Donald Glover on Producing Malia Obama’s Short Film, Not Being Hired for ‘SNL’ and That Liam Neeson ‘Atlanta’ Cameo
Donald Glover, through his new production company Gilga, is working with Malia Obama on her first short film.
The actor-writer-producer teased the collaboration with former President Barack Obama’s daughter and a writer on his new Amazon series. Swarmin a GQ magazine cover story published online Tuesday. During the conversation, Glover shared that in addition to backing her new project, he’s also mentoring her.
“The first thing we did was talk about the fact that she will only get to do this once. You’re Obama’s daughter. So if you make a bad film, it will follow you around,” he said within a larger discussion about his company’s content ethos.
Glover’s longtime collaborator and creative partner at Gilga, Fam Udeorji, who was also a producer on Guava Island and EP on Swarm, added that the team ultimately wanted to support Malia in whatever she wanted to do. “Understanding somebody like Malia’s cachet means something,” he said. “But we really wanted to make sure she could make what she wanted — even if it was a slow process.”
Their approach to collaborating with Malia represents Gilga’s larger approach to filmmaking, which Udeorji said was “more about diversity of thought than just, like, diversity for optics.” For Glover, he’s been looking to create space for Black artists to simply make art in their own style and establish themselves as auteurs without having to be successful every time — with the Swarm Director and co-creator pointing specifically to the careers of Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Kanye West and Martin Scorsese.
“Like with Wes Anderson, there’s different rules,” Glover said, adding that the director’s work “never” makes money. “It’s not about the money. It’s because a certain group of people are like, ‘This is important.’ And I was like, ‘Are Black people at a point now where they can do that on their own?’”
That speaks to Glover’s larger vision for his production company, which he likes to produce a quality of work the way “rich kids” do.
“Rich kids don’t do shit for money. They do things based on if it’s gonna make them happy. Like, that’s really what I realized this last go-around. I made a lot of money, and it wasn’t that I was depressed or anything like that, but I realized it’s the people I was around that mattered,” he said. “People don’t get quality anymore and they need a filter. Gilga is a perfect filter for that shit.”
Glover also briefly spoke about how he got opportunities to write for 30 Rock and The Daily Show; hearing from a friend that Amy Poehler allegedly said he didn’t get hired on Saturday Night Live because of his stand-up; Jordan Peele being key to getting Liam Neeson on Atlanta to make fun of the Irish actor’s past controversial interview comments; and facing criticism from fellow creatives he’s made fun of, like Tyler Perry.
Glover said that when it came to him Atlanta nod to Perry, he told the producer and writer he was going to spoof him, but doesn’t know how the fellow writer and producer took it. “I hope [Tyler] understands,” he says. “That’s the thing about being Black. It becomes so personal, so fast. I’m not shitting on you.”
Still, Glover defends his work and brushes off the criticisms — which more recently included Swarm‘s depictions of Black women — he may face for it from audiences and fellow creatives like Perry.
“I’m not a politician,” he says. “I’m an artist and I’m good. I’m a good artist. That’s the difference. If I didn’t think I was a good artist, then I’d be like, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t do this.’ But this is nuanced and funny. If somebody did that about me, I’d be like, that’s good. [Perry] has a right to not feel that way.”
Within his catalog of work, there are things he feels strongly about like Atlantabut there’s also opportunities he’s ultimately grateful he didn’t get, with SNL being one of the “bullets” he dodged.
“I dodged so many bullets. Me being on SNL would’ve killed me. I got friends who made it on SNL and, at the time, I was like, damn. But if I got on SNL, my career wouldn’t have happened,” he said. “Thank you God I didn’t get some of those pilots. I wanted so desperately to be on Parks and Rec because it was the cool, hipster show.”
As for writing for former SNL writer and performer Tina Fey on 30 Rock Earlier on in his career, Glover discussed the conditions under which that happened and how it ended up pitting him and Kenya Barris against each other for a job.
“There is no animosity between us or anything like that, but [Tina Fey] said it herself…. It was a diversity thing,” says Glover, speaking to his hiring as part of an NBC diversity initiative that staffed a Black creative in a show’s writers’ room without it counting against the budget. “The last two people who were fighting for the job were me and Kenya Barris. I didn’t know it was between me and him until later. He hit me one day and he was like, ‘I hated you for years!’”
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