To celebrate, now is the perfect time to revisit two popular episodes from two of the most influential comedies in the modern era, which both discussed Juneteenth. Donald Glover’s Atlanta tackled it in 2016 while black-ish did an episode in 2018.
In the black-ish episode “Juneteenth,” Dre (Anthony Anderson) isn’t feeling it when Jack (Miles Brown) and Diane (Marsai Martin) have to participate in a school play about Christopher Columbus. Dre enlists Aloe Blacc at work to help him create a catchy song sung by The Roots to raise awareness for a holiday worth celebrating, Juneteenth. This results in a Hamilton-like episode featuring musical segments of the Johnsons as slaves waiting for the day they get to be free.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, creator Kenya Barris talks about the making of the episode. “Maybe if the country, together, celebrated the end of something on a yearly basis, that would bring a lot more peace and solidarity between a country that’s so clearly still split. But to celebrate that makes people feel that you have to acknowledge that it was real, and you have to acknowledge it was wrong, bigger than the moral sense of it; you have to acknowledge that it was wrong as a human rights violation — one of the grossest examples of a human rights violation in the history of mankind.” The musical episode also featured a Schoolhouse Rock-esque skit about slavery, featuring The Roots, called “I’m Just a Slave.”
In Atlanta’s episode, also called “Juneteenth,” Van (Zazie Beetz) and Earn (Donald Glover) go to a Juneteenth party that Van believes would be a great networking opportunity for her. The party is hosted by optometrist Craig and his wife Monique, who happens to be Black. It’s Craig’s obsession with Blackness that makes the party uncomfortable. Not only has he married a Black woman, but he’s infiltrated himself into Black culture by idolizing Malcolm X and pledging a Black fraternity. He even goes as far as to badger Earn about visiting “the motherland.”
Ironically, Craig speaks about appropriation as if he’s not doing the same thing as himself. But as much as the episode skewers “woke” whiteness, it also provides a way for the show to examine broken relationships. There’s the broken one between Van and Earn as they figure out how to co-parent and as Van figures out how to make money after being fired from her job. But there’s also the strained relationship between Monique and Craig. Whether Craig realizes it or not, Monique is not happy in their relationship since she’s fully aware of Craig’s Black fetish. But, as she tells Van, she’s looking out for her money more than her marriage.
Both episodes tackle Juneteenth in different ways, but they both put the day in the spotlight so their viewers can get educated about this moment in American history.
Photo credit: Kelsey McNeal/ABC, FX Networks