The Growth of Donald Glover’s Surrealism and “Atlanta” – ScreenHub Entertainment

Atlanta is the most recent creation of Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino), the artist behind 2019’s Guava Island, Because The Internet, and 3.15.20, writer for 30 Rock, and star of Solo: A Star Wars Story, Community, and The Martian to name just a few. Season 3 of the show is set to be released in early 2022, following a 3-year hiatus after the second season. The show is, in my opinion, one of the best shows currently running and has a defined style unlike anything else coming out today. It follows Earn, a manager for his cousin, who is starting his rap career, and mixes social commentary, comedy, and surrealism to create the uncomfortably real yet simultaneously absurd world in which the story takes place.

Dereck Comedy and Career Start

Glover was in the right place at the tight time as his career started on the still-fairly-young internet, before the days of the ridiculous volume of content being uploaded faster than anyone could ever watch it. His comedy group, Dereck Comedy began to gain some recognition on the site and gradually put Glover in a position to start work writing for Tina Fey at 30 Rock and later Community. If you go back and watch his work from this time, his interest in surrealism can be seen but doesn’t feel conscious. The work seems to be more based on building the world in which the characters operate – still an obvious theme in his later work.

Because The Internet

As Glover transitions more towards his music career, the projects start to feel like more refined ideas targeted at world-building. Because the Internet is one of my favourite albums of all time and was released alongside a script and a short film, as well as a rollout in which Glover took on the character of “the boy”, a young man that is struggling with feeling disconnected to the world around him. The short film is full of uncomfortable surrealism that is just absurd enough to set the viewer off but still feels fairly grounded.

If you’re interested in reading the screenplay, it is designed to be read alongside listening to the album, with each song accompanying scenes from the text.

Glover’s third studio album, Awaken My Love, takes inspiration from psychedelic funk records like Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain and dives deeper into the crazy surrealist world that it creates. Although I like a lot of this album, it feels like it might be a step far enough in that direction that it becomes less accessible to the consumer. That being said, it definitely solidified Glover’s position in the music industry and his image as a surrealist.

This is America and Atlanta

If you aren’t really that aware of Glover’s work, you will definitely know the 2018 viral music video for This is America. Directed by Hiro Murai (who also works on Atlanta and has directed music video’s such as Michael Kiwanuka’s Black Man in a White World and St. Vincent’s Cheerleader), the video comments on the raging gun violence issues of the US and the public’s and press’s complete disregard for it – not to mention the racial commentary on police violence and other issues. This was probably the first time that Glover’s surrealism-focused work was packaged in an approachable and immediately captivating fashion, hence the virality.

Guava Island and Atlanta feel very much like a continuation of the emotion behind This Is America and present a seemingly absurd world in which almost nothing that is unbelievable happens. This changes a little in the second season of Atlanta as it becomes more stylised but the feeling is still very much there. Earn’s career and personal position are completely grounded while his encounters with other characters and interactions with the surrounding world are absurd and illogical, carrying over the same disconnected feel from the music video for Sweatpants, for example. Although the themes have become darker and the intensity has become more visceral, Glover’s love for the surreal has been a staple of his career from the very start.

Where Is Atlanta Headed Next?

Atlanta Season 2 Episode 9 Review: North of the Border - Den of Geek
[Credit: FX]

Season one of Atlanta, while amazing, was not particularly crazy. Aside from maybe the exception (barely) of the drug deal in Go For Broke that features a memorable cameo from the Migos, the events of the series are all very attached to reality. This changes in season two as episodes like Helen (a.k.a. The One Where They Go To Fastnacht), Teddy Perkins (a.k.a. The One With Whiteface Donald Glover), or Woods (a.k.a. The One Where Paper Boi Meets His Dead Father) taking place in what hopefully feel like other worlds. These lean very hard into the surreal aspects of the show and are much darker than the first season. This is mirrored by the development of Earn’s character as he becomes more hardened by the industry in which he is now operating

Judging by the trailer for season three, this was just a taste of the dark surrealism the group will encounter in their Europe tour. It also seems to be the perfect location to me, with the deep history of Europe and complicated political situations that are somewhat more varied and steeped in complicated social history than the US. There are shots from the trailer that look like they are from Amsterdam and the UK, as well as at least one Eastern European country (if anyone knows, please drop a comment). On top of this due to the diversity and lengthy history behind the countries and cultures in Europe, the mainstream traditions and events feel generally more surreal than those in the US, at least in my opinion. That being said, let us know in the comments what aspects of American culture feel like they fit the dark, surrealist feel of Atlanta and have yet to be explored.

[Credit: FX]

I hope you enjoyed this post and be sure to check out more of our content at ScreenHub Entertainment such as my spoiler-free review of The French Dispatch or the last episode of our podcast, which covered Denis Villeneuve’s Dune. You can find Atlanta on Hulu Plus or by purchasing it on streaming services like Amazon Prime or Google Play.

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