and gain a deeper love and understanding of our humanity. John Singleton, thank you for your vision. Thank you for holding my hand a little stronger. Thank you for connecting with me and thank you for connecting me to history. Thank you for connecting and transcending generations, nationalities, nations, races, communities, societies. Thank you, John Singleton, for connecting us all. #RIP #JohnSingleton

A post shared by Morris Chestnut (@morrischestnutofficial) on Apr 29, 2019 at 12:36pm PDT

Since his own nomination at the 1992 Academy Awards, Singleton has been a constant presence at Hollywood’s big to-do. At 24 years old, his dynamic portrayal of South Central Los Angeles — and, if we’re being honest here, Any ‘Hood USA — was rightly acknowledged. He didn’t walk away with a win that night all those years ago, but he walked away with something much bigger: an important voice as a storyteller and a person who accurately portrayed familiar situations that were at times, yes, tragic — like young Ricky Baker, who was moments away from landing a football scholarship to better his family when he was senselessly gunned down.

Moments like those, and the talent, were epic.

Sadly, this year would be his last Academy Awards ceremony. On Monday, Singleton died at 51 after suffering a major stroke, a family rep told TMZ.

Yes, his legacy will live on — for generations to come. The gifts that he leaves behind are rich. Singleton, at 24, was the first black filmmaker nominated for the best director Oscar and the youngest. He paved a way. Lee Daniels, Steve McQueen, Barry Jenkins, Jordan Peele and Spike Lee have since been nominated.

A win for best director by a black person has yet to happen.

Cuba Gooding Jr. (left) and filmmaker John Singleton (right) attend the 32nd annual Television Critics Association Awards on Aug. 6, 2016, in Beverly Hills, California. Gooding was one of the stars of Boyz n the Hood, which was directed by Singleton in 1991.

Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

But the loss didn’t deter Singleton one bit. He wrote and directed 1993’s Poetic Justice, the iconic pairing of Janet Jackson and rapper Tupac Shakur (which also gave King a co-starring role). The 1995 movie Higher Learning rounded out back-to-back films, this one putting Ice Cube (who was beginning to break out big post-Boyz) on a college campus with King, Tyra Banks, Omar Epps, Kristy Swanson, Laurence Fishburne and Michael Rapaport, among others, and highlighted clashes, date rape, racism and the student-athlete struggle.

Singleton’s train didn’t slow down.

He also directed films Rosewood (1997); Shaft (2000); Baby Boy (2001), which introduced us to Tyrese Gibson and Taraji P. Henson; 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003); and Four Brothers (2005).

And as much as Singleton has done, it felt like he was only just beginning.

This was not the way Singleton’s story was supposed to end. Most recently, the creator threw us back to 1983, where he homed in on how the crack epidemic has culturally impacted Los Angeles with his most excellent series for FX, Snowfall, which was renewed just last year for a third season.

Singleton had more to give. And he — like Gooding, King, Ramsey, Bassett and Henson, now all Oscar winners or Oscar-nominated actors to whom he helped give a leg up — deserved more time to put out a project that allowed him to get up on that big stage, thank the appropriate people and take a bow.

Singleton had more to give. And he — like Gooding, King, Ramsey, Bassett and Henson, now all Oscar winners or Oscar-nominated actors to whom he helped give a leg up — deserved more time to put out a project that allowed him to get up on that big stage, thank the appropriate people and take a bow.

At times like these, we often kick ourselves for not handing out flowers to people who deserved them. Certainly, the Hollywood voting body failed Singleton, considering his contributions beyond just the culture. His cinematic landscapes have been plentiful, layered and, in many cases, excellent. But perhaps he was OK with where his impact really mattered: in having a vote to cast for the past 27 years — long before April Reign’s viral #OscarsSoWhite campaign, which opened the door for other people of color to have a say in what Hollywood’s best work should be — and in having that sharp eye for good and, yes, black talent.

And truthfully, considering how excited he was as we high-fived one another in the little room off the lobby — the place where for the past 12 or so years I’d get up out of my seat and gather to watch the Oscars and would see him there every year as well; and as Ramsey’s name was called, I reminded him that a win for King (his former USC classmate) and Ramsey and all the others he helped to hone also was a win for him — I think he got it.

‘Pose’ on FX: an earnest, romantic family drama about gay and trans people of color Marrying art and politics is never easy, but Ryan Murphy’s show hits the sweet spot

This, as promised by the headline, will be an essay about Pose. But first, we have to get something out of the way: Stonewall is the worst film I have ever seen.

