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Brian Tyree Henry (left), Keith Stanfield (middle) & Donald Glover (left) | FX

Review: Donald Glover’s 'Atlanta' Isn’t Just Another Black Narrative

Here’s something you don’t see on television every day.

Leading up to the release of Donald Glover’s new FX series, Atlanta, there wasn’t much to go off of but a name, which took us on a one-way flight down south, a series of short clips with very little plot development, and Donald’s indication that the TV series would delve into what it’s like to be black. While the storyline follows the lives of African-American men leading “dollar and a dream” lifestyles as they attempt to carve out rap careers of their own, Atlanta is far from the stereotype. In fact, it’s not the black narrative that we could’ve foreseen, but the realistic one that we probably needed.

If you’re looking for action-packed episodes with twists and turns, this isn’t it. To say the least, the series – to which Donald wrote, directed, executive produced, and starred in – progresses sort of like a slow-roasting chicken. In fact, “slow” wouldn’t even be the word to accurately account for the sluggish pace established in the first three episodes. But it takes time to unthaw the characters and flesh out the plot. In turn, the story only develops when Earn (played by Glover) decides to abandon his uneventful post at the airport and follow his instinct to becoming a manager for his cousin, up-and-coming rapper, Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry).

You can try to take the hustler out of the hood, but you can’t take the hood out of the hustler. A ballsy stunt in the first episode seems to have worked its magic on Paper Boi and his righthand man (who is balancing somewhere in between philosophical genius and high as hell) Darius’ (Keith Stanfield) reputation, but it presents a bit of a dilemma for Earn.

At the moment, Earn is in a homeless limbo, sometimes staying at his parent’s house or with Van (Zazie Beetz), the mother of his infant daughter. He’s barely got a job and his lethargic, sometimes narcissistic persona might be just the thing that’s holding him back from truly achieving a successful career and a happy ending with Van and his family. In just a few episodes, Glover has married his leading cast’s carpe diem desires with the day-to-day duties of paying rent and being a present father.  It’s a plain Jane, run-of-the-mill come-up story, but here’s why it works: it’s honest.

Glover has written out a slice of life that doesn't err on the side of being politically correct or making a social statement. The reactions of the black men waiting in prison when a regularly-arrested, mentally ill man drinks out of the toilet or a man being reunited with his ex-girlfriend whom he realizes is transgender, isn’t censored. In its honesty, it may have shed light onto holes in the black community when it comes to sexuality and disabilities, but it presents the issues authentically without lingering.

Glover, whose stage name is Childish Gambino, is known for bringing a certain awkwardness to the table. That same vibe is presented in Atlanta. The series is coated with dry humor and social detachment that sometimes makes you cringe but also connects to blackness as it is today. For example, Earn runs into an old, Caucasian buddy, who now works at a big radio station. When the friend recalls a story at a party using the N-word as his punchline, Earn is forced to do one of two things: cuss him out or laugh it off. In the moment, he chooses to laugh it off, but returns the favor when he asks his friend to recall the same story in front of Paper Boi and Darius. And let’s just say the story has some minor tweaks the second time around. It’s that sort of comedic relief that makes it relatable.

While the writing is simplistic in many ways, it speaks to the power of the cast that brings it to life.  Henry and Stanfield hold it down in terms of capturing the essence of merely living. And Beetz, the show’s only female lead thus far, gives a particular sophistication and attitude that is needed among an otherwise male-dominated world. Thirty-minute episodes don't seem like enough time to give them the spotlight they desire, but it's something that Glover can flesh out with practice as the season continues.

Unfortunately, the show’s scope probably isn’t wide enough to reach a huge TV audience, but it’s narrative is much appreciated in a sea of dramas, thrillers and slap-stick comedies. Atlanta is far from anything seen on cable right now and although it may show what it’s like to be black, it definitely isn’t only for black people. Atlanta inches along, but it has a real shot at being one of the breakout series of the fall.

Atlanta premieres on September 6, on FX at 10 p.m. ET. 

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'Empire' Camp Says Jussie Smollett Never Complained About Salary

The accusations made towards Jussie Smollett in the alleged staged assault has those close to the actor-musician scratching their heads–including his Empire family.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter Thursday (Feb. 21), sources close Empire were surprised to hear a salary increase was the motive behind the actor's reported staged attack in January. The Illinois state prosecutor stated in a press conference Smollett paid two brothers to orchestrate a homophobic racist attack in an effort to get his star rising and his pockets heavier. But those close to the Empire set believe that can't be the case since as he was most recently paid $125,000 per episode.

