This week marks the return of Donald Glover's fan-favorite series Atlanta. The show follows the hilarious and often under-calculated adventures of Glover's character, Earn, and his rapper cousin Paper Boi. Its 2016 premiere was the most watched for any basic cable comedy in three years. That was followed by the banner year Glover had last year in which he'd just released his stellar third album as Childish Gambino, landed the role of Lando Calrissian in a new Star Wars film, and announced that he'll be the voice of Simba in an upcoming Lion King live-action remake. While filming Atlanta's second season, Glover spent time with the New Yorker to talk about the show's success, what it means for black creators going forward, and who he looks up to.
On the show, Glover's character Earn makes it a priority to help his cousin Paper Boi realize his full potential. He talked about that relationship:
“I tell stories because that’s the best way of spreading information. We’re all tricking and toying and playing with each other’s senses to affect this thing hidden inside our skulls. That’s what Earn is trying to do with Alfred—tell him a story so he can get into his understanding and make him do what he wants.”
He also talked about the loneliness that's come with his recent success and how he's not sure what he can aspire to be in the future:
“The thing I imagine myself being in the future doesn’t exist yet. I wish it was just ‘Oh, I’ll be Oprah,’ or ‘I’ll be Dave Chappelle.’ But it’s not that. It’s something different and more, something involving fairness and restoring a sense of honor. Sometimes I dream of it, but how do you explain a dream where you never see your father, but you know that that’s him over your shoulder? It’d be nice to feel less lonely.”
Many of Atlanta's most memorable scenes come during weeded adventures of the show's main characters. He spoke on the role of weed in the show's flow:
“We do everything high. The effortless chaos of 'Atlanta'—the moments of enlightenment, followed by an abrupt return to reality—is definitely shaped by weed. When shit is actually going on, no one knows what the fuck is happening.”
Much of Atlanta's critical acclaim has been linked to its ability to cater to black viewers in a way that picks of the nuances of the black American experience. But during his talk with the New Yorker, Glover imagined what the show would be like if he was able to not consider white viewers:
“The second season of 'Atlanta’ will be a classic. A lot of this season is me proving to people that I didn’t get those Emmys just because of affirmative action.”
“If ‘Atlanta’ was made just for black people, it would be a very different show. But I can’t even begin to tell you how, because blackness is always seen through a lens of whiteness—the lens of what white people can profit from at that moment. That hasn’t changed through slavery and Jim Crow and civil-rights marches and housing laws and ‘We’ll shoot you.’ Whiteness is equally liquid, but you get to decide your narrative.”
The second season of 'Atlanta' returns this Thursday on FX. Read the full New Yorker story here.