The 2015 film from Independence Day director Roland Emmerich was ostensibly about the Stonewall riots. But it found so many ways to be terrible that if you told me now that it was an elaborate exercise in trolling, my response would be OK, that makes sense.

Stonewall needlessly rewrote queer history, shoehorning in a made-up white ingenue from Middle America to drive its story while sidelining the tales of real-life trans women of color such as Marsha P. Johnson who were instrumental to the fateful Christopher Street revolt. It billed itself as the definitive, celebratory story of the start of the modern gay rights movement, but instead it was self-indulgent and meandering with bargain bin production values.

Schlock like Stonewall is why audiences have learned to temper their expectations when it comes to fictive narratives about queer people of color. Even in the queer cultural canon, people of color and trans people are largely missing from stage or screen, especially as central characters. This spring has offered renewed celebration of The Boys in the Band and Angels in America, pivotal works both, on Broadway. When it comes to television, Showtime broke serious ground with Queer as Folk and The L Word, making way for HBO’s Looking years later. Films such as Milk, The Normal Heart, The Kids Are All Right, Brokeback Mountain, Dallas Buyers Club, But I’m A Cheerleader, and Transamerica netted high praise and told valued stories about what it means to be queer — if you are white. And if you aren’t, better luck finding yourself within the pages of James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, or the staged works of Tarell Alvin McCraney, whose play provided the source material for Moonlight. As for television with a majority-minority queer cast, there’s Noah’s Arc and … Noah’s Arc.

Now there’s Pose, a new FX drama from Ryan Murphy about New York’s 1980s drag ball culture, which premiered Sunday night. Pose debuted a mere three nights into June, which marks the start of Pride season in America because it’s the month the Stonewall riots began. Pose is Paris is Burning come to life, mixed with a dollop or two of Fame. It is the sort of thing that makes you offer up prayers of hope to Mother Ru: Please don’t let this be another Stonewall-sized Hindenburg.

In the queer cultural canon of Angels in America and Brokeback Mountain, people of color and trans people are largely missing from stage or screen, especially as central characters.

Before anyone had seen a minute of television, it was clear that Murphy and FX had paid attention to the politics of the production. At the Television Critics Association press tour in January, Murphy and co-creator Brad Falchuk were saying all the right things about listening and humbling themselves as architects of a closed-off world in which they had little to no expertise. FX made sure journalists knew that the show’s cast was composed of trans actresses of color. The word “intersectionality” came up a lot.

“The writers’ room is a very intimate space, so no question is off-limits,” Pose writer and activist Janet Mock told me at the press tour. “There’s a stripping away of ego because we’re all on the same level.

“There were a lot of conversations about blackness, about colorism, about hair textures — that’s why you see the girls all with naturals. It was through the conversation we had about what it means to be a person of color, but then a person of color in the ’80s, who’s a woman, who’s also a trans woman, who’s also poor. All of that stuff comes in and so you have to break it down to the very basic elements, and then not make it too conscious that we’re in the 2000s writing about the 1980s.”

But what about the show itself? I’ve watched the first four episodes, and I found it earnest, romantic, heartbreaking, and instantly addictive. It’s clear that the discussions of the politics of the show were merely a foundation from which an engaging, unique family drama could emerge. Pose is lush and expensive in a way that few stories about queer people of color are, and its audience took notice.

Murphy is no stranger to telling the stories of gay characters. He gave the world The Assassination of Gianni Versace and before that, Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer) and Wade “Unique” Adams (Alex Newell) in Glee. But in his enthusiasm to portray the torture of being a gay outcast in high school, Murphy could sometimes forget the trauma stirred up by watching a kid get thrown into a dumpster or slushied, week after week after week. And Glee was contemporary. How would those inclinations show up in a period piece like Pose, set in 1987, with the AIDS crisis raging through New York, but still worlds away from the activism of Larry Kramer and a nascent ACT UP? It wasn’t just commonplace to hear Donna Summer on the radio, it was commonplace to hear schoolchildren taunting each other with anti-gay slurs. The cruelty of 1987 was arguably far more cutting than anything in 2010, when Glee began airing. But Pose is balanced. It doesn’t shy away from how awful anti-gay parents could be toward their gay children, as viewers see when Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain) is kicked out of the house with only a backpack and coat for having a gay flesh magazine under his mattress. But Pose’s characters are not defined by their suffering.

The rejection Damon faces ends up being necessary emotional grounding for the show, and to understanding ball culture. Beneath the wigs and furs, there is community and refuge for people rejected by polite society. Set against the backdrop of ‘80s ball and drag culture is a show about how so many people like Damon relied on their “chosen” families to keep them alive.

