Atlanta digital series 'Intersection' explores complexities of gentrification with humor
The term “gentrification” has made its way into everyday conversations. As many U.S. cities have undergone massive change in recent decades, gentrification often disrupts the character of many historic neighborhoods of color with the influx of wealthy white people moving into the areas. A new series, “Intersection,” created, produced and set in Atlanta, captures the subject with nuance and humor. Lead actor Jacinte Blankenship even picked up a Primetime Emmy Award nomination this year for her role in the series.
WABE TV will be airing the series on Friday nights starting Jan. 6. Meg Messmer is the showrunner, producer and director of the “Intersection” series, and she joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to share more about it.
How a self-identified “gentrifier” took up the challenge of addressing gentrification:
“I’m from Michigan and I went to school in Detroit and basically became an adult in Detroit, and starting there, started my journey of gentrification,” Messmer recounted. “I was the only white woman in my building in downtown Detroit. Then I moved to New York City and lived in Harlem and Clinton Hill and Bedstuy, as all of these neighborhoods were changing. I moved to Los Angeles and… bought my first house in Highland Park with the idea to flip it because I was watching all the HGTV shows and thought that that was super cool, and also a way for me as an artist and an actor who has no 401k to start a savings for my family and retirement.”
“It was after I sold that house in the neighborhood within two years — we did a slow flip on it, we did a lot of the work ourselves, we sold it and made hundreds of thousands of dollars — but that’s when I started to stop and say, ‘Wait, this is insanity. First of all… the houses that are being picked up and then flipped, where are these people going?'” said Messmer. “Being an artist and a creator, I started to really seek out a way to put my stamp on this. Like, what is the story and how could I help this issue? How could I use my art to affect this issue in a positive way?”
Making space for hard conversations with humor:
“‘Intersection’ is a dark comedy digital series. It follows six characters, so it’s an ensemble series as they navigate the integration of a close-knit, historically Black Atlanta neighborhood. And really it’s all about their lives and their own self-preservation on a path that’s not always black and white, which is sort of our motto of the series,” Messmer said. “Gentrification… is such a trigger word. Sometimes in city planning meetings, they can’t even use the word because people are so polarized and they just immediately get aggressive on one side or the other. And I think the breakdown of this issue is, no one can speak about it with a clear head and so we wanted to — we, being the creators of this series — really wanted to come at it in a way that made it palatable. So we made it a dark comedy.”
“We wanted it to be authentic. We wanted people to watch it and say, ‘Holy cow, am I this person? Wow, I’m this person.’ Or, ‘How could I think about this differently, and how could I play out a situation like this differently?'”
A diverse ensemble cast of characters and writers’ room:
“The first [episode] follows O.G., who is our sort of ‘rock’ of the series. She owns the neighborhood store. She’s a Black activist. And then the second episode follows an accidental flipper, much mirroring my own experience. The third episode follows a Black man who wants to get out of the inner city, and so he wants to get in real estate… an entrepreneur of sorts. And then the fifth episode is sort of an outlier, but it follows a real estate agent in the neighborhood, a white real estate agent. And the last episode is sort of an amalgamation of all these characters. Our throughline of the series is a character named Jenaya… and it sort of follows her journey as she, who is a neighborhood staple, gets priced out of her rental.”
“I’m a white woman and brought this first to two other white women, my creators, Muretta Moss and Jennica Hill. But we knew very early on that we could not attack this subject in this climate, or in general, just as three white women. So we wanted to build this in a diverse writer’s room, so we added Karen Ceesay and Jacinte Blankenship to come on as writers and we wrote this as an all-female diverse writer’s room. Many of us — all of us, I would say — have been so close to the characters that we play in the show in terms of our experiences with gentrification. So when you say it’s realistic, it’s because many of the occurrences in the show are real situations that have happened to us.”