Atlanta's FUBU Episode
What’s Up with Denisha?
The "FUBU" episode of Atlanta was a large topic of conversation after it aired. The episode told a lot of truths; it discussed tag checking, bullying, difficulties faced by teachers/school administrators, etc. It also answered a lot of questions about the relationship dynamic between Earn and Al. For example, the audience learns that Al has been bailing Earn out of difficult situations since their adolescence, which makes their conversations in both the series premiere and the season finale make much more sense.
However, what I'm most interested in are the interactions that take place between Denisha, one of Earn's classmates, and Mrs. Banks, Earn's science teacher. They are very small interactions, but they seem to pack a lot of meaning.
The first interaction takes place when Mrs. Banks asks Denisha to sit up and Denisha says that her head hurts. Mrs. Banks then tries to get the student to do her work, but Denisha does not want to cooperate. This seems to frame Denisha as a problematic student. Not only is she giving Mrs. Banks a hard time, but Mrs. Banks also mentions a "meeting," which the audience would probably assume was for disciplinary purposes.
The second interaction takes place after Earn's class is notified about Devin's suicide. Denisha comes in late but happily greets Mrs. Banks before volunteering to read aloud. This interaction alone might make the audience believe that Denisha is a student that is always ready to participate.
Like everything in this show (and art in general), we should assume that these interactions have a purpose (or at the very least, were included on purpose). After the episode wrapped, I found myself constantly thinking about Denisha and Mrs. Banks, and why their interactions were written into the script and received so much visual focus.
Here are my theories:
Teenage Years/Adolescence: Teenage years are tough. Hormones are raging and cause all kind of social problems that teenagers can't even begin to understand. There's nothing worse than knowing something is wrong within yourself and being unable to name it, let alone conquer it. Perhaps Denisha's interactions with Mrs. Banks are meant to speak to the difficulties that teenagers face and express without taking into consideration how it affects others (which is not really their fault).
Teacher Struggles: As aforementioned, one of the main ideas of this episode is the discussion of the difficulties teachers/school administrators face. The first example comes from Mr. Haley, a substitute teacher that is picked on by the students for his size. He is told that his underarms smell like ribs and that there is chicken grease on his shoes. Mr. Haley threatens to write the student up, but the student doesn't seem to care. Mr. Haley is essentially bullied into submission, much like Devin is. Similarly, every class that Earn enters is full, denoting the large classroom sizes.
Mental Health: This might be a bit of a stretch, but there may have been something going on with Denisha's mental health. The "meeting" that Mrs. Banks mentions could refer to a conference including a counselor and Denisha's parents. Counselors may be involved with creating behavior plans to help students with mental illnesses or psychological disorders in order to improve their performance in school. Her complete shift in behavior may allude to this kind of issue and its prominence in black youth (as well it's what black youth may perceive as the inability to discuss these issues).
Home Life: Of course, one of the most prominent ideas in this episode is that you never know what someone may be going through behind closed doors. Devin's suicide was assumed to have taken place because of his feelings about his parents' divorce. Perhaps Denisha's emotional changes act as a magnifier of this idea.
People Are Complex: People are not just one thing. Denisha may be a generally happy student that had a bad day, or vice versa. Similarly, Denisha could be a nice girl, but a bad student. These are things that we will never know because we only got to see Denisha in the classroom. One interaction with a person does not define that person. People become who they are through a variety of experiences and inherent qualities.
I'm not very good at analyzing visual media like TV shows and films, so I have no idea what these interactions could mean or accomplish and my theories are only grounded in my own experiences and personal associations. But I still found these interactions interesting as they drew attention to a pair of characters that we would barely notice otherwise.