The storylines and conflicts are connected by Pray Tell, Pose’s master of ceremonies played by Tony winner Billy Porter, a veteran who brings effortless magnetism to a show full of new and promising talent. Dominique Jackson, the actress who plays house mother Elektra Abundance, offers the sort of withering reads, with every syllable articulated, that would make Dorian Corey proud.

I hope Pose catches fire. It is a gem and it’s clear that Murphy, 52, has his eye on how he and his work will be remembered.

“He talked about legacy building in the sense of bringing other people in that he could help develop,” Mock said, explaining why Murphy approached her to work on Pose when she’d never written for television before.

So often, Murphy’s leading ladies have been straight cisgender women deployed as high camp. It was as though he kept birthing new characters with the expectation that they be re-created in the latest drag revues. And that’s fine. But in Pose, Murphy has tapped something else: the sort of heartfelt stories and honest emotion that result from going straight to the source.

In its Season 3 premiere, ‘Queen Sugar’ delivers a kneeling episode after ABC balked with ‘black-ish’ This is why it’s important to have multiple creators of color across multiple networks

Who’s afraid of a little pregame kneeling?

Not Queen Sugar.

In its season three premiere, airing Tuesday at 10 p.m. EDT on OWN, Queen Sugar builds on its reputation for taking on challenging social issues. This time, that means using Micah West’s (Nicholas L. Ashe) violent season two encounter with a police officer and his awakening to issues of racial justice as a bridge to explore protest and what it means to find one’s voice.

Nova Bordelon, played by Rutina Wesley, has served as the moral center of the show through her work as a journalist uncovering an unjust legal system that throws black people into private prisons without due process. Nova’s nephew Micah begins to realize the significance of his aunt’s work when he’s assaulted by a Louisiana police officer after being pulled over on a remote highway for daring to be black behind the wheel of an expensive sports car, a gift from his father, a pro basketball player.

In the season three premiere, written by Kat Candler and directed by DeMane Davis, Micah attends a basketball game between the two rival public high schools in St. Josephine’s Parish. The event turns into more than just a game when students of the parish’s majority-black high school, dressed head to toe in black, walk onto the gym floor as a white student from the opposing team is singing the national anthem. They kneel quietly and a ruckus ensues, including the unfurling of a giant Confederate flag. Micah, who has a burgeoning interest in photography, documents the conflict. It’s clear that Micah is invested in this protest in a way that he wouldn’t have been when he and his mother first moved to Louisiana in season one. Now a high school junior, Micah is showing an awareness of how class and privilege have blinkered his worldview, and how little that helped him when he was a black boy driving an expensive car in the rural South.

I’ve seen only the first two episodes, but they portend what I expect to be Queen Sugar’s most consistent and thoughtful season yet, in part because the kneeling episode doesn’t feel shoehorned into the show as a way to make it current. Instead, it is a natural outgrowth of the show’s continued reflection on black American life in the South. Furthermore, it becomes apparent by episode two that the kneeling incident will likely color the whole season. It turns out that the officer who harassed Micah targets black people generally. And because St. Josephine’s is so small, he’s also the parent of an athlete on the rival basketball squad.

There is no running from white supremacy in St. Josephine’s. There are no timeouts.

Season three shows what it feels like to push back against racism in a town where everyone knows everyone and a veneer of Southern hospitality is expected as a means of papering over racial hostility and inequity. What’s more, the third season is weaving Micah’s evolution in his thinking on race with his development as a teenager, pushing boundaries and differentiating himself from his mother. It is one of the most seamless examples I’ve seen of the everyday ways in which race insinuates itself into American life.

There is no running from white supremacy in St. Josephine’s. There are no timeouts. It is the white noise that colors life, whether you want it to or not. In that way, Queen Sugar is pushing back against the way larger real-life cultural forces compartmentalize the discomfort that the sight of a black person kneeling during the national anthem seems to stir up.

After all, this premiere lands just as the NFL has announced penalties for teams whose players kneel during the national anthem. And it is creating a storyline centered around kneeling high school students in the same year that ABC pulled an episode of black-ish that included a discussion about the same subject.

ABC has found itself in the midst of controversy this spring. Not only did it pull the kneeling episode of black-ish, but it also brought back Roseanne with a version that is far afield from the show’s working-class, feminist and anti-racist roots. Its title character is now a Trump supporter who’s fearful of her Muslim next-door neighbors. Nothing summed up the ethos of the Roseanne reboot more than one joke taking a cheap shot at two other ABC shows: Fresh Off the Boat and black-ish. Not only did ABC’s standards and practices gatekeepers allow the joke, in which the humor hinged on being dismissive of efforts to make TV more inclusive, but ABC president Channing Dungey defended it.

