This Is Teddy Perkins

Curator's Note

"Teddy Perkins," S02E06 of the television series Atlanta (FX, 2016–present), has quickly established itself as one of the most accomplished explorations of horror and political speech. Aired a month before the release of the Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) song "This Is America" (May 5, 2018), "Teddy Perkins" presents an unflinching and beautifully photographed interpretation of the relationship of horror to politics and racial identity. The role of Teddy Perkins, a reclusive and idiosyncratic brother to former piano virtuoso Benny Hope (Derrick Haywood), is played by Glover, who presents himself in whiteface. During the filming of the episode, Glover remained in makeup off camera and was referred to by the crew as "Teddy" on-set. Furthermore, Glover is not listed as playing the character in the credits to the episode, which instead lists "Teddy Perkins as himself." Reminiscent of the dramatic anticipation of the unnamed monster in horror films ranging from Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931) to Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978), Glover’s performance illuminates the contemporary social environment of the politics of race and horror by way of the traumatic experience of stardom within the music and entertainment industries.

Unlike the scenes of masculine resistance to racial inequality that are represented in This Is America and the horror classic Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017), Darius Epps (Lakeith Stanfield) in "Teddy Perkins" finds himself trapped within a world of black oppression that renders him a passive observer who must depend upon compassion rather than violence. Whereas Donald Glover wields a pistol and AK-47 in This Is America and Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) uses a mounted buck’s head as a weapon in Get Out, Darius’s purpose in Atlanta is the acquisition of a piano with colored keys that is aligned with the music of Stevie Wonder and the practice of nonviolent opposition to authority.

This is a point that is underscored in the embedded video. In this scene, Darius and Alfred "Paper Boi" Miles (Brian Tyree Henry) discuss the importance of Darius’s procurement of Benny’s piano. Ultimately, Darius’s compassion for Teddy is offset by the business at hand, a transaction that Darius hopes to make as smooth and impersonal as possible. Yet during their phone conversation Darius compares Teddy’s bleached skin to Sammy Sosa, prompting a fit of laughter among his friends. At once impersonal and prejudicial, the politics of race and the burden of stardom are fundamental to the horror of "Teddy Perkins."   

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