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‘Atlanta’: The Donald Glover Trojan Horse

Last Updated: April 19, 2022
Fans have been waiting roughly four years for season 3 of Atlanta, but Donald Glover has proved time and time again that he is always worth the wait.

With the arrival of Atlanta’s Thursday night premiere, it is important to note that the journey of Donald Glover to triple crown Hollywood star— as writer, producer and director of the critically acclaimed FX series — has been hiding in plain sight.

Glover is his own biggest fan and promoter, and that extends to Atlanta.

The long-awaited premiere episode is the culmination of a series of tweets over the last three weeks from the multi-hyphenate. The appetite is fervent for anything Glover creates, but it is especially so for Atlanta because the second season concluded all the way back in May 2018.


When it comes to Glover, calling him a jack of all trades, or even a master of none, feels lackadaisical. Rather, Glover’s fluid career path can be attributed to haecceity. 

Haecceity, a term first coined by Scottish philosopher John Duns Scotus, is a medieval theory that claims the irreducible determination of a thing [is what] makes it this particular thing.

Donald Glover can simply be labeled a multi-disciplinary artist, but that still wouldn’t capture him in totality. What’s most discerning about his career’s journey is his paramount concern with haecceity.

It’s exactly what makes Atlanta, his magnum opus, so one-of-one.


The Primetime Emmy-winning dramedy returns to televisions with Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry), also known as aspiring rapper Paper Boi, his manager Earn (Glover), and best friend, Darius (LaKeith Stanfield) embarking on a European music tour with Clark County (RJ Walker), another up-and-coming rapper.

With the series that began what feels like a decade ago, in 2016, Glover has bottled hyper specificity within a universal language of Blackness. He referred to this keenly in his 2018 The New Yorker profile by Tad Friend.

“People accept me now because I have power, but they still think, Oh, he thinks he’s the golden flower of the Black community, thinks he’s so different,” he explained. “But I am, though! I feel like Jesus. I do feel chosen. My struggle is to use my humanity to create a classic work — but I don’t know if humanity is worth it, or if we’re going to make it. I don’t know if there’s much time left.”

Glover— a renaissance man if there ever was one —is the kind of artist where mediums bend to his capabilities and to fit his narrative. And just one look at his long list of career accomplishments, it’s hard to argue against him as one of the few chosen ones.

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The Road to Atlanta

Glover graduated NYU in 2006 with a B.A. in dramatic writing. He put it to use quickly by joining several sketch comedy and improv groups. Most notably, the viral YouTube channel “DerrickComedy,” which he helped create, put him on the map.

A spec episode forThe Simpsons that Glover wrote while at NYU gained traction, landing him a job as a writer under Tina Fey for NBC’s 30 Rock. (Since, he has claimed five Writers Guild of America honors between 30 Rock and Atlanta.)

Even with the credibility of working on a zeitgeist-y show like 30 Rock, DerrickComedy is really where Glover established himself as an actor with impeccable comedic timing. Eventually, he caught the eye of Community creator Dan Harmon, who cast him as Troy Barnes — a role he held for the 89 episodes of the NBC comedy’s run from 2009-15.

Through the years, Glover has assembled a mighty resume of over 95 appearances across television and film and a lengthy list of highlights, including:

  • Aired first first hour-long stand-up special Weirdo in 2011, and it currently residents on Netflix
  • Continued making guest appearances post-Community across film and TV: The Muppets (2011), The To-Do List (2013), Girls (2015), Sesame Street (2015), Magic Mike XXL (2015), The Martian (2015).
  • Played Lando Calrissian in 2018’s Solo: A Star Wars Story
  • Voiced Adult Simba in the 2019 live-action The Lion King remake opposite Beyoncé‘s Nala
  • Inspired the character of Miles Morales, received support from the late Stan Lee to become the first Black Spider-Man, and voiced Miles in Ultimate Spider-Man (2015) as well as played Aaron Davis in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
  • Hosted and served as musical guest on Saturday Night Live in 2018
  • Wrote the story behind the Amazon Original musical film Guava Island (2019), directed by Hiro Murai and starring Glover alongside Rihanna

While Glover embodied Troy on Community, he took the next step by creating his own offbeat comedic drama in Atlanta, which debuted on FX in 2016. His passion project instantly became a critical darling, earning five Primetime Emmy wins — including two for Glover as an actor and director, becoming the first Black man to win a comedy direction Emmy — as well as two Golden Globes.

