FX's revolutionary breakout series Atlanta has been full of surprises. Whether it's introducing satirical villains with real-life Instagram accounts, leading us into a life of crime with Cheryl Lynn, or seamlessly blending the surreal with the real, Atlanta, now in its fifth episode, has perfected the art of astounding its growing legions of fans. Nothing, however, could have prepared us for last night's powerful new twist.
Following our protagonists, rapper Paperboi (Alfred) and his cousin-turned-manager Earn, as they attend the 'Atlanta Youth Outreach' charity basketball game, we are immediately confronted with a context in which fame is currency. Trying and failing to get himself an interview with an entirely disinterested TV host, a dejected Alfred lumbers back to the cafeteria to meet Earn. As soon as he begins talking, their peace is shattered by the arrival of pop royalty.
Enter Justin Bieber. Black Justin Bieber.
Yes, in Atlanta's alternate reality, American hip-hop group 'Migos' are a murderous drug dealing gang, imaginary strangers on busses forcefully offer Nutella sandwiches, and Justin Bieber is a young black man who's just as thoroughly offensive as his real-life counterpart. Shock factor aside, Atlanta's writers have not only managed to make an ingenious political statement by introducing Justin Bieber as black but they've managed to do so on so many different levels. Here's how they did it, why it's so important and why it'll be the best thing you'll see on TV this year.
Why Atlanta's Black Bieber Is So On-Point
- One Big Attitude Problem
The way Atlanta's Bieber bursts onto our screens is so laughably accurate to character it hurts. Upon entering the 'Atlanta Youth Outreach' foyer with his sizable entourage, Bieber immediately finds a registration table decorated with lanyards, conference passes and merchandise and, like Jesus in the temple, throws them all to the ground. The quickly gathering crowd go wild.
Walking straight past security he spots Alfred, stops and says:
"Hey, you the Ni**a that blew that other Ni**a's brains out...Cool!"
While Earn revels in that fact that he even acknowledged Alfred at all, a sea of iPhones suddenly pop up and Atlanta's Bieber proves himself to be nothing but an egomaniacal air-head that people just can't get enough of. Sound familiar? This becomes even more apparent when Bieber is flagged down by the TV host who previously refused Alfred and upon sitting down to begin the interview, Bieber puts his hand on her face, physically pushing her away from him.
He then springs up and shouts:
"I'm gonna dunk on a bitch"
Then exits scene, to rapturous sighs of adoration. Queue flashbacks to the real Justin Bieber who instead of greeting fans who paid two thousand dollars to meet him, were presented with a cardboard Bieber cutout or that time he posed with a chained tiger and the world still clapped him on.
- Pissing All Over The Law
In the next Bieber scene, we seem him quite fragrantly urinating on the wall of the basketball gymnasium in front of a crowd of doting admirers, which is something that not even Ryan Lochte could get away with. Alfred turns to his neighbor, who just so happens to be R&B artist Lloyd, and cries out in dismay at how repulsive his behavior is to which a star-struck Lloyd replies:
"He's just trying to figure it out."
This whole scene is a direct reference to the time that the real life Justin Bieber urinated into a mop bucket at a restaurant surrounded by his cheering entourage. The only difference here being that he (thankfully) wasn't wearing Michael Jordan's sacred number 23 basketball vest while he did so.
- 'Sorry' Seems To Be The Easiest Word
Possibly the most accurate portrayal of the real-life pop sensation comes right at the end of the episode where, after engaging in an on-court fight with Alfred, Bieber provides the eager press with an apology which sounds like it came straight out of the mouth of an over-grovelling naive teenage boy. However, never missing a trick to capitalize on his appalling behavior he manages to use his apology to springboard into a shameless advertisement for his upcoming single stating:
"I’m not a bad guy, I actually love christ. I guess I’ve just been hanging around with the wrong people which is why I want to sing this new song from my new album, Justice."
Mirroring the real life Bieber's track 'Sorry,' the journalists forgive him and the episode fades to black as the gathered crowd begins to dance along to his new song which, coincidentally, is a new Gambino (Donald Glover) track which leaked online last week. Ahh life is so easy when you're beautiful, averagely talented and have an excellent manager.
Why Atlanta's Black Bieber Is So Important
- Atlanta's Black Bieber Shows What It's Like To Be White Washed
For too long Hollywood has been casting white actors in non-white roles, even when there is a colossal untapped resource of non-white actors who should be offered these parts. Think Mena Suvari playing African American Chante Jawan Mallard in Stuck or Jake Gyllenhaal playing the titular 'Persian' prince in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
More recently however we've repeatedly seen mass outcry whenever it has been suggested that a non-white actor should play a traditionally white character. Just look at the fallout from the proposition that Idris Elba might play James Bond, and more relevantly, the idea that Donald Glover should play the next Spider-Man.
By making Justin Bieber black in the Atlanta universe, Glover and his screenwriting colleagues show a white audience what it feels like to see a character they so clearly recognize as being one race, switched into another. Not only does this highlight the blatant hypocrisy of allowing white actors to play non-white roles while being outraged at the prospect of this happening the other way around, it also encourages a healthy debate around the subject which crops up unfortunately, way too often.
- Atlanta's Black Bieber Holds A Mirror Up To White Privilege
Following the much touted social commentary that Justin Bieber is privileged because he is a celebrity, Atlanta goes one further by saying that he is privileged because he is a white celebrity. As discussed above, in the Atlanta universe, black Bieber is given the same privileges as the real life Bieber. He's allowed to destroy merchandise tables, put his hand in interviewers faces, urinate in public spaces and still be forgiven as though nothing ever happened.
Now just imagine for a minute that the real life Justin Bieber was black. Although we can but speculate, my guess is that he wouldn't be able to get away with even half of the deplorable antics of of his white Canadian counterpart. By introducing black Bieber into the world, Atlanta holds up a stark mirror of truth to a world still entrenched in a more subtle form of racism which is more difficult to portray without doing something as drastic as re-casting one of the Western World's most iconic figures as a black man.
By doing something as brilliantly bold as making Bieber black, Atlanta has created one of the most iconic, important and intelligent episodes of television we've seen this year. Just where they're going to take this outstanding show next however is frankly anyone's guess - and I for one, can't wait.
Is 'Atlanta's' 'Black Bieber' one of the most iconic moments of television we've seen this year?