Would that Dungey were as vociferous in defending black-ish showrunner Kenya Barris. These two programming decisions raised questions about to whom the network was catering and to whom it was capitulating. Perhaps it’s not surprising that Barris reportedly wants to decamp for Netflix.

Racism is a fact of American life, so of course it’s part of sports, the arena that occupies so many of our television-viewing hours. It’s only natural that it’s going to come up in shows about black life, the same way police violence is part of so many shows that are by or about black people. Dear White People, which has found its voice in an excellent second season, brought a deft touch to the story of a student experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder after a campus police officer held him at gunpoint. Atlanta tackled the trauma of witnessing police violence in its season one finale. Even Insecure took on the anxiety triggered by being black and pulled over by a cop.

The existence of Queen Sugar, Dear White People, Atlanta and Insecure right alongside black-ish is an excellent illustration of why it’s important to have multiple creators of color writing from multiple perspectives at multiple networks. Only a few years ago, neither Queen Sugar nor Dear White People existed. Go back a few more years, and neither did the networks that carry them. FX, under the guidance of John Landgraf, only recently began its expansion of high-quality, quirky programming beyond white creators by hosting Atlanta.

Imagine if ABC still drew the audience numbers that it did in the 1990s — the decision to pull the black-ish episode would have been even bigger, given the Big Three networks’ outsized role in shaping pop culture. Without minimizing the broadcast network’s decision, we can be grateful for the fragmented nature of our current television climate. If a subject is too radioactive for one network, that doesn’t mean the topic simply won’t appear on TV.

Certainly there’s always been more creative freedom in cable and streaming than broadcast television. But when can a programming decision be characterized as creative differences, and when is it censorship of ideas about race, policing and protest?

In telling the stories of all-too-common realities for black Americans, Queen Sugar shows us why it’s good to have choices.

‘Atlanta’ season finale comes down to the man with the golden gun Hard, ugly lessons about how to make it in America

Atlanta Season 2, Episode 11 |
‘Crabs in a Barrel’

If I were to describe this episode in one word, it would be savagery.

All season, Earn has struggled with being a successful manager for Al — especially in episode nine, “North of the Border,” when Earn books Al to perform for free at a college in Statesboro, Georgia. This ended in a disaster still seen in Earn’s black eye. Once Al strongly hinted that he wanted to fire Earn, Earn is worried all of this episode that Al will kick him to the curb once and for all. Earn has taken losses all season, and with the thought of getting fired top of mind, Earn brings out his inner savage to survive.

The episode begins with Earn and Al on the hunt for an entertainment lawyer. At the meeting, it becomes apparent that the lawyer is incompetent, having only represented a one-hit wonder rapper and four clients on Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta.

I knew Earn had taken another two losses and given Al even more leverage to boot him when Earn not only showed up late but also brought his daughter Lottie to the meeting. Al is angry but not surprised. Al also wants a Jewish man to be his entertainment lawyer.

In the parking lot, Al says, “It’s time to start leveling up on n—-s … gotta kick off this European tour … s— about to be different.” As if Al didn’t rub enough salt in Earn’s wound, he then says that Luke really came through with booking the European tour they’re about to go on. This is yet another signal for Earn that Al is moving on to a new manager.

Earn then moves on to his biggest challenge for the day: getting Al, Darius and Earn to the airport on time to make their flight for the aforementioned European tour with Clark County for the next two months. As Earn rushes to make sure everyone is packed and ready to move (which they clearly are not), Al notices that Earn tried to sneakily get rid of the golden gun, given to him by Uncle Willy in the season premiere, by putting it into one of Al’s moving boxes.

Wow … to no one’s surprise, Earn catches another loss. Caught, Earn puts the gun in his backpack. This will be important later. And of course, this wouldn’t be Atlanta without something going wrong …

Darius tells Earn, hours from when they are scheduled to leave, that his passport is expired. Earn also gets a text that he has to come to Lottie’s school with Van for a parent-teacher conference. As Earn makes his exit, he reiterates to Al that they have to leave on time. “I know you sell weed, so you don’t care about time … but it’s important.”

When the parents arrive, the teacher tells Earn and Van that Lottie is advanced and that she should transfer to a private school. The two are relieved, as the worst had run through their minds of Lottie pulling her hair out and eating it, sniffing white-out or fighting children.

