Atlanta' Recap: A White Guy's Central Park 5 Jersey Leads to a Classic - Rolling Stone
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‘Atlanta’ Recap: The Central Park Five, But Make It Fashion

Paper Boi’s tour stops in France, where a clothing company’s misguided jersey design takes white appropriation of Black culture to a new low

“ATLANTA” --  "White Fashion" -- Season 3, Episode 6 (Airs April 21) Pictured (L-R): Brian Tyree Henry as Alfred "Paper Boi" Miles.  CR: Rob Youngson/FX“ATLANTA” --  "White Fashion" -- Season 3, Episode 6 (Airs April 21) Pictured (L-R): Brian Tyree Henry as Alfred "Paper Boi" Miles.  CR: Rob Youngson/FX

Brian Tyree Henry as Paper Boi.

Rob Youngson/FX

A review of this week’s Atlanta, “White Fashion,” coming up just as soon as my taste buds are scammed by a Nigerian prince…

Atlanta is back in social satire mode with the exceedingly sharp “White Fashion,” the kind of tale where if you didn’t laugh, you’d scream — and wind up doing both anyway.

The guys’ European odyssey stops in France so that Paper Boi can get his first taste of — as writer and activist Khalil (Fisayo Akinade) puts it — “apologizing for white people.” In the wake of an ill-advised jersey with “Central Park 5” thoughtlessly emblazoned upon it, a French fashion house is forced to trot out Al, Khalil, and other POC minor celebs to spin the catastrophe. Initially, Al is just in it for the free designer clothing, and when Earn suggests this could be an opportunity for Al to learn how to start his own charity programs, Al mockingly says Earn is getting into Martin Luther King Jr. mode. In unison, the cousins remind each other that white society killed MLK.

But while Earn is off reconnecting with an increasingly erratic and mysterious Van, Al is surprised to find himself invested in the possibility of accomplishing something as part of the fashion house’s “diversity partnership board” — and then dismayed to realize that it is just a hustle for all involved. The company is using Al, Khalil, and the others as a distraction for the stupid mistake its chief designer made — and taking advantage of a naively optimistic media that asks questions like, “After this, is racism over?” But just as Al went into this to get some custom suits, the other board members seem mostly to be trying to pocket cash and get swag and perks. It’s a hilariously observed take on performative activism from both sides of the racial divide, and one that gives Brian Tyree Henry ample opportunity to unleash that great exasperated scowl of his. (The running gag about how nobody is certain that one of the other activists is actually Black, but are also afraid to come right out and say it, leads to some more great nonverbal acting from Henry.) But it’s not an entirely despairing story, depending on how you interpret Al and Khalil’s final conversation. After the company gives Al’s “reinvest in your hood” idea the All Lives Matter treatment that renders the message meaningless, he’s ready to be done with this bullshit. But then Khalil pulls him aside and suggests that while this is unfortunately how the game is played, a smart man can take advantage of it to do some real good. There is a lot of ambiguity regarding his intentions — including what exactly his nonprofit, described as “like Blue Man Group for activism,” does — and he seems overly invested in seeing both the Black Panther 2 premiere (a Season Three running gag) and a production of Raisin in the Sun that would for some reason include Julia Roberts. So he may just be manipulating Al more gracefully than the others. But his words also echo what Earn suggested in that first conversation with Al on the subject, which implies there is some small bit of hope within the much larger mess.

“ATLANTA” -- "White Fashion" -- Season 3, Episode 6 (Airs April 21) Pictured (L-R): LaKeith Stanfield as Darius. CR: Rob Youngson/FX

LaKeith Stanfield as Darius.

Rob Youngson/FX

The Darius subplot, meanwhile, starts off whimsical before turning bleak, while covering a lot of the same thematic territory about white appropriation of Black culture. While Al and Earn are otherwise occupied, Darius sets off on a culinary quest for jollof, a West African rice dish, with the fashion house’s head of hospitality, Sharon, in tow. Darius is delighted by the taste and feel of home at the Nigerian cafe Sharon helps him find, run by the warm and welcoming Mimi. Sharon seems delighted as well, but she actually sees a business opportunity here. When Darius next returns to the place(*), he finds it shut down and empty, while Sharon is now running a Nigerian food truck out front, having bought out the restaurant with her husband and converted the operation into something trendier and more white-friendly. She is oblivious to Darius’ displeasure, and to his concern over what happened to poor Mimi in the wake of this transaction. She has only just learned about this cuisine, and only because she spent a couple of hours with some actual Nigerians. Yet Mimi is out of a job, Darius is out of a home-away-from-home, and Sharon is too much of a cultural tourist to notice or care.

(*) The timeline on the episode feels a bit odd, as if the three subplots are moving at different speeds. It’s entirely possible, though, that the Al and Darius stories are compressing events that would take weeks to unfold into a couple of days, just to emphasize the absurdity of what’s happening around them. Like, Sharon couldn’t actually get a food truck started up by the very next day, but it may as well have happened that quickly.

Like Khalil’s joke about how “I haven’t paid for a meal in 73 police shootings,” the whole thing is equal parts laughter and tears. It’s a really good one.

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