Imagine the headline: *insert black person* profiled, killed and/or wronged in some black-ass way.
You see the words in your phone, and your heart jumps. Then it stops. You’ve seen this news story before, so you move to something regular...breakfast maybe? Yeah, that’s it. You chew on dry flakes, but your mind heads back to “here we go again.” The anger feels personal now, like the time an Officer Ryan accused you of being a dealer on your block—hand rested on his glock. But still, you hope justice finds *insert black person*. You pray for justice. You’d give a kidney for fucking justice—there’s a joke here somewhere—so you write an article blasting the audience that looks like Officer Ryan, but still, you’re mad.
This is a fragment of a black mind—my black mind. A random and unapologetic series of thoughts that don’t always make a lick of sense. It speaks with a specific dialect to a specific situation—one that only I can understand. In art imitating life terms, no mere TV show on a network television should have the gall or instinctive foresight to depict this kind of raw black thought. But here’s this lone HBO show, Random Acts of Flyness, with the audacity and ability to do so. It captures an unfiltered me like no show ever did, and in all that mess, it’s somehow daring as fuck. You should fuck with it too.
Now, here’s the part where I’m supposed to describe what this midnight based series is all about, even with it being so unlike anything I’ve ever seen. If pressed, I’d say it’s like the crazy funhouse of The Eric Andre Show. Or the sexual ownership of a Pose. Maybe I’d link it to the assured coolness of FX’s Atlanta. And call the stitching of satirical skits meshed with black pain as plain ugly. Terence Nance’s creation is all of that and none of that. Random Acts of Flyness pushes out like a developing thought in some black mind—an interplay between blackity bullshit realities—police brutality, racism, identity—in harmony with the humour we use to flip that shit.
In episode one for example, viewers are given a sickening montage of police violence set to happy chirpy music. From there, we get a mock cable-access show for kids featuring “Ripa the Reaper” (Tonya Pinkins) who ushers black children to their death for getting the wrong answer (hint: it’s always the wrong answer). She does so while smiling tearfully, at one point even screaming at the screen for help. In another episode, host Nance and co-host Doreen Garner conduct a mock talk show segment about The Sexual Proclivities of the Black Community featuring Yeelen Cohan, a bisexual black man. On screen, it plays out to a low-tech-ass stop motion adaptation that’s so damn ugly but so uniquely Yeelen through story.
Nothing about these segments, from the straight black men complimenting each other in the streets moment, to the “rent a white witness” moment, hints at any exposition or storyline for the uninitiated (white viewer). This isn’t your Dear White People hand holding affair of overexplained black frustration. Instead it’s a refreshing but dirty blast to the face. The kind of realness a white dude may feel if I told them I had a black relative who was shot by a cop. That’s right. How the fuck would you know what that looks like in my mind. What that feels like in my depths? Sure, I could tell you, but would you really understand the complexities of it? Probably not. It would be too confusing to illustrate. You’d slip in and out of reach from something you couldn’t grasp because you didn’t have the framework of racialized experiences.
This is what you get from the product of an entire black writing team with unique experiences. They gaze at every black thing: race, bodies, gender, perception, without a specific order in which those things should manifest. Their black minds are free of a networked tradition. One dipped in buzz words that appeal to “greater audiences” (white audiences) with instructions about black pain, love and frustration. It’s a surprise that even in 2018, a prestige/edgy/mainstream network like HBO would have the gall to green light this into a second season. Something that the breakout director of 2012 ( An Oversimplification of Her Beauty) himself credits to an appealing brand that feels comparable to the fuck-your-feelings HBO of yesterday (ex. Taxi Confessions).
While Random Acts of Flyness still has the trappings of a bankable TV show through star power—Lakeith Stanfield, Jon Hamm, Whoopi Goldberg, for example—the series still holds true when when telling stories in the ways a black and frustrated.
Follow Noel Ransome on Twitter.
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