This transfer is an obvious no for Earn — as he just recovered from being homeless not too long ago. “We’ll definitely do that. … That sounds like something we would do for first grade,” he says.

When Van and Earn ask about alternatives or cheaper options, the teacher bluntly tells them that the school is awful and to keep her in a “happy two-parent household” as an alternative.

THE SHAAADDDE!!!

Van then wonders if she would have said that if Lottie were not advanced.

“If I see a steer smart enough to get out of the pen, I leave the gate open,” replied the teacher.

Although I was rooting for Van and Earn, it looks like Van wants Earn to stop being a deadbeat and subtly calls him out on it. Maybe next season, folks.

After the couple’s anticlimactic goodbye, Earn and Darius head to get Darius a same-day passport and the passport guy offers to put them in touch with his cousin who is an entertainment lawyer. The room erupts in utter silence when Earn asks if there is a black lawyer who is as good as his cousin.

He responds with, “There definitely is. But part of being good at your job is your connections, and black people just don’t have the connections my cousin has … for systemic reasons.”

Earn is still learning the business and realizes that the black lawyer just won’t cut it if Al is going to climb this ladder to success … and unfortunately, that’s just how it is. Earn begins to talk to Darius to confirm what he’s been feeling all day.

Will Al fire him?

Darius reveals that Earn might get fired and doesn’t ease his mind when he gives it to him straight. Darius tells Earn that Al will always provide for Earn no matter what.

“I don’t want a handout; I gotta provide too. I’m getting better at this. You know that,” Earn says passionately.

Darius responds with, “I see you learning. Learning requires failure. Al’s just tryin’ to make sure you’re not failing in his life. Y’all both black, so that means y’all both can’t afford to fail.”

After Colored People’s Time gets the best of them, they finally make it to airport security.

“We are still late, actually. She printed our tickets but made sure to say, ‘Ya’ll ain’t gonna make it’ five times while she was doing it, so we should probably hurry,” says Earn.

And then the episode’s title, “Crabs in a Bucket,” really comes to fruition in the last scene.

As Earn goes through security he realizes Uncle Willy’s gun is still in his backpack. Earn has to make a split-second decision to sink or swim.

“You’re gonna need this in the music business,” Willy told Earn when he handed him the golden gun in the season premiere.

Earn decides to pull the crab down — Luke — and plants the golden gun in his bin so that Earn can get on the plane. This doesn’t come as a complete shock, as we know that Earn will let others take the fall for him.

Once on the plane, Al tells Earn he saw what he did at airport security. “Just know that’s exactly what I’m talking about. … N—–s do not care about us, man. N—–s gonna do whatever they gotta do to survive, cause they ain’t got no choice. You ain’t got no choice neither. … You my family, Earn. … You the only one that knows what I’m about. You give a f—. I need that,” says Al.

Al begins to view Earn’s potential in a new light because he finally understands the cutthroat mentality and what it takes to be successful in the music business. For this reason, Al decides not to fire Earn (yet). These 11 episodes definitely lived up to the “robbin’ season” theme, from Al getting robbed and escaping death by running into the woods to Earn getting hustled and played out of his money at the strip club.

Will Earn and Van ever be together again? Will Earn ever stop being a deadbeat dad to Lottie? Will Luke find out who planted the gun in his bin and seek revenge? Will Earn ever be able to stand on his own two feet? Will Paper Boi ever reach the pinnacle of fame? Hope all these questions and more will be answered in the next season of Atlanta.

‘Atlanta’ recap: Rule No. 7 in Biggie’s ’10 Crack Commandments’ rules Earn and Paper Boi The elephant is no longer in the room — if Paper Boi becomes a huge star, it’s going to be without Earn

Season 2, Episode 9 | “North of the Border” | April 26

This rule is so underrated / Keep your family and your business completely separated.

The Notorious B.I.G., “10 Crack Commandments” (1997)

Well, it finally happened. It finally happened. In a divorce that’s been building all season, Earn and Alfred (Paper Boi) are no more. Good.

In this “Robbin’ Season,” it’s Earn who is the victim, and as with the entire season, it’s about more than a physical theft. Think about it this way: In season two, Earn has lost his “home” (the storage unit where he sleeps), his girlfriend, Van (who was the only positive thing going for him), and now his job (which he was never good at anyway).

The premise of the entire episode: Earn is booking Al an unpaid gig on a college campus in Statesboro, presumably Georgia Southern University. Al’s not comfortable with the gig from jump but begrudgingly goes along because of Earn’s insistence that it’ll lead to a bigger spring break payday. But he buries the lead until the last minute — that not only is it unpaid, but they’re also staying in a girl’s dorm room.

