Black Surrealism is Alive and Well in ‘The Vince Staples Show’


Black Surrealism is Alive and Well in ‘The Vince Staples Show’

words by JoliAmour DuBose-Morris

photos courtesy of Netflix


This past February, viewers looked inside the West Coast rapper Vince Staples's chaotic lifestyle in just five mini-episodes. These episodes—ranging from fifteen to twenty-five minutes—detailed many different narrative points of Staples’ life inside the show. From the show’s beginning arc from Staples’ five hours in jail to a reunion with childhood friends during their heist at the bank, to family cookouts, getting jumped by mascots at Surf City, and a shootout between his childhood arch-nemesis in a closed flea market; the series uses the time they have in each episode wisely. As much as The Vince Staples Show is the first of its kind to use an episodic narrative comparable to 90s sitcom shows like Martin or Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and infuse it with a modern direction, it is now the fourth series since Atlanta, Lovecraft Country, and I’m A Virgo, to go down the Black-Surrealism pathway. 

Black-Surrealism, or Afro-Surrealism, is a genre-bending narrative that reforms magical realism and centers it around Black characters. The exciting thing that Black Surrealism can do is reject a definitive reality with limitless ideas. In 2016, Donald Glover’s Atlanta expanded the minds of viewers by showcasing that Black men and the entire Black community can see themselves in more than just shows that center police brutality, gang violence, and overall stories that continue the brigade of pain towards our community. This show’s ability to bend time and space while keeping an authentic and certainly relatable voice echoed more filmmakers and directors to rise. Thus, came Jordan Peele’s Get Out made in 2017, Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You in 2018, and Juel Taylor’s They Cloned Tyrone made in 2023. For TV shows, audience members began to tune in for the series previously mentioned—Misha Green’s Lovecraft Country in 2020 and Boots Riley’s I’m A Virgo in 2023.


Even though Lovecraft Country canceled, and Atlanta was more than generous to give viewers four seasons, The Vince Staples Show appears for audiences at a time when keeping Afro-Surrealism alive in entertainment is crucial. If we just observe, we can see that this new genre has kept Black writers and filmmakers inspired to create.

These shows hold each other up and enforce that Black entertainment stays genre-breaking, transformative, and unfathomable. Without these creators, without this genre, we have seen entertainment paint shows with the gloomiest and most depressing narratives. How can we stay motivated if the content given to us silences our dreams, our optimism, and our peculiarity? Instead, surrounding communities of color with plots of the suffering we all know we’ve endured.

The Vince Staples Show showcases a dual approach that allows viewers to recognize the hardships of being from Long Beach, such as poverty, violence, and imprisonment. Yet, Staples identifies moments of joy, comedic flair, and sometimes even psychological Disturbia that shift the conversation from what hurts our community to what can help us. And that’s the consistency to make art that reflects our agency and imagination. 

The Vince Staples Show emulates the airiness viewers get when putting on a late-night rerun from a sitcom series. As the other Black-Surrealistic series and films took a point in still creating a narrative that addresses an issue (environmental racism in They Cloned Tyrone, obsession for success in Atlanta, code-switching in Sorry to Bother You), The Vince Staples Show is a series that can finally exist for the sake of existing. It doesn’t have to be overtly think-pieced and reviewed from a political standpoint. It exists so that we can have something to watch when nothing else is good on television, or when we need something to giggle at here and there while multi-tasking on something else—or just simply because when watching it, the stress of constantly thinking in a lens that affects us politically, economically, and socially can drift away the moment the episode begins. And that’s real change, too.