‘Atlanta,’ ‘P-Valley’ and different exhibits giving Black South its due

After all, typically the household consisted of a gaggle of mates, as seen on “Girlfriends.” And different instances, town was within the Midwest, as seen on “Family Matters” (Chicago) or “Martin” (Detroit).

However not often did a mainstream present that includes Black folks happen within the South. And barely did they painting struggles outdoors the center class existence.

A go searching latest tv choices, although, factors to one thing new. “P-Valley” on Starz, HBO Max’s “Rap Sh!t,” FX’s “Atlanta,” and OWN’s “Queen Sugar,” the latter two of which each started their closing seasons this month, are among the buzziest exhibits on TV.

Their characters will not be docs or legal professionals — they’re strippers, rappers, farmers, or, merely put, hustlers. And the exhibits all happen within the South.

Southern tales will not be new

Telling Southern tales, although, is not new. In some methods, tv is just following the lead of different areas in tradition, mentioned Aisha Durham, a professor of communication who research Black fashionable tradition on the College of South Florida.

In music and movie, the South has been portrayed for many years with nuance and intentionality, Durham mentioned, referencing movies like “Eve’s Bayou” and, extra not too long ago, “Moonlight” — each films the place the Southern setting, Louisiana and Miami respectively, play a vital position.

On the similar time, new sounds and music genres have emerged from the South, she defined, like lure. And artists like Beyoncé and Megan Thee Stallion have integrated Southern Black aesthetics into their trend and music movies.

“You have new bodies, new people, new experiences and I think it invites us to look at the South differently,” Durham mentioned. “I would say that TV is almost, especially in terms of dramatic series, a little late.”

The South has additionally been prime of thoughts in different areas of our tradition, usually receiving nationwide consideration — as seen with this 12 months’s runoff votes in Georgia.

For a very long time, many individuals considered Southern tales solely within the context of the civil rights motion and segregation, Durham mentioned. However the South is a bedrock of each side of American fashionable tradition, she mentioned. And now, many are wanting again on the area and pondering of the opposite tales that may nonetheless be instructed.

“We’re now seeing some of the vividness and vibrancy that has always been a part of the South,” Durham mentioned. “We have known that in the South, it’s just that everybody else is catching up.”

Present shifts replicate the shifting leisure business

If there was a shift, it has been a enterprise one, argued Tracey Salisbury, professor of ethnic research at California State College, Bakersfield.

It isn’t that perceptions of the South are altering, or have modified — however that the business has shifted locales, Salisbury mentioned, making Atlanta a significant hub for leisure slightly than simply New York or Los Angeles.

Tyler Perry, whose work is polarizing to some, has based mostly his manufacturing studio in Atlanta, and has lengthy set his movie and exhibits within the South. He additionally has a partnership with the Oprah Winfrey Community, which produces “Queen Sugar.”
Nicco Annan, left, plays Uncle Clifford, the gender-nonconforming owner of the strip club, on "P-Valley."

There are additionally merely extra Black creatives who’ve a voice in tv, Salisbury mentioned, which permits for the telling of recent and fascinating tales.

“These stories have been present and these stories have been previously pitched, I just think now there’s a significant talent base and a significant audience … to drive Hollywood to support these stories,” she mentioned.

Nonetheless, Salisbury is hesitant to name the uptick a development. She pointed to Quinta Brunson, the creator of ABC’s hit present “Abbott Elementary,” about an elementary college in Philadelphia, for instance. Earlier than “Abbott Elementary,” Brunson created comedy sketches on Instagram, finally transferring to BuzzFeed and YouTube, till she lastly obtained a shot at a community present. Then, she knocked it out of the park, profitable an Emmy for writing earlier this week.
Quinta Brunson created and stars in "Abbott Elementary," a show about a low-income school in Philadelphia.

“I think that’s still what Black creatives have to do,” Salisbury mentioned. “If you don’t knock it out of the park, you have to start all over again.”

Previously, Black exhibits like “The Cosby Show” and “The Recent Prince of Bel-Air” were made for mainstream consumption, Salisbury said. Bill Cosby, at the time, was considered “America’s Dad,” not Black America’s dad.

The difference with these new shows lies in the intent: They are made by Black people, for Black people. Uncle Clifford, the nonbinary owner of the strip club in “P-Valley,” is not America’s Uncle, Salisbury said — but his grandmother reminds her of her own.

These series finally show the richness of the South

If most Black shows in the past took place outside of the South, these new shows then become a type of homegoing — back to the place where everything started, Salisbury said.

In other shows, these Southern characters may have been used as a joke. In the ’90s “Recent Prince,” for example, Uncle Phil’s childhood on a farm in the Carolinas is viewed as almost a primitive existence compared to life in Bel-Air. But in these shows, the South and its characters refuse the bumpkin stereotypes and embrace all the aspects of the South.

Salisbury used “P-Valley,” which takes place in the fictional town of Chucalissa, Mississippi, as an example. From the fashion aesthetics of the show and its marijuana-infused wings to the very specific MemphisSsippi accents, the show is deeply rooted in the South — and even takes some hits at Black Southern religious traditions, Salisbury said.

But it’s done with respect, she noted. That’s why it works.

J. Alphonse Nicholson, center, plays Lil Murda in "P-Valley," which takes place in the mythical town of Chucalissa, Mississippi.

“We’re not laughing at these folks, we’re laughing with them,” she said.

New York City and Los Angeles are often already presented as cosmopolitan, diverse spaces on television. The South, though, is often seen as stuck in the past, Durham said, an already knowable space that lacks the diversity of other regions.

These shows reject those notions.

Durham used “Rap Sh!t” as an example. (HBO Max, which streams the show, and CNN share parent company Warner Bros. Discovery.) The characters in the show live in and around the Little Haiti neighborhood in Miami, she said, allowing for discussions of Caribbean and Haitian culture and of African Americans as an ethnicity alongside other ethnic Black people in the South.

“There are complete methods by which we’re having to reimagine Blackness within the South,” Durham said.

Then there’s the question of class. In earlier periods of television, the assumed class was always middle. This newer crop of shows displays something different, Durham said, highlighting more economically vulnerable people simply trying to make it in the world.

Brian Tyree Henry stars as Paper Boi in "Atlanta."

These characters are portrayed with depth and sincerity — the strippers in “P-Valley,” for instance, are not simply aesthetic bodies in a trap music video. Paper Boi from “Atlanta” and Shawna from “Rap Sh!t” are not simply rappers soundtracking the background. Audiences are instead invited inward.

“We’re really invited to see what the experiences are of the individuals who produce the tradition,” Durham said. “We love the tradition however do we all know these ladies and men? These exhibits give us a solution to see that.”

These shows, then, challenge existing perceptions of the South — allowing for a layered and complex narrative of the region to form, Durham said.

As these shows point out: There are queer communities in the South. There’s sex work; there’s class struggle; there’s diversity; there’s joy. There are people, not simple caricatures, just trying to survive.