Throughout the many shows we’ve loved in 2023, few shows manage to blend character development with social commentary as seamlessly as “Atlanta.” Created by and starring Donald Glover, this critically acclaimed series takes viewers on a journey through the lives of its diverse cast of characters, each contributing in their own unique way to the show’s dynamics and themes.
Join us as we examine some of the most iconic “Atlanta” characters, exploring how the writers’ authentic portrayal of different backgrounds and personalities contributes to an overarching narrative that is both intricate and compelling.
Earnest Beginnings With Earnest Marks
At the heart of “Atlanta” is Earnest “Earn” Marks, portrayed by Donald Glover himself. Earn is a Princeton dropout attempting to navigate the unpredictable waters of the Atlanta music scene as he manages his cousin Alfred’s (Paper Boi) music career in hopes of creating a better life for himself and his daughter. Through his eyes, the audience catches a glimpse into the socio-economic struggles and racial dynamics present in the ATL.
Earn’s background is a complicated mix of privilege and adversity, with his Princeton past underscoring a potential for success that remains elusive for him. His journey mirrors the show’s exploration of the American Dream and the systemic barriers that often obstruct its pursuit. Earn and his intelligent but cynical nature prompts viewers to question societal expectations and the paths available to individuals of different backgrounds.
Paper Boi, The Unconventional Rapper
Paper Boi, played by Brian Tyree Henry, is Earn’s cousin and an aspiring rapper on the Atlanta scene. His character challenges stereotypes often associated with hip hop artists, offering a nuanced perspective on the complexities of fame and success.
Paper Boi’s personality is a mixture of street smarts and vulnerability, providing a counterpoint to some of the mainstream perceptions of rap culture. Throughout his rise to fame, Paper Boi struggles with depression and frequent moral dilemmas, inviting viewers to call into question their own preconceived notions about musicians and the unrealistic expectations placed on them.
Throughout the course of the show, the dynamic between Earn and Paper Boi explores themes of loyalty, ambition, and the cost of pursuing one’s dreams.
Van: Navigating Parenthood and Identity
Zazie Beetz portrays Vanessa “Van” Keefer, the mother of Earn’s child. Van’s character injects a vital element of reality into the series, exploring the challenges of parenthood and relationships. As a biracial woman, Van also navigates her own unique struggles with race and identity.
Van’s character development hinges on both self-discovery and societal expectations. As the series unfolds, her relationship with Earn undergoes its own evolution, shedding light on the growing complexities of modern love and partnership. Van’s journey invites viewers to reflect on the expectations placed on women and mothers and challenges the traditional conception of family dynamics.
Darius, The Eccentric Philosopher
LaKeith Steinfeld’s portrayal of Darius is a standout performance, bringing a vibrant eccentricity to the ensemble cast. Darius’s character is enigmatic, providing a lens through which the show can explore existential themes, societal norms, and the absurdities of everyday life.
Darius’s background remains shrouded in mystery, contributing to his role as the series’ philosophical guide. His interactions with other characters offer moments of introspection and humor, making him an indispensable part of the “Atlanta” experience. The inclusion of Darius’s character prompts viewers to question societal norms and embrace the unpredictability of human existence.
The Importance of Authentic Characters
As each characters’ individual narrative gradually unfolds, “Atlanta” deftly weaves together themes surrounding race, identity, existentialism, and the ever-elusive American Dream. The show’s creators, including Donald Glover, have emphasized the importance of authenticity in portraying the Black experience. Notably, “Atlanta” is the only American cable TV show to feature an all-black writing team.
Glover has discussed the intentional decisions made to highlight the characters’ unique perspectives and show them just authentically living and making it in the world. The show’s commitment to authenticity extends beyond the main cast, with supporting characters also contributing to the diverse portrayal of Atlanta’s cultural landscape. This commitment to creating authentic characters elevates “Atlanta” beyond just entertainment, positioning it as a cultural touchstone that sparks meaningful conversations about race, privilege, and societal expectations.
Storytelling Through Character Dynamics
The relationships between the characters are the glue that binds the narrative together. Earn and Paper Boi’s cousinly bond, fraught with both loyalty and conflict, mirrors the deep complexities of familial relationships while Van and Earn’s tumultuous journey through parenthood showcases the challenges of balancing personal aspirations with the responsibilities of raising a child.
In this way, the show deeply explores individual characters and the subtle interplay that occurs between them. The small interactions between characters and the web of connections that gradually builds throughout the series reflect the complicated nature of real-life dynamics that are often interwoven with so many layers of underlying conflict and emotion. Viewers can recognize themselves and people they know on-screen, inviting them to think more deeply about their own relationships, biases, and assumptions.
Which of the “Atlanta” Characters Do You Relate To the Most?
As you immerse yourself in the lives of the “Atlanta” characters, you will probably find yourself relating to at least one or more of them. You might relate to Earn’s struggles to navigate societal expectations and pursue his version of success. Or, you might connect with Paper Boi’s journey to define himself within the constraints of a certain industry. If you struggle with questions surrounding identity and parenthood, Van might be your girl. Or, maybe you resonate with Darius’s philosophical musings and deeper existential reflections.
Tell us which of the “Atlanta” characters you relate to the most and why! And don’t forget to subscribe to the Black Content Review newsletter for more discussions of Black TV, movies, and entertainment.