The New Yorker recently published a review of Donald Glover’s new show, Atlanta, by Emily Nussbaum. In this in-depth piece, Nussbaum discussed the various main characters of the show and what they offered to the story. However, the one character who Nussbaum merely glossed over was Van. She quickly mentions Van and then moves on to cover the humor of Atlanta. The one point she made about the only major female character is that she does not get to be funny.
I both agree and disagree with this statement. I find humor in Van’s no-nonsense attitude when it comes to Earn because it’s relatable. This attitude brings humor in the form of familiarity for me because it’s the same way that my mother deals with my father and the way my aunts deal with my uncles. However, it is true that Van is the only one who doesn’t blatantly crack jokes. I had never really noticed this before reading Nussbaum’s review because to be completely honest, I didn’t expect jokes from Van.
When I saw her I saw the familiar image of a Black woman who is trying to take care of herself and her family and doesn’t have time for much else. Van has a steady job and a home while Earn is barely making enough to support himself, is homeless (but “not real homeless”) and often tries to convince Van to let him spend the night. Basically, it is her responsibility to put their family on her back and be the real adult.
This is the reality for many Black women who are the backbones of their families. Black women are incredibly strong simply because they have to be. Often left with no other option, Black women are used to having to do it all without breaking a sweat. Grandmothers, singles mothers and aunties are the closest many Black kids ever get to superheroes.
That load doesn’t leave much time for giggles. Not to say that these are always hard, angry women, but they’re just under tremendous pressure. When you have to worry about work, finances, kids and sometimes grown men who never learned to be men, you understandably become stressed and serious at most times. The occasional deep breath and laugh is something that is cherished by these women.
To give Van too many moments where she’s delivering punchlines would take away from the authenticity that fans and critics love about Atlanta. Just like Earn, Alfred (Paper Boi) and Darius, Van is trying to make it through life with the cards dealt to her, and as a black woman, that hand often includes a lot of hard work and not many jokes.
Be the zeitgeist.