What Donald Glover and Atlanta Teaches Us About Being Your Own Biggest Cheerleader
It’s been a long road for Donald to achieve this type of creative control and direction across a variety of disciplines.
Atlanta has set itself apart as one of the most sophisticated shows in the past decade. It’s a genre-defying, masterful collection of compelling characters that venture to find truth about life and existence. Its delivery is backed by an undeniably creative team, written by Donald Glover alongside his brother, Stephen Glover, visionary director Hiro Murai and executive producer Stefani Robinson.
After a lengthy hiatus, accommodating for the rise of its cast such as breakout stars Lakeith Stanfield, Zazie Beats and more, Atlanta returned with even more anticipation and regard than ever before.
It has this dreamlike quality, as if a déjà vu. The series is a collection of disjointed locations and settings, storylines interweaving and on display, offering an insight into the intricacy of life. Director, Hiro Murai, has an intoxicating way of interlacing the magic and mysticism of the human experience, the dynamics of fate and destiny into the show with ease. “Atlanta is Wild West-y—every corner of the city is trying to get by under its own rules,” he says, “there’s no single narrative. At the outer edges, the overgrown parking lots and project blocks, the city is a few yards away from apocalypse, and if you slow down it could engulf you.”
This world-like approach to the show gives the viewers a sense of truth and surrealism at the same time. The ability to capture the energy and essence alongside just the visual cues is the magic to Atlanta’s work.
Donald Glover, The Multi-Hyphenate
Glover grew up just outside Atlanta. He makes the city look seemingly vast and yet intimate as well. In the pilot episode, Earn (played by Glover himself), a directionless Princeton dropout goes to his cousin Alfred Miles’s house with a proposition—and is greeted with a gun in his face. Alfred, a rapper known as Paper Boi is a rapper on the rise. Their relationship, and the way it plays out in the playground that is Atlanta is powerful, comedic, and heartbreaking all at the same time.
In Los Angeles, Glover has become the poster child for how to rise on your own artistic terms. To stand steadfast in your work and create from the place of an artist, as opposed to a capitalist or something else. The difficulty of which today cannot be understated. Lena Dunham, the creator and star of “Girls,” said, “At least twenty people have told me, ‘I’d like to make something like “Atlanta.” ’And I say, ‘Oh, you mean a show that toggles between painful drama and super-surrealist David Lynch moments to take on race in America?’ That’s not a genre—that’s Donald.”
Jordan Peele, the writer and director of the standout film “Get Out,” said, “For black people, ‘Atlanta’ provides the catharsis of ‘Finally, some elevated black shit.’ ” For white people, Glover wants the catharsis to be an old-fashioned plunge into pity and fear. “I don’t even want them laughing if they’re laughing at the caged animal in the zoo,” he said. “I want them to really experience racism, to really feel what it’s like to be black in America. People come to ‘Atlanta’ for the strip clubs and the music and the cool talking, but the eat-your-vegetables part is that the characters aren’t smoking weed all the time because it’s cool but because they have P.T.S.D.—every black person does. It’s scary to be at the bottom, yelling up out of the hole, and all they shout down is ‘Keep digging! We’ll reach God soon!’”
Glover has created something truthful, real and powerful. Although it’s entertainment, it comes from a place deeply rooted in human history, and the human experience. As a black creator, to stand on your own terms and create something so elevated from an artistic perspective, and that also speaks to the truth of racism in society is unbelievably difficult. Glover has been able to do it across different genres and disciplines, a rare offering to the world.
Atlanta broke all the subtle rules of comedy and drama, creating a masterpiece that is only described by Glover’s distinguishable artistic talent. Both realms are nuanced and difficult to master, but Atlanta is a beautiful collision of styles that make it feel so real-world. Even more real than life itself at times. The team’s ability to capture all the unseen, and uncapturable is what makes this show so special. Director Hiro Murai’s use of the camera perspective to create tension and negative space, to make the viewer feel the emotion and atmosphere of the room, was unique. As writers, they let so many things breathe and that made Atlanta feel all the more alive.
Glover has built a career on taking chances on himself and his unique style. Whether as Childish Gambino, or his many works across film and television, Donald Glover is the definition of a multi-hyphenate creative and entrepreneur. He knows how to tell stories that are distinct, giving and telling of the times, like every true artist. He’s able to see and capture the present moment from a future lens.
It’s been a long road to achieve that type of creative control and direction across a variety of disciplines. It takes failure after failure, trust in your team, and in return trust in yourself to carry through and bounce back creatively each time. Even after success, the daunting task of deciding what to do next. Stay in the pocket of successful algorithms and feedback or innovate on to the next thing and risk losing your established fan base’s interest. That there is the role and purpose of the artist. A role which Donald Glover takes very seriously.
In today’s landscape, the ability to stay true to yourself as an artist while pioneering new paths and identities is reserved for only the greatest creatives to ever live. Donald Glover is undoubtedly amongst them. His work continues to find new meaning, years after initial release and wherever you go, it’s not hard to find someone patiently waiting to find out what he will do next.