28 Days of Black Movies: Let’s talk about ‘ATL’ so we can talk about Omeretta The Great’s song ‘Sorry Not Sorry’ and what is or isn’t Atlanta

OPINION: An Atlanta love story about where you’re from and what that means is a great way to talk about who gets to claim Atlanta.

T.I. and Lauren London in “ATL.” (Warner Bros.)

One of my biggest regrets in life was giving up my 404 area code on my cell phone number. Even now, I don’t entirely know why I did it. I moved to Washington, D.C., for graduate school and, for some odd reason, decided to get a local cell phone number. It was especially odd since I’d always planned on moving back to Atlanta (I never did) after finishing school and working for a few years. I was homesick for the A for several years until one day I more or less decided that my home base had shifted to Washington, D.C. I used to keep up with everything happening in Atlanta and devoured all art out of Atlanta. I had beaucoup ATL mixtapes and I’d ride around D.C. windows down blaring Youngbloodz’s “Damn!” at high volumes, especially in residential areas. 

So you can imagine my joy in 2006 when the T.I. and Lauren London-led movie ATL dropped, I was all in. And you’d be right. ATL is a movie fictitiously set in Mechanicsville, Ga., which is pretty much Atlanta or at least the southwest/southeast side—Mechanicsville High School, for instance, is set at the old East Atlanta High School in southeast Atlanta. One of the pre-eminent locations is the Cascade Skating Rink, which is right up the street from where the vast majority of my family is from and around in Atlanta and where I spent an inordinate amount of time after it was built; my whole family is pretty much all on the west side between Bankhead and Cascade—my family house was on Martin Luther King Dr., SW and my grandmother lived in Adamsville. When the movie came out, I really enjoyed all of the landmarks, turning my homesickness to a 10 at almost all times. I used to bump T.I.’s King album—the de-facto soundtrack for the movie—ad nauseam for like a solid year. 

ATL was a warm hug and it was especially interesting for the identity dynamics at play in the film. The plot centers around Rashad (T.I) and his crew and his romance with Nu-Nu (London) a chick from Buckhead (definitely Atlanta) who wanted to be from the hood so badly that she faked a whole existence until she was outed. Rashad, being from Mechanicsville (which is actually a real neighborhood in southwest Atlanta), didn’t think he had anything in common with Nu-Nu, who was from the northern affluent part of the city. As is the case in most cities, where you’re from often has a lot to do with who you are, what you’ve experienced and the obstacles you face along the way to your life’s journey. 

Which is kind of the point of Omeretta The Great’s song “Sorry Not Sorry,” which I can only imagine set Atlanta ablaze when it was recently released. What’s the point of the song? Well, Omeretta, an up-and-coming rapper who was also a cast member on Love & Hip Hop Atlanta, decided to break it down so that it could forever and consistently be broke what constitutes Atlanta. Essentially, College Park is not Atlanta. Lithonia is not Atlanta. And the list goes on. She especially says that if you ain’t attend Atlanta Public Schools…you aren’t from Atlanta—which, should it actually matter (more on this later), would remove a ton of bona fides from many, many Atlanta rappers. For instance, Migos are from the north (yeah, that way) of Gwinnett County, a place that is so damn far away that I don’t even count it as being the A when I’m driving back to the city from D.C.

“ATL” (Warner Bros.)

The point obviously is that lots of folks are trading on the name Atlanta without really having experienced what it’s like to be from the city. She checks zones 1, 3, and 4 (a lot of folks in Atlanta reference where they’re from by the police zone they’re in; 1, 3 and 4 contain “le hoods”—my family is Zone 1 and 4) as being legit. Now, obviously, this is nonsense; while where you’re from definitely influences your life experiences, to say that all these folks aren’t from Atlanta is pointless. For one, metro areas exist for a reason. But also, East Point and College Park and Forest Park and on and on all have “hoods” so to speak. While there are absolutely more affluent areas of the city and the suburbs, some of those suburbs, even in Gwinnett County, have seen better days. Decatur might as well be Atlanta. I suppose I don’t know what Atlanta experience she’s laying claim to that folks who don’t have a 303xx zip code know of, especially when Atlanta, at this point, is as much a state of mind as it is a locale. 

Now, perhaps I just don’t get it because the entirety of my lived Atlanta experiences has all happened within city limits. I’ve never had to “claim” Atlanta from a suburb. But also, this is also odd since I’m guessing when folks are in Atlanta, they claim their actual city, ESPECIALLY since so many folks outside of Atlanta know the suburbs now because of reality television and hip-hop. If you’re in Houston though, and you’re from Stone Mountain, that’s Atlanta, homey. It’s all Atlanta. I’m sure Omeretta actually knows that, but the marketing brilliance is evident; genius move. She had the whole internet talking about what is or isn’t Atlanta. I’m a fan now. 

Which gets back to ATL and Nu-Nu and Rashad. Nu-Nu was looking to gain some proximity to a life that she coveted even if the folks living it wanted her life. I suppose on some level that’s the point of Omeretta’s song; stop claiming this life when you don’t really want it and those of us in it want the better stuff. Sometimes in life, it ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at. But how do you know where I’m at, if you haven’t been where I’ve been, understand where I’m coming from? Probably not, but I just quoted two different rappers so I think my job here is done. 

I love the movie ATL, it reminded me of a time and life where things were fun and pure. Inside the actual city. Adamsville, Bowen Homes, Center Hill and Zone 4.

FILA.


Panama Jackson theGrio.com

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest) but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).

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