Earn doesn’t understand what Al and the rest of us learned last episode: Paper Boi’s celebrity has multiplied to the point where he can’t be living reckless like this. Regardless, Earn, Al, Darius and Tracy (who appoints himself “security” for the small fee of $200) hit the road.

When in doubt, just talk about rap. The disgust is written all over Al’s face.

Not only is the young lady, Violet, more than willing to let Paper Boi stay in her room. Not only does she obviously want to have sex with him. Not only is there a footprint on the ceiling. But she tells him of a dream she had in which she (a crocodile) eats Al (a crane) and a powerful light shoots through her belly. But all of this could have easily been avoided if Earn wasn’t so cheap.

Things go to hell in gasoline pajamas at the gig when Violet catches him talking to two other coeds who are fans of his music. She pours beer on him. This prompts security (i.e., Tracy) to push her down the stairs. Earn catches her before she falls, but the damage is done. They leave, but not before being confronted by an angry mob of black students who want revenge for Violet’s near-tragic fall. Earn attempts to defuse the situation, but Tracy sets it off by knocking out the mob’s leader. The Flabbergasted Four run through campus until they’re “safe,” ending up at a white frat house.

By now, Al is pissed. He’s not getting paid. He didn’t even get a chance to perform. And all he wants is some weed — which he finds at the frat house, plus a lot more. White fraternities, especially in the South, have always been an odd topic, and the contrast here, with the pajama jam, is vivid.

There’s a dark and powerful symbolism at play as Al and Earn part ways in the shadow of the Confederate flag.

For one, the white frat had no clue the black student union was even having a party on campus — a sign of just how segregated the campus is. But they offer to smoke Al out, which is all he really wants. Interestingly enough, there’s a large sign with the year “1863” outside the house — the year Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The next thing we see is Al, Darius, Earn and Tracy sitting in a living room. A large Confederate flag is behind them, and naked pledges are in front of them.

One of the frat bros talks to Al about his deep love of Southern rap, in particular UGK. In part because Al is a recognizable rapper these days, but also because the frat bro felt like the only thing he could talk to him about was rap. The conversation is familiar for any black person who has ever been in the same uncomfortable position. When in doubt, just talk about rap. The disgust is written all over Al’s face.

It’s when the pledges leave, and Darius and Tracy go see “the gun room,” that Al and Earn have the conversation that’s been bubbling to the surface.

“I think we need to talk about the real problem,” Al says. Earn thinks it’s Tracy, whom he blames for the entire night going astray. But that’s just Earn once again either being oblivious to his own ineptitude or scared to hold himself accountable for the trip’s comedy of errors. Earn has repeatedly tried to game the process, only to come out on the short end of the stick.

Yet there’s a dark and powerful symbolism at play as Al and Earn part ways in the shadow of the Confederate flag. The foursome return to the dorm the next morning to find their bags on the front lawn, their clothes destroyed, their car damaged and Earn’s laptop stolen. In a fit of rage, Earn pulls the fire alarm.

What exactly were Alfred and Darius beefing over in the first episode?

The episode ends with Earn attempting to fight Tracy. He’s blaming Tracy, but really Earn is coming to grips with the fact that nothing in his life is going right. He demands Al pull the car over — a moment hilariously reminiscent of this Family Guy scene. Nevertheless, Tracy easily washes Earn, punching him repeatedly then dropping him on his face. A battered and bruised Earn stumbles back to the car as the credits roll.

What’s interesting about “North of the Border” is that it’s the first episode all season that ties in to previous ones. Until now, each episode lived on its own. The Band-Aid on Al’s nose is a subtle homage to last week’s “Woods.” Al mentioning how he wants a manager like Clark County’s dates back to earlier interactions. Dots are beginning to connect as the season, presumably, draws to a conclusion. Maybe soon we’ll find out the answer to a mystery that’s been bothering fans all season: What exactly were Alfred and Darius beefing over in the first episode?

‘Atlanta’ recap: Season 2, Episode 8: Paper Boi gets a call from successful adulthood The rapper comes to grips with facts: Every dream comes with leaving part of your old self behind

Season 2, Episode 8 | “Woods” | April 19

In 1996, Tupac Shakur, in the most prolific — and final — year of his life, said, “Everybody’s at war with different things. I’m at war with my own heart sometimes.” That sums up Alfred, aka Paper Boi (in Atlanta’s second season), nearly to a T.

