FX’s upcoming drama Atlanta explores a dilemma common to people with big dreams and much difficulty making them come true: how do you cope with failure when that failure is accentuated by someone else’s success? The show centers on Earnest “Earn” Marks, a loner who returns to Atlanta after a failed attempt to realize his artistic aspirations. Upon his arrival, he discovers his cousin has become Altanta’s hottest new rap act.
FX picked up Atlanta to series back in October, and cast and creatives were on hand to discuss the show today at TCA. Donald Glover, executive producer, writer, and star of the show, talked about his return to television, following the end of Community. “I know what I’m doing a little bit,” he says. “There’s so many screens that have to be filled now, between your television, your computer and your phone, that I think it’s the perfect time to make something that I see, a perfect opportunity to combine everything that media is right now.”
“I think there’s a certain view of the world, of the actual real life world, [that is] more interesting,” he continued. “I mean, Donald Trump is running for president right now. When I was eight I saw him in a Pizza Hut commercial. That’s f***ing weird. There are a lot of funny things that are actually happening in the world.”
Glover grew up in Atlanta and talked at length about his special connection to the city he calls “a very special place.” The city, he says, absolutely influenced the tone of the show. “I know it’s going to be very easy for people to say ‘it’s a black Mecca,’ and it is, but I just think that it’s the most American place,” he said. “Everybody there is like ‘Yo, I got a verse’. Everybody is trying to make something from nothing.” On his approach to the characters, Glover said, “I believe everybody has a situation, and I wanted to show real people in real situations… I wanted to make it a regional thing.”
Brian Tyree Henry, who is also from Atlanta, added, “You don’t think it’s as progressive as it is, but Atlanta is always on trend. There are so many images of us that aren’t really representatives of who we are at all. People pick and choose how they want to see our lives. I feel like Donald is just a genius at exposing these lives and people that you probably won’t really know about.”
Glover, a real-life musician who raps under the stage name Childish Gambino (which he said came from a Wu Tang name generator on the Internet) says he approaches writing music and scripts in similar ways. “I try to make my art like bacterial, small, and then grow out.”
The show’s use the N word came up at TCA. Donald defended it, noting “that’s how people talk. It’s just the way it is. Trying to pretend that people don’t talk like that, like I don’t, it’s kind of silly. I feel like if we ignore that, people would immediately turn on the television and not know what world they’re on.” Keith Stanfield also weighed in “like all words,” he said, “it’s up to interruption or how you perceive it… You got to keep it in context.”
Also on the panel was exec producer Paul Simms, director Hiro Murai, and co-stars Keith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz and Isiah Whitlock Jr. Atlanta will premiere sometime this summer on FX.