Musical Milestones

Glover got his stage name Childish Gambino after he typed “Donald Glover” into the famous Wu-Tang name generator website. With the simple strokes of a keyboard, he created a new persona that has since guided his music career. 

Although Gambino has found musical acclaim, the path was not always so smooth. His debut album, 2011’s Camp, received monumental criticism, including an infamous 1.6 Pitchfork score.

However, he did not allow the moment to derail his musical creation. In 2013, Glover would solidify his crossover into the mainstream with his second LP, Because the Internet. As his sound evolved, so too did his success — becoming a staple on the festival circuit.

He assembled a loyal following and the inspiration for follow-up EPs that solidified his sound, 2012’s DatPiff-exclusive Royalty and 2014’s surprise STN MTN / Kauai.

His career crossed over from sound to screen. With the breakout success of Atlanta, his third album, Awaken, My Love!, dropped in December of 2016.

The project illustrated his most striking body of work to date. The collection of funk pastiche included the hit single “Redbone,” which reached No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100, won a Grammy for best traditional R&B performance, and appeared in the opening scene of Jordan Peele’s 2017 blockbuster horror film Get Out.

Gambino’s momentous musical moment came with “This Is America,” earning him four Grammys. The provocative visual racked up over 825 million YouTube views, and again, solidified that Glover’s art is never restricted to one medium.

  • Grammy nominations: 12 (5 wins)
  • Platinum records: 7
  • No. 1 record: 1, “This is America”
  • YouTube Views: 2,450,291,682
  • Spotify monthly listeners: 16,251,375

The Return to Atlanta

In February 2021, it was reported by The Hollywood Reporter that Glover was exiting his FX pact “for a multiple-year, eight-figure overall deal with Amazon,” though the move will not impact Atlanta.

But where does Atlanta sit in the mix of everything Glover is — everything he has created and will create?

It truly is Glover’s crowning jewel — his self-proclaimed “Trojan Horse,” as his way of changing television from the inside. It’s well known that the series he originally pitched to FX and got green-lit wasn’t the show he intended to make in Atlanta.

But he saw the opportunity to shift the paradigm, and Glover isn’t a man who waits around for lightning to strike.

Atlanta is nonlinear and can’t be placed. It’s what makes the show so infectious, due to its constant shifts of focus during each episode leaving viewers never knowing what may come next. Flawed characters maintain redeemable qualities. Good characters do bad things, too, which keeps the audience honest.

This season’s European backdrop will provide a canvas for the show’s already incredibly unpredictable and exciting nature to continue to experiment with more interesting social concepts. How does Europe’s perception of rap culture compare to North America’s? And how might the characters respond when facing certain situations in that unfamiliar landscape?

The series straddles the baseline of surreality and uncomfortable truths, and season 3 picks up season 2 left off, with many questions still left to be answered.

  • Now that we’re past Robbin’ season, is it … Beans season now?
  • Will Earn ever be okay?
  • Will Al accept that his life is truly about to change for good as a full-blown rapper now?
  • Is Darius just smarter than everyone?
  • Will Van find her career?
  • Will Earn and Van work out?

It’s just not that those answers would be nice — they are necessary, as this is the penultimate season before the fourth and final season bows this fall. We can’t promise that each of those specific questions will ever have clear conclusions, but regardless, we can bet on Glover to keep us invested —in Atlanta and beyond.

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