This post contains spoilers about Atlanta Season Three, Episode One.
Atlanta’s third season begins with a horror story. Two men—one Black, one white—sit out on a boat, murmuring in the dark about the hideous backstory of the water they’re floating on. It’s a surreal cold open that dovetails with the episode’s main story, about a Black boy named Loquareeous who gets kicked out of his home and is fostered by a white lesbian couple who turn out to be abusive killers.
The episode is loosely based on the horrifying true story of the Hart family, reimagining what led up to the fateful March night in 2018 when Jennifer Hart drunkenly drove an SUV carrying her wife, Sarah, and adopted children off a cliff, killing them all. Loquareeous is a likely stand-in for Devonte Hart, the middle son, who went viral in 2014, after he was photographed tearfully hugging a police officer at a rally.
Atlanta is fairly faithful to the real-life events it draws inspiration from, but it takes creative liberties with Loquareeous’s journey. While at school, Loquareeous gets in trouble for dancing on a table when the teacher announces that all the students are getting tickets to see Black Panther 2. The image of him dancing on the table is inspired by a 2018 video that went viral of a young Black boy at Ron Clark Academy, a well-known nonprofit middle school in Atlanta, dancing on a chair after the students really were surprised with tickets to see Black Panther. The school celebrated the moment, posting a video of the student on its official Instagram account.
“We will have a day of cultural classes, African dancers, historical lessons and then we will all go see the film!” the enthusiastic caption reads. “Turn up!!!!”
In Atlanta, Loquareeous’s dancing isn’t celebrated. Instead, he gets sent to the principal’s office, where his mom and grandfather are called in. His mother is furious and his grandfather slaps him in the face three times. As the episode progresses, Loquareeous’s mother gets fed up entirely with her son, kicking him out. That’s how he ends up at the foster house, where he meets three other Black children who are fostered by the couple.
The house is unsettling from the moment Loquareeous enters it. “It’s stinky here,” he says, receiving only a dismissive response. The women are cold and unfit to be parents, giving the children undercooked food (when they bother feeding them at all), making them work in the garden, and chipping away at their identities; Loquareeous, for example, is dubbed Larry by one of the mothers.
In real life, as The New York Times writes, the Harts were physically abusive to their six adopted children—Markis, 19; Jeremiah, 14; Abigail, 14; Ciera, 12; Hannah, 16; and Devonte, 15, all of whom were Black. At one point, an anonymous person reported the children appeared malnourished. Minnesota Child Welfare said it received six reports of abuse or neglect. (According to The New York Times, over the course of seven years, the Harts lived in Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington.) The children got in trouble over trivial matters (laughing at the dinner table, for instance) and the Harts punished them further by withholding meals. Per the NYT, a neighbor observed that the children weren’t let out of the house very often and appeared “very highly disciplined.” However, child protective services were “unable to determine” if the Hart women were guilty of neglect, the Times notes, and the children were ultimately never removed from the home.