Atlanta Series Finale: Director Hiro Murai Walks Us Through That Eerie Ending
As a white woman I know I’m probably experiencing episodes differently than some Black viewers watching the show. Did you discuss those different audiences while making the show?
That’s kind of the great thing about making this show is you’re hovering at this intersection of different cultural gazes. It’s scripted and created by two guys who grew up in Atlanta in a very Black neighborhood, and a lot of that stuff is presented very matter-of-factly in the show—it’s not presented for white viewers, and it is put in there without any ceremony or explanation. This show’s also very aware that a big chunk of the audience, we’re not accustomed to Southern Black culture, and I think we try to construct it in a way where the show feels welcoming to anyone who walks into the room, whether they understand the context or not. That’s in the tone of the show, and also just in the performances and the warmth of these characters.
As a non-Black director, presumably there were times when you’ve had to try to understand the implications of something unfamiliar to you.
It’s a conversation that me, Donald, and Steve have all the time. Sometimes I’ll get the context of something wrong and present it in a weird way and then they end up liking it! That’s the combustible, exciting thing at the center of the show, like an overlap of multiple perspectives. All of our hands are on the Ouija board in some way, and we trust each other enough that we just tend to let it take us wherever it wants to go.
You just talked about getting the context wrong sometimes. So many Atlanta episodes dig into how white people project things onto Blackness, or depict whiteness and wrestle over cultural co-optation.
That’s absolutely true. And also, in the pilot, Earn was an outsider. He’s a Princeton dropout who walked into this world where his cousin was an upcoming rapper and he got roasted by people in this world for not understanding the culture, you know? So I think it’s always been about people who are slightly outside looking in.
In the finale, there’s the scene where the Black sushi chef is lecturing the gang about how Popeyes sells a fake version of Black culture back to the community. But the chef is a pretty terrifying figure, so the viewer is being pulled in multiple directions.
Yeah, I think the Atlanta code is that everybody’s right and everybody’s wrong at the same time.
You’re continuing your collaboration with Donald Glover, working on his new show Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Does it require a completely different kind of visual vocabulary?
Yeah, it’s a completely different thing. The incredible thing about Atlanta is, it doesn’t promise you anything other than that you’ll be with these people for 30 minutes. There’s no set expectations for language or genre or how much comedy or drama should be in it. But you expect certain things out of a spy-related story, so it becomes a conversation about when do we lean into those, and when do we subvert them?
So what are the chances of bringing Atlanta characters back to life in the future? Between Alfred’s dancing in “Crank that Killer” and his and Earn’s rendition of “Old MacDonald” in the finale, I’d like to see a special Broadway musical episode of Atlanta.
The only way this show comes back is as a Broadway musical! [Laughs.]
So a future season or one-off is not something you’ve toyed with?
We often joke that we’ll come back when we’re all 70. It’ll be called Atlanta: Lottie’s Revenge. If there’s a good story to tell, I think we’re all open to the idea of reopening the door. But it feels right to have this [finale] as a punctuation point.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.