This season’s heavy emphasis on solo episodes — Paper Boi’s second in the last four episodes following the instant classic “Barbershop” — flourish with regard to illustrating the mental strife of each of its characters. “Robbin Season” is as much a state of mind as a title. Think of artists such as Eminem or J. Cole and how they can seem repulsed by the idea of fame. That’s Paper Boi. He hates the concept of sacrificing parts of his personal life, part of “being real” as he dubs it, on his quest to make money rapping.


We’re careening closer and closer to an Alfred-Earn split. It’s been hinted at all season. Earn isn’t a great manager, and the only bond holding the two together is family ties. Paper Boi completely blows off Earn when the latter calls regarding important paperwork he needs to sign. But the reality, one Paper is desperately seeking to shun — made evident by his mother telling him she “didn’t raise a son this lazy” all the while his phone continuously vibrates — is that he can’t run from the consequences of his decisions, no matter how many blunts he smokes.

We’re also reminded of the Paper Boi-Darius discomfort that was introduced in the series opener, but never fully addressed. Paper Boi tells his eccentric friend he’s going out with a friend, but Darius playfully, yet seriously shoots back he thought the rapper was “allergic to girlfriends.” Darius says the least she can do is come inside and try his homemade pasta. He quite literally puts his foot in the pasta.

But it’s Paper Boi’s interaction with Ciara, a former stripper turned Instagram model now banking her entire lifestyle and mindset on a bubbling social media conglomerate, that gives the entire episode its legs. Paper Boi doesn’t want any part of the facetious responsibilities that come with living on Instagram. That’s another thing about this season, too. For as great and revealing as it has been at times — this season has perhaps had more high points than the first — it’s also succeeded in making its female characters lampoons. Paper Boi doesn’t truly take her seriously, so therefore it’s hard for the audience to.

Regardless, she hammers home some hard truth to Alfred. He nauseatingly reiterates how he wants to stay real. He says it so much, in fact, that you come to realize even Paper Boi knows he can’t keep hiding behind that shield, and only says it as a defense mechanism.

Ciara tells him his wardrobe is going to have to change if he wants to find the next level of success. She tells him it’s time for a new manager, one with a “big d—,” as she coins it. Much like his studio conversation with Clark County earlier this season, Earn is thrown under the bus for his more than apparent shortcomings as a fledgling executive. If Paper Boi is going to take the next step as an artist and celebrity, there’s a very good chance it won’t be with his cousin timidly making decisions on his behalf.

Yet, when the Ciara and Al sit down for a pedicure, the conversation takes a turn. Ciara, both flawed and representative of a large portion of today’s digital psyche, understands the power of branding and marketing through Instagram. “I can’t be selling my wigs and out here looking janky. I’ve gotta compete with white girls with lip fillers and butt injections, selling lip gloss and spray tans,” Ciara says, subtly referring to last week’s episode with white women dating black men. “Everybody wanna be a black girl, but the black girls ain’t making no money from it.” Slice it however you want, but that statement is the absolute truth.

But again, Alfred can’t escape the concept of wanting to remain real. “S—, you’re on the radio and you’ve been making money,” Ciara shoots back. “You’ve been not real.” The reality check is too much for Paper Boi to accept and he storms out. Walking by himself, Alfred eventually pulls up on three young men who eventually rob him at gunpoint. Alfred fends them all off and head-butts the final robber, but realizes he’s still the one in front of the gun and sprints off into the woods.

It’s here in the woods that Alfred finally understands the more he fights this impending reality, the more bloodthirsty it becomes. He encounters a homeless man who stalks him as he attempts to find his way out of the woods. Both are symbolic. The woods represent the journey to success, which comes with a price and no GPS. The man, who for all we know didn’t actually exist and was a figment of Alfred’s dark imagination and hallucination, is the final straw in a season-long resistance to inevitable change.

“Keep standing still, you’re gone,” the man tells Alfred with a knife to his throat. “You’re wasting time. And the only people who’ve got time are dead.” A bloody, bruised, battered and mentally shaken Paper Boi escapes the woods and enters a gas station. A young white fan asks to take a selfie with him. The fan either doesn’t know, doesn’t show or doesn’t care that Paper Boi looks like a train wreck. Where in episodes past, Alfred would have scoffed, moaned and groaned at the thought, he quickly obliges.

It’s a new Al. It’s a new day. All season Paper Boi has been running from an alternate reality that scares him. The question now is, what changes? How much longer will he shoulder Earn’s shortcomings as a manager? How much is Al willing to sacrifice? And most importantly, in the process of that sacrifice, how much of himself can he actually maintain?

