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ATL, Chris Robinson (2006)

The plot here is blandly earnest as an Afterschool Special, or American Graffiti or Diner: a group of typical American high school seniors–the brain, the cutup, the romeo, etc.–fall in and out of love and struggle with a variety of obstacles as they contemplate their futures. Boring, right? It would be, if it weren’t for the fact that this banal story is populated by black kids from a economically depressed section of Atlanta (a.k.a. “ATL”). The movie’s message works in the negative. Watching it, you realize that almost always, when you see black teenagers on a movie or TV screen, they’re antagonists: the boys criminals and/or misogynists, the girls bitter scolds or tramps. Or otherwise, they’re pathetic characters, heroic and golden-hearted, but brought low by abuse, poverty, racism. How sad that it’s so striking to see a movie where a bunch of average black kids get to play the roles of average kids. The climactic scene is a rollerskating competition! It’s a boring movie as a movie, but it’s exciting to see a movie which, I suspect, reflects the realities of growing up African American more accurately than does an episode of The Shield.

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