Donald Glover on TV business: “Blackness is always seen through the lens of what white people can profit from”
February 28, 2018
Opening up about the challenges black creatives face in the entertainment business, Donald Glover exposed some hard truths in a recent interview. Drawing comparisons to the ways in which Orange Is The New Black creator Jenji Kohan used Piper Chapman’s character as a trojan horse to usher white audiences into a story predominately about women of color, Glover has similarly done the same thing with his presence on his own show, Atlanta. A story about Black existentialism in one of the blackest cities in the country, Glover talks about how tv executives viewed his show and how other “black” shows, like Black-ish, through the lens of a white audience first and foremost. No matter whose narrative.
“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.” For the moment, he suggested, white America likes seeing itself through a black lens. “Right now, black is up, and so white America is looking to us to know what’s funny.” In “Get Out,” a blind white art dealer tells Chris, a black photographer whose body has been auctioned off for use by whites, “I want your eye, man—I want those things you see through.”
At some point during the development of the series, FX reportedly told Glover to avoid the “N-word” in his pilot, offering up a compromise that a white character who says “Really, nigga?” and “You know how niggas out here are”. For….comedic value? Glover recounts the conversation, stating: “I’m black, making a very black show, and they’re telling me I can’t use the N-word! Only in a world run by white people would that happen.” Pretty much! Unfortunately, very few black storytellers can the power to resist that corporate BS.