Donald Glover's critically acclaimed series, Atlanta, debuted its 3rd Season last month, and it's already challenging watchers to question the status quo, shining a light on issues ranging from reparations to police brutality to cultural appropriation.
Episode 6, entitled "White Fashion," takes a stab at the Fashion Industry's trend of racial insensitivity--followed by paltry efforts at showcasing diversity, all anchored by members of the black community willing to compromise their values in exchange for free clothes and charitable donations. This episode kicks off with a European designer named Bouchet of the fictional brand Esco Esco, who receives backlash for releasing a jersey with "Central Park 5" on the back, with a Raccoon type cartoon on the front. As Bouchet explains how he came up with his inspiration, it seems harmless (Central Park is a place of peace, 5 celebrates their 5th anniversary). However, as many people of color in the industry well know, someone black would have immediately flagged the jersey as a huge no no (The Central Park 5 refers to 5 black men wrongly accused and arrested for raping a white female jogger in Central Park. Her rapist eventually turned himself in). Still the Jersey hits the market, and the advertising campaign features a slain white girl surrounded by black men.
Once the sh*t hits the fan, Esco Esco taps Paperboi (Brian Tyree Henry) and several other apologists to help smooth the situation over.
All the typical benchmarks follow. Esco Esco has a diversity event, where Gospel music entertains guests. The company enlists a diversity committee to have a press conference, where they promise that racism will end in 2024. Free clothes, food, and champagne flows. A generous donation is given to charity. Then all is forgiven. We have seen this play out almost identically in real life with brands like Gucci, Burberry, and Prada who have made major PR missteps, and then rush to hire Diversity managers, collaborate with black designers, and align themselves with leaders in the community.
Paperboi, the critical thinker, tries to use the opportunity to get African-Americans to invest in their 'hood.' But his message is turned into an "All Lives Matter" commercial, and everything pretty much goes back to the way it's always been (until the next controversy bubbles up).
Anyone in fashion could easily relate to every aspect of this episode. Cultural appropriation is even touched on when Darius (played by Lakeith Stanfield) introduces a white Esco Esco staffer to a Nigerian restaurant that serves Jollof rice. Though the staffer didn't know what Jollof rice was at first, by the end of the episode, she had bought the whole restaurant, converted it into a food truck, and then added her own flair, which totally diluted and destroyed the authenticity of the dish.
In "White Fashion," Glover makes a statement about the unequal playing field many of us still deal with in the fashion industry. And how our culture can be used, stolen, disrespected, and exploited...all to maintain, not change the status quo.
As Paper Boi yells about how his message of black empowerment is lost, Khalil, his fellow diversity adviser, points out that the imbalance is intentional, saying, “Why would a company make a project that would teach Black people to stop buying their products and to reinvest in their own? Why would they fund their own demise?”
Glover's episode lets the industry know that we are well aware of what is going on. And we're here to truly invest in the 'hood,' while continuing to elevate our own voices, products, and narratives.