For those of us who have kept up to date with Donald Glover’s career – the nice Donald, as I assume his friends call him – the past few weeks have brought on moments of beaming pride on the one hand and, on the other, begrudging thoughts of, Hey, I knew who he was yeeeaaars ago.
After 15 years as an actor, writer, director, producer, comedian, singer, songwriter and rapper – aka Childish Gambino – Glover is finally becoming a household name, after his daring number-one single, This Is America, and his role in the film Solo: A Star Wars Story.
A lot of people will know Glover as Troy Barnes, the lovable jock from the offbeat comedy series Community. Alongside Joel McHale, Chevy Chase, Alison Brie and Danny Pudi, Glover got to deliver some of the funnier lines, injecting extra silliness into his supposedly dumb character.
He announced his departure from the show, in 2013, with a series of handwritten notes, listing his fears and anxieties, that he posted on Instagram. They read, in part:
"I'm afraid my parents won't live long enough to see my kids
"I'm afraid my show will fail
"I'm scared my girl will get pregnant at not the exact time we want
"I'm afraid people think I hate my race
"I'm afraid people think I hate women".
They were the scribbles of a man who wants to better himself.
He has done exactly that on his albums Camp, from 2011, Because the Internet, from 2013, and the Grammy-nominated Awaken, My Love!, from 2016, each record marking his growth as an artist. He wants to know how to be the best person you can without veering into Kanye West territory of wanting to be the best person alive.
Awaken, My Love! came out the year that FX aired Atlanta, the Golden Globe- and Emmy-winning comedy series about the rap scene in Atlanta that Glover created, directed, wrote and starred in. In a way that he never could with Troy, Glover as Earn Marks has found ways to be the man and the father he wants to be without dipping into toxic masculinity, and learns how to succeed in a world that doesn't want to see black men thrive. Which brings us to This Is America.
Joining Beyoncé, Solange, Janelle Monáe and Kendrick Lamar, whose videos also push the boundaries of their music, Glover uses his platform as Childish Gambino to amplify the voices of the marginalised.
Directed by Hiro Murai, the video for This Is America is a visceral takedown of gun crime and racism in the United States, fuelled by righteous anger that nothing is being done as the number of deaths due to gun violence continues to rise. The anxieties that Glover expressed in 2013 were with purpose. It's near impossible to sit still when all you can see is injustice. In what feels like a new age of activism Glover has taken those fears and transformed them into necessary action.