Today, I finally finished watching Atlanta. Atlanta is the brainchild is comedian/actor/musician/writer Donald Glover. I sincerely enjoyed the entire show. It was funny, it was balanced, and it really showed a level of nuance that is often lacking in shows today. The most interesting relationship was Earn (Donald Glover) and Vanessa (Zazie Beetz). It makes me think about the nuances of manhood and the intersectionality of that and relationships.
(I will do my best to avoid any spoilers)
Earn drops out of Princeton and proceeds to go in between living with his parents and girlfriend. His girlfriend, Vanessa, is struggling raising their daughter, working, and supporting Earn. Earn eventually connects with his cousin, Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles, and tries to redeem himself and pave a better life for his daughter.
Without getting too much into the specifics of any episode, we see Vanessa become more human and fallible. We see Earn constantly try to do what he can to provide for his family to varying levels of results. Towards the end of the finale, Earn, with an option to take the easy way out of a bad situation, chooses private hardship (hidden from his friends and family) to continue figuring things out his way.
This brings me to the point of this post. Male pride is such a hard thing to navigate and adequately describe. I see why things were so difficult from Vanessa. After bingeing the 10 episode season in the last few days, I really understand the character. I understand all of the actions Earn took leading up to the series and forward, and I am so grateful that he (Donald Glover) trusts the audience to either understand it or not. He did not spell out what’s going on.
[Slight Spoilers but you will get more out of it if you’ve seen the series.]
Earn was at Princeton on scholarship and quit school. He never explained why and we don’t truly get a clear picture until the end of the Juneteenth episode where Van and Earn are attending a party thrown by one of Van’s wealthy connections. She begs Earn to act right for her to make a good impression. He does. He charms everyone there yet, you can see his reluctance and chagrin. Up until then, you see only hints in situations where Earn wants to rebuke the niceties and customs of upper-crust society up. He hates it. That’s why he left.
However, in black families, you don’t give up a great opportunity to be with “white folk” and make a name for yourself. That’s an opportunity and we are supposed to suck it up so we can get ahead. The Juneteenth episode was an analogy of what educated and talented blacks do to survive in a white world.
The season finale, The Jacket, shows his dedication to his choice not to rely on others for his success. However, in the midst of his quest, we see his tumultuous relationship with Van go from decent, to horrible, to good again. We also see Van’s initial disappointment in Earn fade as she starts to understand who he is and how he views her, even though they don’t work sometimes. The two of them definitely have a deep love relationship mired in growing up.
I’ve felt similar struggles. I’ve been nearly homeless to protect my pride and it cost me a lot. That’s why I can’t completely judge people who make poor decisions to protect their views. I was headstrong and foolish before, and I know I won’t be the last one. But, it’s hard being responsible for others while doing that.
That is what makes Atlanta so interesting and nuanced to watch. It made me really question the characters motivations in life. We truly see Van and Earn coming from two separate places in life to solve the same problem, providing a better life for their daughter. I feel for Van. She doesn’t understand why Earn does what he does. Earn can’t explain it.
We cannot be mad at a significant other that refuses to stand by helpless to our self-imposed plight. We have to understand that they are people too and have needs/feelings. We’d want them to stand by us, but we don’t even know how long we will be until we are where we feel comfortable being everything for them. I’ve been on both sides of this story and neither side is fun.
All we can do at the end of the day is trust in the Lord and our path that is set before us. If they are meant to be in our lives, they will be. Hopefully, while we search, we don’t do too much damage. I’ve hurt plenty of women in my search and I pray for their forgiveness. I’m just amazed that all these thoughts came out of a show about a rapper that is really about finding your way in the world.
Have you seen Atlanta? What were your thoughts and readings of the show? Did you enjoy it? Have you struggled with identity before? Have you been on either side of the self-discovery journey? How did you feel? Leave a comment below.