The episode’s final words, Paper Boi to the fan, were especially poignant and perhaps a glimpse at the answer to those questions. It’s Paper Boi actually talking to himself. “Be safe out here.” Robbin’ season is 24/7.

‘Atlanta’ recap: Season 2, Episode 5 and Episode 6: From the barbershop to ‘ATL Sammy Sosa’ — Donald Glover’s show is on a brilliant run When Teddy spoke about Joe Jackson, Richard Williams, Marvin Gay Sr. — that was the crux

Season 2, Episodes 5 and 6 | Barbershop and Teddy Perkins | March 29 and April 5

Atlanta is an amazing summation of parts when it manages to feature all of its main characters (or at least the majority of them). But it can absolutely carry itself during its solo episodes — the last three shows being concrete evidence. The last two in particular, featuring Paper Boi and Darius, illustrate the show’s range, creativity, and outright quirkiness. It should come as no surprise that the two episodes — Thursday night’s was 41 minutes, with no commercials — set off with two seemingly opposite conversations.

Barbershop is a community gathering. It’s a situation just about every black man or woman can relate to: their relationship with an unreliable barber/beautician. And given LeBron James and Nick Saban’s current cold war over who owns the rights to the holy space, it’s only right that Atlanta represents a most accurate depiction. The things black men do, out of loyalty to our barbers, is nearly limitless.

Perkins is enigmatic, at times outright scary, and yet jocular.

Atlanta is two-for-two with solo Paper Boi episodes, dating to season one’s memorable B.A.N. And, from Willie (Katt Williams), Tracy, and now Bibby, the supplementary characters this season have been fascinating. The only thing missing now is a solo Tracy episode, though some might consider episode two his true coming-out party. With Barbershop, Donald Glover’s Atlanta again firmly establishes its cultural relevance. It tapped into a most sacred institution, and did so with unprecedented nuance and hilarity. The episode may just end up going down as the show’s magnum opus.


That being said, if Barbershop was the episode that brought us together, Darius’ (Lakeith Stanfield) first solo venture, Teddy Perkins, is on the other end of the spectrum. The obvious, low-hanging fruit description is that the episode felt like a prequel to or a remix of the Oscar-winning Get Out. Perkins is enigmatic, at times outright scary, and yet jocular. All of which makes sense when realizing who the episode is based on. But the 41-minute airing, with no commercials, comes with its own set of bullet points:

• Buying Confederate flag hat, and coloring out letters for it to read “U Mad,” is one of the subtle and brilliant nuances that has become a trademark of the show.

  • Love Darius — but he was tripping with no map, going to that house by himself. There’s absolutely no way any black person should ever go to a big house with hardly any lights — by themselves. That’s just not what we do.
  • Bless the musical directors of this show. Stevie Wonder’s “Evil” was a perfect touch. Was I the only one who peeped how they only referred to Wonder in the past tense, though?
  • Since we’re on the topic, too, who goes to move a piano by themselves?
  • Thank God for the comic relief that was Paper Boi, Tracy and Earn in the drive-through talking to Darius on the phone. In that moment, you did feel like Paper Boi had temporarily become “Rod” (LilRel Howery) from Get Out?
    • The “U dead yet” text about took me out.
  • Who else thought Teddy was his brother Benny? And, who else either said — out loud, or to themselves — “N—–, get out the f—ing house!” when Teddy cracked open the door as Darius was rummaging around upstairs? And then again when he went into the room with the suit on the mannequin.
  • When Teddy spoke about the different fathers — Joe Jackson, Richard Williams, Marvin Gay Sr. — that was the crux of the entire episode. Teddy was either the father or Benny was the father. I just can’t make out which. All I know is, they weren’t brothers.

Which brings me to my final thought. Nothing this show does or implies is by coincidence. So Benny killing Teddy has to be some bizzaro ode to Marvin Gaye’s death — the anniversary of which was Sunday. Methinks Benny was the son, Teddy pushed his son too far to become a musical savant which, like Marvin, forced his son to become secluded and holed up in a house with him. Only this time, it isn’t father killing son, but the reverse.

Am I looking too far into this? I’m probably looking too far into this. But couldn’t that be the point of the entire episode? It was such a drastic reach from the previous, lighthearted escapades of Paper Boi and Bibby the Barber that you almost have to try to rationalize the episode. It’s hard to grade Thursday night’s episode because, in so many ways, we’re all still trying to figure out what it is we just watched. My mind is fried. I’m going back to watch the barbershop episode to relax my mind and let my conscience be free. Teddy Perkins (aka ATL Sammy Sosa) won’t be giving me nightmares this week. That much I can promise you.