Season 1, Episode 5 – “Nobody Beats The Biebs”
Original Air Date: September 27, 2016
One of the gifts that ‘Atlanta’ brings to the table is the substantive fabric underneath the humor and lightness of the Donald Glover-written script. Nothing feels forced or contrived to sell a message or catch the trends. It’s just the natural progression of characters dealing with things that are commonplace for Southern black men in the 21st century. If I had a complaint so far, it’s that in the mountains of series detailing African American life in the modern day, ‘Atlanta’ is the only that doesn’t have any type of lens from a Black woman’s point of view. Glover’s character, Earn’s baby mother, seemed to be a point of interest but five episodes in, she’s become more of a nuisance in Earn’s quest for success.
Despite this issue, the characters that are present are great at showing variations of Black men and how they all work collectively to stay afloat. In “Nobody Beats The Biebs,” Earn and Paper Boi find themselves at a celebrity basketball tournament, with Paper Boi struggling to battle against the public perception of a Black Justin Bieber-character and the asshole that is actually the Black Justin Bieber. Meanwhile, Earn is being confused for another Black guy and his recklessness.
Darius, while the quietest of the three, somehow speaks the loudest whenever he’s on the screen. This time, he finds himself in a gun range shooting dogs as his targets. Of course, this proves to be too much for the normal patrons of the gun range who seek to dismiss Darius due to the absurdity of shooting harmless canines. The irony writes itself. There’s a clear double standard and despite a bit of shaky ground ‘Atlanta’ still needs to deal with when focused on anyone who is not a Black cishetero male, the standards ring loud and clear.
Earn faces his own issues involving being confused for Alonso, something that mirrors my own conflicts with society (the reason as to why I entitled my site, DoesItLookLikeIWorkHere.com) and how they often confuse one person of color for another. Earn uses this to his advantage, basking in Alonso’s previous business partner’s snobbery until the climax unfolds and it doesn’t turn out as great as he once thought.
Meanwhile, the Black Justin Bieber serves to be the great foil to Paper Boi’s success. While he may be a hood star with the baby mommas and kids, he has yet to rise to the ranks of anyone else and the media is certainly not checking for him by any means. I love this humanization of Paper Boi and how it serves as a reminder that to some he may be a hero but to others, he’s simply just a “rapper” that needs to “play his part.”
Unfortunately, it takes Paper Boi having to literally assault the Black Justin Bieber on the court for him to realize that regardless of the truth of how much of an asshole BJB may be, he’s far ahead and playing into an entire system that allows him particular access Paper Boi may never be allotted. Regardless of how much of a good guy Paper Boi is and attempts to be continue to show to the world, rappers are crafted not by their authenticity, ironically, but by how authentic they appear to be to the audiences that support them.
The stereotypes that are used for Paper Boi and the people that live in his neighborhood are far from removed and all three of the characters have to contend with how they maneuver and use them to their advantage, unfortunately. Acknowledging this issue makes for one of the strongest episodes of this first season and I’m finally understanding why each character is indispensable.