Review of FX's 'Atlanta' Season Three, Episode Nine "Rich Wigga, Poor Wigga" -

[mxdwn Television] Review of FX's 'Atlanta' Season Three, Episode Nine "Rich Wigga, Poor Wigga" -

Atlanta included a final anthology chapter to the third season with the penultimate episode, “Rich Wigga, Poor Wigga.” The entire episode is black and white and contributes to the discussion of the complexity of boundaries between the two, highlighted by the happenings at a high school.

Aaron, played by Tyriq Withers (Tell Me Lies, The Game), is playing a violent video game in his room, where he uses a flamethrower to kill his opponents who speak to him through his headset. Just as he has won, he gets a text from his girlfriend Kate, played by Rachel Resheff (Seven Seconds, Friends from College), who proudly announces her admission to a university. Aaron snaps and uses racial slurs and remarks at his opponents before lying back in his bed. 

Aaron’s dad, who is black, comments on the tragedy of a recent police shooting of an innocent black man who was reaching for his phone and not the supposed weapon. Aaron claims that the person must have done something to deserve it. His dad then comments on how Aaron acts white but doesn’t fool him because he knows he gave him his nose. Aaron’s skin tone is ambiguous from the black, and his chosen appearance does resemble that of his white friends. Aaron asks him to fill out the FAFSA forms so he can apply to college, but his father refuses, and Aaron doesn’t have anywhere near enough money to afford it on his own.   

At the school, the entire senior class answers a call into the auditorium. Robert “Shea” Lee, played by Kevin Samuels (Intellectual Scum, Future: Worst Day), speaks to the graduating class and remarks how he, as a highly successful black businessman, started his journey at this high school with less than fond memories. He reveals how he will donate one million dollars to rename it after him instead of the enslaver it is currently named after. He then promises to pay for every senior’s college tuition. The entire auditorium erupts joyfully, and Aaron believes his problems are solved. That’s when Robert adds the condition that one must be black to receive the aforementioned scholarship. Only the black students now celebrate. Aaron does not join them.

Aaron’s friends complain and suggest that black students have an easy enough time already getting into college. When pressed for an answer, Aaron agrees that the specifications for the scholarship are ridiculous but does suggest that it might be helpful to those who are black and poor, which he now may be identifying with more. He then lies to his friends to go to the auditorium to collect the scholarship. 

At the gymnasium, he finds out he must audition. He enters the dark room and walks over to a spotlight and answers a series of questions that are supposed to determine whether he is really black. Robert denies Aaron the scholarship. Aaron rebukes, claiming he is being rejected for being light-skinned but is shut down by shouts about him being white. His answers were wrong, and if he had any black friends, they would have told him not to dress the way he is. They point out that he has been coasting on his whiteness and is receiving his comeuppance.

Aaron returns home, and Kate breaks up with him. She knows he isn’t going to be joining her at university. Filled with rage, he makes a homemade flamethrower and walks to the renamed high school. To his surprise, he bumps into another student attempting to do the same thing. This unnamed character was born in Nigeria, and Aaron admits how he sees why he might have been rejected for the scholarship because of his ability to trace his roots and culture. This sparks an argument between them, and Aaron jokes about the darkness of that student’s skin. They battle with flamethrowers. Just as Aaron is about to be torched, the police shoot the black student. Aaron is left unharmed, once again benefitting from his whiteness.

Robert arrives on the scene and consoles the injured student. He will pay for his medical bills and grant him the scholarship money for doing what he perceives to be the most black thing one can do: being shot by the police. Aaron, on the other hand, is arrested. A year later, Aaron is working at a local store and has changed everything about himself. He speaks differently, dresses differently, and embraces his blackness. Kate visits, and he flirts with her before looking directly at the camera and suggesting that they will hook up. 

“Rich Wigga, Poor Wigga” creatively included a fascinating scenario about a mixed-race boy and his decision to act white or black, depending on the circumstance. His shifting attitudes, racist remarks, and the unusual audition he found himself in were all highly memorable. As helped by the black-and-white imaging, whiteness was not as simple as skin color. Instead, it was evaluated by Robert as cultural, and Aaron could not hide the fact that he had been running away from it for his entire life. The highly experimental episode’s title draws attention to Aaron’s choices and how they’ve benefitted him in some ways, including his relationship with the police, but have hurt him in others, such as when Robert comes with his scholarship offer. The ingenuity of Atlanta is remarkable. 

Rating: 8.0/10