"I don't think it's true that he was unhappy with what he was being paid," the source told THR. "His representatives never once called and there was no effort to renegotiate. He's never expressed any dissatisfaction."

Created by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, Smollett's base pay was in the $40,000 to $50,000 region but after setting record-breaking ratings in the first season, the main characters received a big increase with Smollett receiving $125,000 per episode and esteemed actors Taraji P. Henson and Terrance Howard moving from $110,000-$120,000 per-episode to the  $225,000-$250,000 range. Aside from season one, there are 18 episodes from season two to season five.

The actor has officially been cut from the last two episodes of the fifth season to avoid "disruption on set."

"While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out, a statement from Lee Daniels, Danny Strong, Brett Mahoney, Brian Grazer, Sanaa Hamri, Francie Calfo and Dennis Hammer reads. "We are also aware of the effects of this process on the cast and crew members who work on our show and to avoid further disruption on set, we have decided to remove the role of Jamal from the final two episodes of the season."

Smollett has also maintained his innocence throughout the entire case. Alternative motives have pointed to a boost to his music career but the actor also seemed to be pleased with that as well.

Speaking to VIBE just after the release of his debut album Sum of My Music, the actor was pleased with his journey outside of Empire.

"Here’s the thing, I’m not ashamed of Empire songs. I wrote a lot of them," he said. Empire's soundtrack was a hit with fans as it climbed to the top of the Billboard charts in 2015.  "I’m proud of the work I’ve done with Empire. I just can’t be only Empire, that’s not all I am."

His project moved 7,000 units and views on his YouTube channel views have been modest with "Catch Your Eye" feature Swizz Beatz reaching 620,000 views and audio of "F.U.W." reaching 1.1 million spins. His most popular song on Spotify isn't an Empire-related track, it's "Ha Ha (I Love You)" from Sum of My Music.

As the case might to go trial, one can only hope the full truth will be revealed.

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Big Boi To Play Motown Founder Berry Gordy In DeBarge Biopic

Big Boi has reportedly been cast as Motown's legendary founder Berry Gordy in the upcoming biopic about Bobby DeBarge. The rapper confirmed the news on Instagram on Thursday (Feb. 21).

"Just finished playing Berry Gordy in the Debarge movie. Coming Soon," Big Boi announced on Instagram. The photo showed an acting chair with his name and Gordy's printed on the backrest.

Bobby DeBarge was the lead singer of R&B group Switch, an act signed to Gordy’s Motown Records imprint Gordy Records. Known for his  impressive falsetto, DeBarge quickly shot up to stardom during the late 70s. He later co-produced for his siblings' band, also named DeBarge, before joining the group himself.

Amidst his success in music, he struggled with substance abuse and legal issues. He died in Aug. 1995 of AIDS complications at the age of 39.

The Bobby DeBarge Story is slated to premiere on TV One sometime this year.

 

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Just finished playing Berry Gordy in the “ Debarge “ movie @swirlfilmsig 🎬🎥🔥 coming Soon ! 🆙

A post shared by Big Boi (@bigboi) on Feb 21, 2019 at 8:21pm PST

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Welcome To The Jam: 'Space Jam 2' Gets 2021 Release Date

It looks like we've got a real jam going down, and it will all happen in a few short years. According to Springhill Entertainment's Twitter page, the official release date for Space Jam 2 will be on July 16, 2021.

The follow-up to the 1996 Looney Tunes-heavy film starring Michael Jordan will star LeBron James this time around. Black Panther’s Ryan Coogler will produce it, and Terence Nance is directing, which were revealed in summer 2018 with a pretty cute promotional photo.

Filming will reportedly begin this summer, and we're certain we'll find out more high-profile cast members within the next year. James' production partner discussed the possibility of Michael Jordan appearing in the second film, but only time will tell.

"Michael Jordan is Michael F**kin' Jordan," said Maverick Carter. "It doesn't matter [if James] calls him, he's gonna do whatever the hell he wants, which he has earned that right to do."

The first film features basketball stars Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, Larry Bird and more, and features a pretty memorable cameo by Bill Murray. Danny DeVito voices Swackhammer, the owner of outer space theme park Moron Mountain. He and his tiny group of aliens steal the talent of NBA players to win a basketball game against the Looney Tunes, which could determine the cartoons' fate.

July 16, 2021 🎥🏀🥕 #SaveTheDate pic.twitter.com/qV1Tnxuksd

— SpringHill Ent. (@SpringHillEnt) February 22, 2019

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