Atlanta Recap: Black American Network


Season 1 Episode 7
Editor’s Rating 3 stars


Season 1 Episode 7
Editor’s Rating 3 stars
Brian Tyree Henry as Alfred. Photo: Guy D’Alema/FX

When I saw that tonight’s Atlanta episode was entitled “B.A.N.,” I thought it was an acronym for “bitch ass niggas,” which promptly had me body-rolling at my desk to Sevyn Streeter. Alas, “B.A.N.” actually stands for Black American Network, a fictional television channel that’s the love child of PBS and Bounce TV. And on that network is Montague, a low-budget panel show starring Franklin Montague (Alano Miller). The dude looks like Ed Gordon’s nephew by marriage.

“B.A.N.” comprises an entire episode of Montague that’s centered on transitions. To start, Montague wants to explore the “growing outlook on accepted sexuality and its effects on black youth and culture.” That sentence alone elicits fear, given most discussions related to black folks’ views on sexuality being drowned in stereotypes about how us colored people are so much more homophobic and transphobic than everyone else.

The show-within-a-show features the one and only Paper Boi as a guest along with a white woman named Dr. Deborah Holt (Mary Kraft), who is introduced as a trans activist. According to Montague, Alfred was invited to the show because, during a recent tweet storm, he said he wouldn’t sleep with Caitlyn Jenner. When asked if he would explain the statement, Alfred’s initial response is a simple “Nope!”

After a follow-up, however, he goes on to declare, “I just don’t think I have to have sex with Caitlyn Jenner ‘cause y’all said so.” Montague volleys a leading accusation disguised as a question: “So how long have you disliked trans people?”

“Man, I just found out they exist,” Alfred answers. Montague won’t let it go, quoting some Paper Boi lyric about Caitlyn Jenner. Alfred fires back by saying he’s just rapping and shit, you know, before highlighting that the host doesn’t know all of his catalogue. Has Montague ever even heard “Illuminati Sex” before?

Side note: How in the hell is “Illuminati Sex” not a real song?

In any event, Deborah very much plays into familiar Negro pathology. She claims that Alfred plays into “cultures of exclusion and power.” She then blames hip-hop for Alfred’s attitudes, albeit with a slight twist: This time, issues with masculinity are supposedly the problem, rather than widespread homophobia or transphobia.

“Please, please. Tell me about myself,” Paper Boi quips.

Deborah most certainly does. “Black men aren’t ready to accept the implications of a trans-accepting culture,” she says. Even if this is a parody, it’s unfortunate that so many believe this idea. The Montague panel reminds us that many white liberals are as guilty as their conservative counterparts in generalizing about black people. What Deborah does is right on par with Donald Trump watching two episodes of Good Times then declaring that all black people live under hellish conditions in the inner city.

Likewise, I must say that Paper Boi not wanting to smash Caitlyn Jenner is an extreme example of an ongoing media trend: When a person of note makes controversial comments, critics are ready to pounce. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but in some cases, the outrage goes way too far. Is it worth ascribing a belief to Alfred that he may not hold? Of course not. Advocacy is important, but plenty of folks see it as a come up so they trot out terms like “problematic” in an effort to appear more enlightened than thou. When people make mistakes, you should correct them, but only within reason.

Although I appreciated the humor employed to shoo-shoo away blanket generalizations about black people and our thoughts on sexuality and gender, the next Montague segment almost negates those efforts. It’s a story called “Trans-racial,” which features a black man named Antoine Small who says that deep down inside he is a 30-something white man named Harrison Booth. Reminds me of a bunch of black dudes along the Florida-Georgia border.

“I’ve always felt different,” he tells 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.”

The segment follows Harrison as he begins transitioning by doing a bunch of “white things.” He practices ordering an IPA at bars. He wears thick brown leather belts. He’s also planning surgery for a “full racial transition.”

Now, I did laugh at his mama’s response to it all: “I’d love to wake up one day and say, ‘Hey, everybody. I’m Rihanna.’ But I ain’t.” But it’s all strange to watch if you’re familiar with the likes of Rachel Dolezal, whom I long ago dismissed as a fake-ass Freddie Brooks from A Different World. According to some of Dolezal’s apologists, if one can argue the sex they were assigned at birth does not speak to their true gender, then why not race too?

Race is a social construct. Race is complicated. Nonetheless, gender has historically been far more fluid and varied outside of Western ideals. I didn’t necessarily expect Atlanta to invoke the hijras of India, but I do wish the fundamental differences between this T-Pain-looking black man and those of Dolezal’s ilk were better explained. You know, for the folks watching at home who might not get it.

Alfred makes fun of the fake white man, but eh. Same goes for the noted hypocrisy in Harrison for claiming he’s really a white man, then turning around to say, “A man wanting to turn into a woman, that’s unnatural.” I know, I know: It’s not Atlanta’s job to police behavior. However, if you are trying to say something, you should say it as thoughtfully as you can.

What “B.A.N.” does get plenty right, though, is the silly host Montague. As soon as the activist and the rapper start getting along, he keeps trying to stir the pot. How typical of the verbal pro wrestling that is most cable-news programming. Similarly, the episode mocks the conservative talking points vomited out by Montague. He asks Alfred, “Isn’t a lack of a father the reason you hate trans people?” Alfred’s response: “What? Nigga, you hear yourself?”

Oh, Alfred. How I feel the same about so many.

The fake commercials that air between Montague are pretty funny, too. I can’t believe there’s not a pre-dump Swisher Sweet readily available for purchase. That cereal ad that tackled police brutality had me cracking up. But all in all, it was too many damn commercials. We got it the first three times.

Let’s get back to the focus of the episode: Alfred. His position ultimately boils down to “You can’t say real shit,” and “You can’t even say ‘ho’ anymore.” Then there’s his troubling assertion that Caitlyn Jenner “is doing what rich white men do all the time, which is whatever they want.” I have argued that Jenner spending so much of her life as a rich, white man has informed her unfortunate political positions, but Alfred’s statement made me a cringe.

In Alfred’s mind, “I should be able to say something is weird without people hating on me. I never said anything about taking no people’s rights.” This reminds me of Waka Flocka’s transphobic comments. People like to say they meant no harm with harmful words. That they have a right to their opinion. To that point, Alfred and the activist do reach an accord on freedom of speech.

Yeah, you can say whatever you want, but far too many fail to grasp the simple fact that words have consequences. Intentions do not negate impact. To quote the late Whitney Houston, “Watch what the fuck you say.”

Atlanta Recap: Black American Network