Season 3 Atlanta opener “Three Slaps” alluded to two real-life stories, the Hart Family murders and the underwater Georgia town Lake Lanier.
Season three of Atlanta is starting off with an unpredictable twist. In first episode “Three Slaps” — written by Stephen Glover and directed by Hiro Murai — the 2018 Hart family murders and the 1912 “racial cleansing” of former Georgia town Oscarville (which became Lake Lanier) are referenced. If you’re not already aware of these real-life stories, the references the episode made to them likely went over your head. So, here’s a breakdown of those incidents, and how Atlanta reinterprets them for its surreal season premiere.
How Oscarville was whitewashed to become Lake Lanier
In the episode’s nightmarish intro, a conversation in a boat takes place between a white and Black man, named “Earnest” and “Black,” respectively. The two are at a lake when Black calls it time on their evening fishing trip, saying that he almost drowned at the same lake when he was eight years-old.
In response, Earnest talks about how the lake is haunted because a Black town was drowned underneath, before breaking into a soliloquy about whiteness being a state of mind. As the atmosphere darkens around him he turns to face the screen, revealing that his eyes have gone amiss, as haunted hands leap from underwater to drown Black.
While the lake goes unnamed in the episode, it refers to reservoir Lake Lanier, the former community of Oscarville in Forsyth County, which faced a racist mob attack in September 1912. According to History, Forsynth County (populated by nearly 1,110 Black residents) was met with violence when 18-year-old white woman Mae Crow was allegedly raped and killed by Oscarville resident Rob Edwards, who was lynched in the town square. Thousands of white county residents showed up to shoot Edwards’ corpse, leading to a community invasion where Black businesses, churches, and houses were torched.
Surviving Black residents fled, and the “racial cleansing” lead to man-made Lake Lanier, which flooded the town in the 1950s. There was no punishment for the racial injustice, with Black teenagers Earnest Knox and Oscar Daniel also convicted in front of an all-white jury in two separate trials. The boys were found guilty and hung. To the satisfaction of neighboring racist residents who want to avoid the grim history of Oscarville, Lake Lanier is accessible to the public for fishing and boating (despite the water possibly being cursed).
Devonte Hart and the Hart family murders
In “Three Slaps,” student Loquareeous wakes up from the boating nightmare, and is met with news from his teacher that the class is taking a field trip to see Black Panther 2. In celebration, he jumps up from his nap and dances on top of his desk in celebration before the teacher calls him to the principal’s office. (A nod to the real viral video of kids dancing in an Atlanta school after learning that they’re going to see Black Panther.)
Although the Black female principal tries to speak with Loquareeous’ mother and grandfather during an office visit, she’s interrupted by an adjoining white-savior guidance counselor who suggests that Loquareeous take remedial classes. While he’s given “tough love” from his grandfather and mother in the hallway, the guidance counselor escorts him back to class, later calling social services to put Loquareeous in an adoptive home.
Loquareeous is housed with adoptive lesbian parents Amber and Gayle, whose house reeks of brewed kombucha and three other unkempt, starving children who are also Black. The women starve the children by cooking ill-made chicken and vegetables, and forcing them to work in the garden to grow food to be sold at a local farmers market.
If you haven’t gotten the reference yet, the second part of “Three Slaps” alludes to the 2018 Hart family murders. In 2014, 12-year-old Devonte Hart went viral for a picture of him hugging a police offer during a Ferguson unrest protest in Portland. Many on social media celebrated the emotive image, although they weren’t aware that Devonte, along with his five other adoptive siblings, were being abused by their white adoptive mothers, Jennifer and Sarah Hart.
The news about the abuse came to a head in March 2018, when Jennifer drove the family off a cliff in Mendocino County, California. According to The New York Times, all seven car occupants died in an apparent murder-suicide, including children Ciera, Abigail, Jeremiah, Devonte, Hannah and Markis (although Devonte’s body was never recovered).
In a surprise turn, “Three Slaps” ends with Loquareeous and the other adoptive children escaping Amber and Gayle, who plunge into the lake that was the setting for the episode’s opening. It’ll be interesting to see what else gets referenced or alluded to in the rest of the season, but there’s no denying how these two references in particular kicked off the season in such an unexpected way.