Donald Glover: A Hunger for the Top
“Donald Glover, no relation
Always workin’, no vacation”
Sunrise, Childish Gambino
Donald Glover/Childish Gambino is currently one of the most recognized performers across several businesses. He’s an actor, writer, and producer on FX’s Atlanta. He is the second coming of Billy Dee Williams as Lando in Solo: A Star Wars Story. He’s also currently charting the Billboard top 100 at #1. He is a renaissance man if there ever was one. More than that, He is an exemplification of the American dream. While we don’t typically discuss music and TV (hence the name MovieBabble), it’s hard to evaluate Donald Glover’s rise in film without looking at the whole package. So here it goes.
“Renaissance Man with a Hollywood Buzz”
Donald Glover’s first big break came from none other than comedy legend Tina Fey. At the age of 23, Glover was hired to write for Fey’s television show 30 Rock. He did so from 2007 to 2009, before gaining his first big acting break on Community. Odds are, you’ve heard of Community, but never actually seen it. It’s one of the internet’s favorite shows, but it never really found its niche on network television. Nonetheless, Glover starred for four seasons and departed the series early on in season five to pursue his music career. But, before I get too in-depth into Gambino’s early rise, we should first talk about Troy Barnes.
Troy Barnes is, of course, the name of Glover’s character in Community. He is a former jock who dislocated both of his shoulders doing a keg flip, who befriends the social out of touch Abed and embraces his nerdier side. He starts off as one of the show’s more interesting, but less developed characters. However, as the second and third seasons progress, Glover’s talent brings the character to life and provides many memorable moments. For example, one of the best moments from Community’s six seasons is when Troy meets his idol LeVar Burton for the first time. (Please watch if you enjoy laughing).
30 Rock helped Glover get his name out to the industry, and Community helped him get his name out to the people. Combined with recognition from cameos and several Comedy Central gigs, Glover even became an internet favorite to play Spider-Man in 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man. On the downside, Glover lost the role to Andrew Garfield. On the upside, it saved him from starring in Sony’s failed cash grab franchise. He also went on to have a minor role in Spider-Man: Homecoming, playing the uncle of Miles Morales, a character that his failed campaign helped inspire.
“I Try to be Me to the Upmost”
Despite being able to take on the alter ego of Spider-Man, Glover was able to craft an alter ego all his own. Childish Gambino was a name created by Glover via Wu Tang Clan’s name generator. He released a string of mixtapes under the name from 2008-2010, before dropping his first album, Camp, in 2011. The critically acclaimed Because the Internet followed in late 2013, and Awaken My Love in late 2016. He is currently charting at #1 for his single This is America, which he released in May 2018.
Glover stars as Lando Calrissian in Solo: A Star Wars Story, which opened this weekend. He also writes, directs, and stars in Atlanta on FX. He is also filming Disney’s Lion King remake where he plays Simba. His career is continuously climbing to new heights. If you’ve read the above paragraphs then you know what that trajectory looks like, (if you haven’t read the above paragraphs but are reading this one, what are you doing?), but let’s look at how Glover has made these moves and what makes him stand out.
“Set Phasers to Love Me”
Glover didn’t get a big break, he made one. Glover got hired at the age of 23, an incredibly young age for a staff writer on a network tentpole, because he just wrote. He wrote speculative scripts and sent them out, eventually one of those scripts landed on the desk of Tina Fey. She hired him on at 30 Rock because he sought out the opportunity. And things were phenomenal for him during that time. 30 Rock won an Emmy for its debut season, and Glover won the Writers Guild of America award for his work in the show in 2009. If Glover had wanted to, he could have stayed on with 30 Rock and continued to take home Emmys.
Glover did not however want to keep steady. Glover was hungry, and he wanted more. So, he left 30 Rock for Community, and gambled for a chance at recognition. He got it, and became one of the show’s breakout characters for his pairing with Danny Pudi’s Abed. The show never stole the spotlight from NBC hits like The Office, 30 Rock, or Parks and Rec, but it gave Glover a chance to prove his comedic, and even dramatic, chops. Glover could have coasted through and taken a sizeable paycheck from the show, but he was hungrier still.
“Alright it’s Childish, Baby”
Donald Glover released Camp during his tenure on Community to moderate success. However, Donald Glover has a passion for Childish Gambino that wasn’t satisfied with moderate success. So, in Community’s fifth season, Troy Barnes sets off to sail the world with LeVar Burton and never returns to Greendale Community College. This is due to the fact that the duo are kidnapped by pirates, at least according to an Easter egg in the show’s fifth season.
But in reality, Donald Glover once again decided to leave comfort and recognition of his work for his greater passions. He found success in those greater passions with 2013’s Because the Internet , an album released to both great commercial and critical success. He followed this album with the Grammy nominated Awaken My Love in 2016. These two albums bring Childish Gambino to the top of his game in the music industry. So, naturally, he decided to retire. Glover has repeatedly announced his decision to retire the persona in the near future, and he no doubt will. He could easily coast off of Gambino for years more, but he has never been one to be satisfied with coasting. Glover’s retirement from the Gambino persona proves that he is only hungrier still.
“Everything You’ve Heard About Me is True”
Lando Calrissian is the smoothest man in the Star Wars galaxy. It makes sense that he’s played by the smoothest man of the 20th century, Billy Dee Williams, in the original trilogy. It also makes sense that he’s played by the smoothest man of the 21st century in the Solo prequel. But Glover didn’t land the role on charisma alone. He landed the role the same way that he’s landed every other career milestone. He wanted it, and so he went out and got it. When the movie was first put into rumor after Disney purchased Lucasfilm, Glover asked his agent for the role. His agent said “no”, because Donald Glover circa 2013-2014 was not famous enough to play Lando “Freaking” Calrissian. So Glover made moves. He quit every job that would carry him into a secure career trajectory, and instead he forced himself into stardom by pursuing what he was hungry for.
He leapt from 30 Rock to Community to Childish Gambino to Atlanta to Solo to Lion King. He makes these leaps consistently because he allows himself to leap, and not to be tied down to other pursuits. Much like Lando, Glover gambles with his career because he knows that there’s a pay off. And so, his hunger continues to grow as he becomes more and more of an icon.
Donald Glover is a sensation. He isn’t sensational because he’s the best actor. He isn’t sensational because he has the best singing voice. But he is sensational because he chooses to be. He pours passion into everything he does because he’s fought for them at every turn. In a world where a kid yodeling in a Wal-Mart can fall into a Coachella debut a month later, Donald Glover has had to fight for each break. He isn’t satisfied with each career milestone, but uses them as stepping stones to something bigger and better.
It’s exciting to see a nation that regularly spends $1 billion watching Transformers movies also support the rise of underdogs like Donald Glover. (Thankfully this Transformers phase seems to be ending with the flop of Transformers: The Last Knight). It’s also exciting to see a performer that not only performs in several areas, but excels in them as well.
He stands out not only for his tremendous talent, but also for his dedication to improvement. He is a prime example of the triumph of the human spirit and the living out of the American Dream.
Donald Glover has come a long way in the past ten years, and I’m sure that I’m not alone in anticipation for where the next ten years will take him.
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