Brian Tyree Henry Drops Gems About Why All Of Us Are Paper Boi (Video)

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One of television’s standout offerings in 2016 was Atlanta, the FX series created by and starring Donald Glover, who is joined on-screen by Brian Tyree Henry. Henry plays Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles, an up-and-coming MC who juggles his fledgling Rap career with a street-life mentality. As a guest on yesterday’s (December 7) episode of The Daily Show, Henry discussed at length the duality of his character, but he applied Alfred’s story to all of us, and also why Atlanta seems to be so relevant to so many different people.

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To start off the extended interview, Henry responds to host Trevor Noah’s question about what makes the show such a success, both within the Black audience and outside. “You don’t know every thing about all these people that you think you know,” Henry says of the show’s ability to tell Black stories to others. “It’s so easy to put these labels and all these microaggressions on us when you have no idea or have walked in our shoes, and wouldn’t want to walk in our shoes.”

He adds that part of the show’s genius is its inclusion of a distinctly African-American stories that are not the monolithic variety often found elsewhere in popular culture. “Why not do this show that is just in this universe of Atlanta, where we give you these stories of these characters but also, like, throw these absurdities in there?” But he admits there was some concern on his part. “I remember thinking ‘we’re gonna get so much hate mail. People are going to be so pissed,’ but it was like oh, actually, people are very accepting and understanding of [the fact that] this is what we’ve wanted. This is what we’ve needed. And to hear that from people, that’s the thing that trips me out.”

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In response, Noah shares that what he appreciates about the show is that it didn’t feel like it was “watered down to be a ‘Black show’,” and that it wasn’t sacrificing any authenticity to be an “acceptable version of Blackness.” Henry agrees, and begins speaking specifically about the genuine qualities of the Paper Boi character. “We all are Alfred,” he says. “We all, at some point in our lives, have been this guy, where people have put these labels on us. Where all we wanna do is wake up and go through life following our dreams, hang with our friends on the couch, smoke a lil’ green every now and again, and just try to make it.”

He goes on to say that playing such a character reminds him of what he faces on a daily basis, as a Black man in this country. “I tell people every day, my waking up is activism. That’s what I have to do. I have to wake up, and I have to get up every day knowing that there are going to be so many things put on me, or taken away from me, or being told ‘no.’ But I have to get up every day and just really face the world for what it is. And I think that’s what Alfred does. I think that’s what all these characters in Atlanta do.”

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It’s then that he shares an anecdote about living in Harlem, still in the building which he called home before he landed his starring role on a hit TV show. At times, he runs into White neighbors who, according to him, seem surprised that his “big Black ass” lives there. “I’m still trying to figure out these fears that we carry and these kind of ideals we put on each other and not really wanting to understand where we come from at any point in time. I feel like, with Atlanta, we’re giving you these different flavors of who we are and how we walk in life.”

On September 20, confirmation that season two of Atlanta is on its way was embraced, but it likely will not return until Fall 2017. However, based on the success of the show and the overwhelming adulation from critics and fans alike, chances are we’ll be hearing about the show sooner than that, perhaps around Emmy season…