In Donald Glover’s complicated history with black women

Donald Glover is undeniably one of the most prominent black creators working in Hollywood today, from his Emmy-winning television work to the recently completed Atlanta to his Grammy-winning rap personality Childish Gambino. He will soon be starring in a highly anticipated new film set in the Spider-Man universe Mr and Mrs Smith make new. But for now, all eyes are on the Multihyphenate for its latest series swarmcreated with Janine Nabers, about a pop star (Dominique Fishback) who goes on a murder spree.

In the weeks since its premiere swarm has already become a critical darling, sparking discussion online (both lighthearted and serious) about its guest stars, explicit sex scenes, and amplified depiction of Stan culture. However, the chatter surrounding the show took a sharp turn last week when a quote from Glover about Fishback’s character Dre went viral on Twitter. His comments sparked a long-running debate about his troubled — or, as some netizens have put it, “hateful” relationships with black women throughout his career.

In a recent profile of Fishback for vultureGlover directing swarmThe pilot of , spoke about the guidance he offered the actress, including telling her to view the protagonist as “animal” and “less than human.” He expanded that direction in even more startling ways when he linked Dre’s behavior to his personal fear of dogs.

“Actors in general want layered performances,” Glover told the magazine. “And I don’t think Dre is that multi-faceted. I wanted her performance to be brutal. It’s a raw thing. It reminds me of how I’m scared of dogs because I’m like, ‘You’re not looking me in the eye. I don’t know what you’re capable of.’”

For obvious reasons—mainly the systematic dehumanization of black women—these words didn’t sit well with viewers and critics (many of them). prominent Black Women) on twitter.

On the one hand, these statements contradict many fans swarm I’ve appreciated the psychological series so far – not only that it’s the rare psychological show that focuses on a black woman’s perspective, but that it manages to find empathy for Dre amidst her downright deplorable behavior. Interestingly, the penultimate episode directly challenges viewers to find humanity in troubled, disenfranchised women like her.

For many, Glover’s comments came as less of a surprise, and rather confirmed what many of his critics had already concluded based on his stand-up comedy, his music, and his most notable project. Atlanta— who has inspired a number of comments on her portrayals of black women. So how did Glover, hailed by mainstream white Hollywood as a progressive and even radical voice across multiple industries, gain such a notable reputation for misogyny?

The origin of these allegations may seem a bit hazy to those outside of the black community. Examples are a bit scattered, but they suggest an uncomfortable relationship with Black women rather than overt opposition to them. However, for black women familiar with this type of dog whistling, Glover’s recurring remarks about non-black women warranted a degree of suspicion.

Many of those early claims of misogyny draw spurs from the 39-year-old’s love life, which of course shows in his work. Despite his well-documented interest in depicting Black subjects and working with Black artists, Glover has repeatedly been accused of having a lack of romantic interest in Black women. And some of his writing as Childish Gambino, particularly about Asian women, has highlighted an alleged fetishization of women who are not black.

A primary example is a track from his 2011 album camp titled “You See Me,” in which he raps, “Forget those white girls / I need some variety, especially if she’s very Asian.” The hook includes the lyrics “ballin’ every and every day / Asian girls anywhere, UCLA”. Curiously, that same year he also started a Tumblr page posing as an Asian girl.

Glover’s seeming fetishization of non-black women was also underscored in his 2012 comedy special, Weirdo, which previously ran on Netflix but strangely is no longer available to stream. In addition to joking about dating Filipino and Armenian women, the comedian recalls being hit on by a white woman who called him the N-word in bed several Twitter user.

Eventually, Glover’s alleged tensions with black women became more apparent over the four seasons of Atlanta. While the critically acclaimed show was successful in many ways, the predominantly black, male writers’ room struggled to portray the series’ black, female (mostly sideline) characters beyond two-dimensional sketches, while occasionally invoking racial and sexist stereotypes.

Among some of AtlantaHis most epic moment in this regard is a season 2 bottle episode entitled “Champagne Papi”. In a scene that went viral on Twitter, a black woman at a party unleashes an oddly bitter tirade against a white woman for dating a black man. Another questionable, if not downright problematic, episode this season follows the show’s male characters on a journey to Statesboro, where they are terrorized by a group of black college women.

This discourse continued Atlanta‘s third and fourth seasons, as black women continued to pop up in loud, cartoony ways. The series’ enduring failings when it comes to women were felt most clearly in the stagnant portrayal of Van (Zazie Beetz), Earn’s (Glover) love interest. For most of season three, when Van is barely seen, her character is largely aloof and unapproachable — until the season finale, written by one of the show’s few female writers, Stefani Robinson, tries to offer her some introspection. In Season 4, her sudden commitment to Earn, who was previously an unreliable and cruel partner, is totally undeserved.

Before critics could even slam Van’s underwhelming career, the cast of Beetz – a multiracial, fair-skinned female among the dark-skinned male cast – led to a separate but somewhat related conversation about colorism.

The internet is often forgiving of talented but imperfect artists who consistently produce compelling work. However, Glover’s difficulties with black women continue to cast a shadow over his career, largely due to his own evasiveness on the issue.

Glover infamously refused to address the backlash in a bizarre self-interview Interview Magazine last year when he said to himself, “I feel like you’re using black women to question my blackness.” The description for episode 9 of AtlantaThe third season, titled Rich Nigga, Poor Wigga, seemed to be another excited refusal to seriously discuss the topic: “Black and white episode? Yawning. Emmy Bait. Why do they hate black women so much???

Contrary to the scrutiny Glover attracts online, he’s received plenty of praise and recognition from the black women he’s worked with over the years, including Beetz, Fishback, and Nabers.

Also, Twitter user have grappled with how to talk about Glover’s blind spots without completely ignoring his female collaborators or ignoring Nabers’ authoritarian voice. The showrunner of the series made that clear during the pitch for swarm was originally Glovers, he wanted “[allow] a black woman to write a series about a black woman.”

In total, swarm seemed like a ripe opportunity for him to acknowledge black women in his art beyond broadly written caricature or plot devices. The consensus online seems to be that the series does, regardless of how Glover interprets the protagonist. But as much as we need him to address or explain his recent remarks in a meaningful, rueful way, history suggests he probably won’t. In Donald Glover’s complicated history with black women

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