Donald Glover Has A Horror Film In Him
The first time I ever saw Donald Glover it was in college when friends in my universities theatre department was sharing a video featuring a character called ChadBroChill. It was a hilarious riff on the popular Chris Hansen To Catch a Predator show called “BroRape”. It was cleverly distasteful, side splittingly hilarious, and more importantly had a thin line of biting satire about rape culture in a time when we didn’t talk about these things. He grew this brand of humor through future DerrickComedy videos, one specifically featuring a youth spelling bee that feels like the genesis of much of the humor in his hit FX comedy Atlanta. You don’t need to have seen any of Atlanta to watch the most recent episode, but you should. Atlanta is an instantly seminal show discussing and dissecting what it means to be a person of color in 2018 through the lens of Glover’s character Earn, manager for an up and coming rapper named Paper Boi (played brilliantly by Brian Tyree Henry). The show shifts focus from Earn and Paper Boi to their close friend the eccentric Darius, played by the always pitch perfect Lakeith Stanfield. Darius is renting a U-Haul to go pick up a piano that he found for free on Craigslist. The rental store has MAGA red hats with the Confederate flag proudly displayed, the words “Southern Made” adorning it. Darius buys one, and a red sharpie from the uncertain white clerk. The next scene we see him wearing the hat, the letters sharpied in to say “U Mad”? This is the type of comedy you get from Atlanta.
And also the type of horror. The horror of being black in America, and the ramifications that has for even the most famous, the most talented, like Theodore “Teddy” Perkins who is central to this episode, played handsomely by Glover in a performance you rarely get from someone of his magnitude: pure character. While actors like Daniel Day-Lewis marvels us as he slips into his intricate characters, we can still recognize the actor in the role. His career is based on this designation. But where that falters is in the expectations we have for Day-Lewis. His performances become almost like spectator sports, watching him achieve a feat or goal. Daniel Day-Lewis may lose himself in the role, and we may say that’s what we like about him, but in actuality because of this we will never truly see DDL disappear behind the makeup. It will always be Day-Lewis first, and the character second. But when an actor surprises us with something as heightened as Teddy Perkins, it connects us back to what we fell in love with Glover’s writing in the first place: it’s dangerously unexpected. And what could be more unexpected than a 30m horror episode expunging all it’s inspiration from the Hagsploitation Cinema that made Bette Davis an electric name decades after she passed.
The episode Teddy Perkins is the perfect evolution of the blazing trail that Jordan Peele made with 2017’s Get Out. It would work beautifully as a short to play before future screenings of Peele’s debut masterpiece. But also this is proof positive to the door that Peele has opened for other Black artists to truly reclaim the horror genre. On Twitter recently an interesting point was brought up in regards to cis-het (Cis Gender, Heterosexual) white males and how, because of the privilege we were inherently born into, aren’t the best stewards for composing horror stories. Of course, as a cis-het white man myself my first instinct was to speak up, but instead I listened first. And the point couldn’t be stronger. Cis-Het white men, typically, don’t have much experience with real world horror. While, sure, cis-het men have dealt with violence, fear, danger, and other terrifying experiences, that’s not the point. We live within a bubble that I’ll call “Implied Normality”. Cis-Het-White is implied normal. So when you don’t fit into one of those three columns, you are already opening yourself up to far more violence, fear, danger, and terror than if not. Those that have experienced the pains of racism or the violence of misogyny like women, POC, and LGTBQ+ people are far more attuned to, frankly, what’s actually fucking scary. And within 30m, Glover gives us that and compounds it with the realities of 2018. Reserving the right to not spoil this for you, the final moments of this episode of Atlanta also gives us another fear: Darius has escaped a nightmare, but is the true nightmare about to begin? When the flashing lights of police meet the facade of Teddy Perkins monolithic compound, we ask ourselves “Has Darius gone from the frying pan and into the fire?” This is a question that is echoed in the finale of Get Out, and one that I am sure will be echoed in future works by POC writers and creatives for decades to come.
Most importantly what Atlanta proves is that Donald Glover has a horror movie in him, and Teddy Perkins is only the prelude. And with the type of biting satire, stark commentary, and just flat out brilliant writing, whatever he produces is destined for greatness. And I’ll be there opening night.