Donald Glover revealed he had a 'white translator' ask FX to let him use the N-word in Atlanta

In an interview with The New Yorker, Donald Glover described how racial anxiety was treated in African-American shows in a way that catered to their white audiences, saying that the television treatment of racial anxiety lacked a certain element of authenticity because it in no way resembled the ways in which real black families interacted or dealt with the issue.

The interviewer described how discussions about the N-word on popular television series like Black-ish and The Carmichael Show were often used to engage in discourse about racial anxiety, but Glover, creator of and star of FX's surprise hit series Atlanta, dismissed such narratives, saying, "No black people talk to each other like that, or need to. It’s all for white people."

The majority of the audiences for so-called African-American shows are often not black, and many tropes, narratives, or characters added or omitted to these shows often serve the purpose of drawing white viewers in or placating white audiences and inviting them into a world that is relatable and comfortable for them, without adequately representing the possibly alienating realities lived out by black people.

The cast of Atlanta From L-R: Lakeith Stanfield, Brian Tyree Henry, Donald Glover, and Zazie Beetz (Twitter)

Glover highlighted the difficulty of having to deal with white executives who are used to tiptoeing around racially sensitve topics in this manner, revealing that FX would only allow him to use the N-word in the pilot episode for Atlanta when a white character said, "Really, n***a?" and "You know how n****s out here are."

He had to call in Paul Simms to argue in his favor before the network executives agreed that the use of the N-word in the show was vital to its authenticity.

Simms served the role of a "white translator," an informal term that has been used by black creators like Kenya Barris (Black-ish) to refer to white middlemen who reassure white executives that the direction creators want their shows to go is valid.

However, it wasn't just authenticity and the N-word that become points of contention. Glover was looking for an actress to play a biracial character who "chose white," and he had a moment of panic when the actress he had picked wasn't "light-enough-skinned."

He struggled with the idea that he was being colorist despite the tone of her skin being a major plot point. In the end, he decided to continue with the actress.

Donald Glover, winner of the Emmy award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for 'Atlanta' in Los Angeles, California (Getty Images)

Glover's major hurdle with FX was when he was pitching the idea for Atlanta, and he painted it as a "typical" comedy along the lines of his previous project Community, revealing that "I was Trojan-horsing FX. If I told them what I really wanted to do, it wouldn’t have gotten made."

He revealed that the executives got on board only after the pilot episode tested well, and that once the show became successful, the ones most surprised by its success were the FX executives.

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Joshua George


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