“Queen Sugar” & “Atlanta” Reviews – Two Shows Brilliantly Tell Underserved Stories

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 BoatBlack-ishMaster 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:

Queen Sugar

By Josiah Wampfler

From director Ava Duvernay, who was behind the superb SelmaQueen 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.


Your Superman is Dead. Get Over it.

By Josiah Wampfler

“Truth. Justice. The American way.” These are the qualities that represent Superman to many people. Since 1938, the character has been known as the pinnacle of heroism and his name has been synonymous with hope and optimism in popular culture. But today, we have a different Superman. This Superman exists in a world not unlike our own, where cynicism is common and acts of heroism are not always met with praise. This Superman is a man who is not entirely sure what being a hero means or whether the world actually needs him to be one. And it is this Superman, according to critics like Devin Faraci at Birth.Movies.Death, that spells the end of an American icon. And it is Zach Snyder who killed him.

In his article, “Superman and the Damage Done: A Requiem for an American Icon,” Faraci claims that Snyder’s “ugly new interpretation” of the character in both Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice “devalues the simple heroism of Superman and turns the decent, graceful character into a mean, nasty force of brutish strength.”

This view has not been uncommon in the days since Batman v. Superman released. I have heard people say that the film “got the character of Superman wrong,” that the film “isn’t what superhero films are supposed to be” or that Snyder “deeply misunderstands” the character of Superman. The film has been ravaged by critics, and while many of the criticisms are valid – the film certainly has an array of problems – I find this particular criticism to be quite dubious. Zach Snyder does not “deeply misunderstand” the character of Superman. It is those that are saying this that “deeply misunderstand” Snyder’s vision for the character.

The complaints with this Superman began back when Man of Steel came out. Critics of the film decried this new Superman who was unsure if he should be a hero, caused massive destruction to the world in his fight with General Zod and executed Zod by snapping his neck. While Snyder having Clark let his father die is still inexcusable, everything else made sense. Superman’s reluctance to be a hero was an interesting dimension to a usually flat character, the massive destruction caused makes sense in a battle between two super-men and Superman had no choice but to kill Zod.

The same critics that leveled these complaints against Man of Steel are the ones saying that Zach Snyder has officially killed the character in Batman v. Superman. The great irony of it all is that Snyder gave critics exactly what they wanted: consequences. While Man of Steel seemed to overlook the destruction caused by Superman, Batman v. Superman dwells on that destruction and gives weight to that destruction. This is because the new film is mostly told from Batman’s perspective – easily the biggest critic of Superman.

Yes, this Superman is not the do-good Boy Scout that Christopher Reeves’ version was. Yes, we are compelled to mistrust the Man of Steel in this film. We don’t particularly like the character through most of the film because this is not a Superman film. It is a Batman film (hence why his name is first in the title).

Granted, the film does not always do the greatest job of keeping with Batman’s perspective and that is one of its many problems. But, one only needs to look a little closer and it is quite clear that this is the case. Man of Steel seems almost overly optimistic compared to the darkness in Batman v. Superman because Batman is an overly cynical character. This overly cynical Batman would seem pretty crazy if the Superman he wanted to kill was the same as Christopher Reeves’ Superman. We would hate Batman, and it is very important that we are sympathetic to Batman in this film.

The other aspect of Snyder’s Superman that critics get wrong is the overall themes he is working with. Devin Faraci writes in his article, “One of the larger themes of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is the idea that every act of heroism is a catalyst for something terrible in the world, a point of view that is not only a) insane but b) inherently anti-Superman.” He goes on to call this theme “intrinsically nihilistic.”

This is another example of how critics are fundamentally misreading the film. Again, Snyder’s themes sometimes get a bit muddled, but they are quite clear if only you look a little deeper.

The theme of the film is not that every heroic action will lead to something terrible, but that every heroic action could lead to unintended harm. The film is not saying Superman shouldn’t be a hero, it is saying that he should think more about the consequences his actions have on the world around him.

You can draw a direct correlation between the debate the film has over Superman and the debate we as a country have had over our foreign policy and specifically our drone program. When we call a drone strike, we may kill a terrorist leader, but there is also the chance of civilian casualties. Just as we must consider the effects of a drone strike, so too must Superman consider the effects of his actions. As another comic book company’s character said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Also, so what if this version of Superman is a bit nihilistic? Sometimes nihilistic, dark storytelling is more appealing because I think we like to wallow a bit in the darkness of life every once in a while. Sometimes these stories are just more interesting than the glossy, hopeful stories of past Superman films. This is probably why Batman is a much more popular and beloved character, despite him being far more cynical. Maybe, we all have a bit of nihilist in us.


Still, some critics proclaim that Batman v. Superman is not what superhero films are “supposed to be.” They say that superheroes are meant to be beacons of hope for us to look to; that superheroes are meant to inspire us.  They long for the days of Christopher Reeve, where seeing Superman on-screen was a way to escape the darkness of life.

While I certainly love the Marvel brand of superhero films that are bright and hopeful and Christopher Reeves’ Superman was the first great superhero film, I like that DC has decided to bring something different to the table now. They don’t want us to escape the darkness of life. They want us to really think about it.

The last line of Devin Faraci’s article states, “I feel bad for the youngest generation who has been handed a jar of granny’s peach tea instead of truth, justice and the American way.”

Maybe, Faraci, without even knowing it, just stated exactly what this film is trying to say. That, by flipping this American icon on his head, by making us question the man whose slogan is “Truth, Justice and the American Way,” Snyder is saying what a lot of younger people are feeling today: That the American dream we were taught would be there for us is no more…and in its place is a lonely jar of granny’s peach tea.