Brian Tyree Henry On The Cultural Theft Episode Of 'Atlanta,' What The Show Has Taught Him So Far And Those 'Dave' Comparisons
Photo Credit: FX
Interviews , Television

Brian Tyree Henry On The Cultural Theft Episode Of 'Atlanta,' What The Show Has Taught Him So Far And Those 'Dave' Comparisons

Brian Tyree Henry is excited to give Atlanta fans the poignant, incisive humor and social commentary they’ve missed since the show’s hiatus. 

In the latest episode of Shadow and Act’s Opening Act podcast with managing editor Trey Mangum, Henry opened up about what it was like filming the latest season overseas during a pandemic and broke down the latest episode “White Fashion,” which serves as a vehicle for him of sorts and more.

When the cast went to Europe to film, Henry said they realized that the whole of Europe was basically open to them to do whatever they wanted.

“I think first you have to understand that we were abroad during a pandemic. The pandemic was still hot and heavy, and we knew how our country was handling it but we didn’t necessarily know how other countries were handling it,” he said. “What we discovered is when we got to Europe there was a lockdown…and that meant our black a***s had the streets to ourselves. I was like, ‘This is great!’ We get to have access to certain hotels that we wouldn’t have had access to. It felt like reparations.”

“I was like, ‘So we can film in this museum, I can eat a sub in this lobby.’ We had carte blanche to do whatever we wanted to do, and it was such a joyous moment because the cities were like, ‘Yeah, go, please, by all means,'” he continued. “But it was also very sobering at the same time since we’re living in a world [in Atlanta] that isn’t necessarily addressing the pandemic, but every time we yell ‘cut,’ we know we’re still in it.”

Photo: FX

“White Fashion” continues the season’s skewering of white culture’s impact on Black lives. This time, the topic is appropriation and denial of access. 

“There’s a lot to unpack. The name of the episode is ‘White Fashion’ because, let’s be honest, the fashion industry is geared [towards] and ran by white people,” he said. “Where they make most of their money is from us. Labels mean a lot to us; labels mean status, that we’re doing well…I always laugh at the fashion industry because–I’m just going to say it–Black people make s**t cool. We can take anything and make it cool…but we’re also denied the opportunities to go in your stores. I, to this day still get followed if I want to go into…Gucci, if I want to go to Yves Saint Laurent. And that’s just the employees. I don’t think it reflects necessarily on the companies, but it is what it is, that’s how it’s always been.”

Photo: FX

“I think what’s very interesting about this episode is that it’s about agency…it’s also very clear that it’s harder for Black designers to make it in fashion,” he continued. “It’s also harder for…Black women to excel in the fashion industry and this is how the game has always been run. So what we sought to do in this episode was to…truly make fun of that.”

Henry also addressed the show Dave, a series that has come under fire for seeming like an appropriated version of Atlanta.

Even Atlanta creator and co-star Donald Glover has commented on the show’s similarities, saying to Interview Magazine that while he likes Dave, “it does bother me when Atlanta‘s compared to it.” He also added that he felt the show has an “artificial flavor” to it because the show’s premise of it being hard for its main character (Lil Dicky) to break into the industry is false. “The organic show should be about a white rapper who’s more successful than his Black peers from the jump because he’s more accessible, he said. “But what he actually wants is to be a part of the culture, but his success keeps him from that and a lot of his Black peers and friends resent him for it but also feel like they have to f— with him because it’s good for them. That’s the internal struggle I see.”

Henry’s comments echo Glover’s. “It is not lost on me, and this may be a hot take, but in the years that we were gone, a show called Dave came to surface, and literally follows the formula,” said Henry during the interview. “I’m not in any way trying to [come for] anybody, but we see it. Yes, we can occupy the same space, yes, we can share the space, but at the same time, what?”

While saying that the world has always worked this way when it comes to Black talent and and innovations that originated in Black space, Henry also said he wants people to truly recognize the origins of the things they love and pay the apt respect.

“…Please understand and take recognition of where things have originated and where things started what what things paved the way because it’s easy for something to get snatched and appropriated and [trick] you into believing that it is truly what is best,” he said.

You can listen to the full podcast interview below.

Shadow and Act is a website dedicated to cinema, television and web content of Africa and its global Diaspora. With daily news, interviews, in-depth investigations into the audiovisual industry, and more, Shadow and Act promotes content created by and about people of African descent throughout the world.

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