The film industry, unfortunately, has been lagging behind television when it comes to diversity. Earlier this year, the Academy failed to nominate a single person of color in the acting categories while people of color make up nearly 25 percent of the acting nominations at this year’s Emmys. With shows like Fresh Off the Boat, Black-ish, Master of None and many others, television networks have shown there is a desire in audiences to see diverse casts and diverse stories being told. And now with the release of Donald Glover’s Atlanta and Ava Duvernay’s Queen Sugar, we are digging even deeper into unique perspectives that have long been ignored by mainstream entertainment and doing it all in an incredibly beautiful and cinematic ways.
Here Joe & Sam’s initial reactions to the first episodes of both Queen Sugar and Atlanta:
By Josiah Wampfler
From director Ava Duvernay, who was behind the superb Selma, Queen Sugar is absolutely magnificent. DuVernay, who also directed the first episode, brings all of the cinematic glitz of film to the small screen while also taking full advantage of long-form storytelling. This is a show that may not be for everyone. It is a slow burn family drama that is much more concerned with building connections with these characters than it is with pacing. But if you give Queen Sugar time, the emotional journey it will take you on is truly extraordinary.
And it isn’t that hard to give this show time. From the start, these characters light up the screen thanks to the actors behind them. This cast is refreshingly diverse and superbly talented, especially the main three: Rutina Wesley, Dawn-Lyen Gardner and Kofi Siriboe. Every one of these actors seems to have a scene-stealing moment in this episode, but the one that really stood out for me was one of Siriboe’s scenes as Ralph Angel. Through a dialogue-less scene, we see three generations of men (Ralph Angel, his son and his father) have a profoundly emotional moment. It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen and an extremely important moment, as it is far too rare to see intimacy and vulnerability between black men presented in film or television.
Backing up the incredible character work and wonderful narrative is the technical aspects of the show that DuVernay has said she is asked about far too little. On this technical level is where the show really cements itself as essential television and shows her incredible attention to detail. Every frame of the first episode is meticulously crafted by DuVernay so that the end result is a show that is so brilliantly beautiful, I could watch it on mute. But, that would also take away other great elements of the show like its sound design and particularly its soundtrack. The music of the show has been chosen as carefully as all of the other technical elements to create a flavor that is wholly unique and fits every second of footage like a glove.
I’ve only gotten through one episode of Queen Sugar but I can already tell this show is going to be something special. I was an emotional mess by the end of the episode, so I can’t imagine what else is in store for me throughout the rest of this season. Whatever it is, if it is done as well as this first episode, this will be a show that is sure to stand the test of time.
Queen Sugar airs on OWN Wednesdays at 10pm Eastern / 9pm Central. It is also available on iTunes & Google Play.
By Sam Wampfler
I have been a fan of Donald Glover for a long time. I have loved everything he has been a part of all the way back to his early days as a breakout YouTube star. He has always had a knack for making any situation hilarious, whether as himself in his amazing stand-ups or as Troy Barnes in the fantastic show Community. This is why I was so excited when I heard that he was being given the chance by FX to helm his own original show, Atlanta.
I’ll admit that, due to where I grew up and most definitely the color of my skin, I don’t always understand every reference in Atlanta, comedic or otherwise, but this in no way takes away from my immense enjoyment of the first two episodes. Atlanta manages to simultaneously bring laughs and oddly poignant moments of social commentary. It delves into tough topics facing America’s minority population with the gusto of a dramatic show, but uses the back drop of comedy to make these subjects easier to process. This is an absolutely unique and incredible use of the television medium.
Having witnessed Donald Glover’s ability to steal a scene in other movies and television shows, I wholeheartedly expected this to basically be The Donald Glover Show. The fact that I was proven wrong is what makes this show amazing. Each of the three main characters has a unique and interesting role in Atlanta.
Darius, played by Keith Stanfield, is the resident pothead of the trio. Despite my love for Glover, Darius might have actually taken the spot as my favorite character in the show so far. His marijuana induced ramblings are by far some of the major highlights of Atlanta. Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles, played by Brian Tyree Henry, is an aspiring rap artist whose overnight fame seems to be causing him more depression and anxiety than happiness. Glover plays Alfred’s cousin Earn, who figures he can make a little cash by helping to promote his cousin’s new career. Glover has an incredible ability to turn any phrase into a laugh out loud moment. Sometimes even just his reactions to Darius’ musings are comedy gold.
All in all, everything from the script, to the acting, all the way down to the choice of songs on the soundtrack are expertly accomplished. Atlanta is a fantastic show and even though I have only seen two episodes so far I guarantee that it will end in my top favorite shows at the end of the year.
Atlanta airs on FX Tuesdays at 10pm Eastern / 9pm Central. The first episode is available for free on YouTube and the full season is available on iTunes & Google Play.