Donald Glover says he had to convince FX to allow him use the “N-word” in his show “Atlanta” by having a “white translator” talk to executives.
In a new profile of Glover by Tad Friend in The New Yorker, the “Atlanta” creator spoke on how he convinced the network executives that use of the word would be important to his hit show’s integrity and authenticity.
The New Yorker profile shows the inner workings of Glover’s creative look on issues like race relations in America, but also delves into what black show runners have to deal with when it comes to explaining their content and comedy to often white executives and audiences.
Glover said FX initially told him not use the word in the pilot for “Atlanta,” and that their “compromise position” was they it could be used only in certain circumstances by a white character:
“Recalling the dispute, Glover exclaimed, ‘I’m black, making a very black show, and they’re telling me I can’t use the N-word! Only in a world run by white people would that happen.’”
Ultimately, one phone call with a “white translator” ― executive producer Paul Simms ― resolved the matter and convinced the network to allow for the word:
“It was a white executive producer, Paul Simms, who argued successfully for the authenticity of the show’s use of the word. Glover had brought in Simms, the elder statesman on “Girls” and “Flight of the Conchords,” to serve as what black creators call “the white translator.” “You need the translator for the three-minute call after the meeting,” [“Black-ish” creator Kenya] Barris explained. “It’s for when the execs call the white guy to say, ‘What exactly did Kenya mean there?,’ and to be reassured.” Since then, “Atlanta” has used the N-word unself-consciously, in a profusion of ways.
For context, the profile talks about shows like “Black-ish” and “The Carmichael Show” and how their usage of the word is often set up as an entire discussion piece, rather than in casual conversation like in “Atlanta:”
On African-American shows, racial anxiety often gets dramatized as a special episode about the N-word. On “Black-ish,” the Johnson family argued about its propriety, and Dre, the father, finally told his son—who’d been suspended from school for singing along to the word in Kanye West’s “Gold Digger”—to “hold off on saying it until you know the history of it, to make your own decision.” On “The Carmichael Show,” on NBC, a similar family debate ensued after a white friend of Jerrod’s greeted him with “My nigga!” Jerrod’s girlfriend, Maxine, said, “It’s the last word that so many black people heard as they were being hung from trees,” but Jerrod contended that “everyone should just use the word constantly, so much until it dilutes its power, it makes it meaningless.”
Glover argued that “no black people talk to each other like that, or need to. It’s all for white people.” According to the New Yorker profile, the audience for “Blackish” is about one-fifth black, whereas for “Atlanta” it’s about half black.
You can read the full Donald Glover profile here.