The Untold Truth Of Donald Glover

The super talented Donald Glover has seemingly dominated every form of entertainment that exists. In the TV industry, he's written for 30 Rock and starred in Community and Atlanta. In music, he's released multiple albums under the stage name Childish Gambino — including hits "Redbone" and "This Is America." He's performed in the viral sketch comedy group Derrick Comedy and led a successful standup comedy career. This included his own Netflix special, called Weirdo, via IMDb. And in the movie industry, he's appeared as a young Lando Calrissian in Solo: A Star Wars Story and as the voice of Simba in the 2019 live action Lion King remake. Ryan Coogler, the director of Black Panther and Creed, who is also a close friend of Glover, described the multi-talented entertainer to The New Yorker. "He can push the envelope in all these different areas," the director said. "And it's not that difficult for him."

Glover earned his big break in the entertainment industry at a young age. But his early days in life were anything but easy. Especially his atypical and often shocking upbringing. Fortunately for fans, Glover continues to surprise and push the envelope of what one person is capable of creating.

What's your favorite piece of work by the performer? And what would you like to see him try next? It's time to "stay woke" and learn about the untold truth of Donald Glover.

Donald Glover's religious youth

Given some of Donald Glover's explicit works and lyrics later in life, it's surprising to learn that he grew up in a religious household. Reflecting on his childhood, Glover told The Daily Beast, "Being a Jehovah's Witness was interesting. I think it amplified my own alienness." He went on to say he felt like "the odd one out" at school, noting that "Jehovah's Witnesses don't celebrate Christmas, you don't say the Pledge of Allegiance." Glover recalled his classmates being confused by various elements of the religion, such as members of the church going door-to-door. Growing up in a predominantly Southern Baptist area, Glover said his religious group "felt small and almost cult-like in Atlanta."

Thinking back on his experience as a Jehovah's Witness, he said, "I believe it made me see the world differently." According to the entertainer, the religion helped him question good and evil in the world. "My creative outlet was definitely shaped by being a Jehovah's Witness," he shared.

A dream came true for Star Wars fan Donald Glover

With his strict upbringing as a Jehovah's Witness, Donald Glover didn't have access to many of the same entertainment as his peers. But one exception for the young boy was Star Wars. Glover recalled to Esquire that he and his father went to see the movie prequels during Glover's school hours. He remembered "biting the lightsaber off his Darth Vader action figure when he was a kid, but recalls his blue-caped Lando Calrissian figurine even more intensely." This figurine turned out to be one of Glover's favorites. "I had a doll that I slept with — the only Black doll in the store — that my mom bought for me. And my dad bought me Lando," Glover remembered to the magazine.

Many years later, after Glover became a successful entertainer, he heard about a new Star Wars film. According to rumors, the project would feature the Lando character, so Glover jumped on the opportunity. "I wanna be Lando," he recounted telling his manager (via Esquire). The actor credits his passion with securing the role "because I was ready." Regarding Glover, the movie's director, Ron Howard, told Esquire, "I loved his take on Lando and his passion for the character." He described Glover's take on the character as charming, humorous, and intelligent. "You'd be a fool not to engage him creatively," Howard added. Even the original actor approved of Glover's take on the character.

Donald Glover 'never thought about leaving' Community

Donald Glover left his valuable spot as a writer on 30 Rock and moved to Los Angeles to give acting a try. He auditioned for Community and the character Troy. According to Village Voice, the role "was actually written for a white guy, but [Glover] made it his own. Troy was also originally supposed to be paired up on the show with Chevy Chase's character, Pierce." Glover stayed on as the aloof and goofy jock for five seasons. The show, which premiered in 2009, became a cult favorite, in part thanks to Glover's comedic gift.

Glover exited the show before it ended but is grateful for his time on set. "Community is always going to be a big part of my heart," he said to The Daily Beast. He also compared filming and working on the series to "dancing in our living room with friends and no one was watching." He added, "I never thought about leaving."

Fellow Community alum Alison Brie revealed an embarrassing story from her time on the series. On The Late Late Show with James Corden, the actor told the host about a party with the cast that Glover hosted. She tried to impress people after drinking a little bit by throwing herself backwards. But she ran into a lamp and "possibly" broke the lamp. "I don't really remember going to many of Donald's parties after that," she joked. 

How Donald Glover's series Atlanta came to be

After his work on Community, Donald Glover was known in Hollywood mainly for his comedic acting. But he had other big plans to create his own show. Glover started to pitch the idea around, and as his manager told The Hollywood Reporterits "existential and dark" themes caught many off guard. After FX acquired the series Atlanta, THR noted that Glover "hired an entirely Black writing staff, many of whom had never made a frame of television before." He continued to shake things up from industry norms and used his personal home as the main office for the series. And he hired relatively unknown actors and directors. As the outlet put it, "Glover's goal was less to prove that his way was better than it was to prove that there was another way."

Glover told Esquire in an interview that producing the show on his terms was the most important, even if that scared away multiple networks. "I just focused on making it more and more personal," he said. Critics praised the series and Glover was a big winner at the 2017 Emmys: He took home one statue for his work as a director and another for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. In his acceptance speech, he was practically speechless before letting out, "I'm so happy. Wow!"

Donald Glover's mighty pen got his foot in the door

Donald Glover's idea of comedic television as a kid came from The Muppets. He joked to Rolling Stone in 2011 that his mom permitted him to watch the show "made by hippies on drugs." But she wouldn't let him watch The Simpsons, despite being "written by Harvard graduates." Even more surprising, Rolling Stone noted that Glover's high school classmates named him "Most Likely to Write for The Simpsons." He didn't end up writing for the animated series, but his Derrick Comedy work did gain the attention of famous comedian Tina Fey. The Saturday Night Live star brought Glover on the 30 Rock staff when he was still a relatively green writer. Of his time as a member of the team, Glover told Entertainment Weekly, "Tina [Fey] taught me how to write, but also about the politics of television." He also credited the 30 Rock team for "knowing how dynasties are run."

Even with the big break, Glover couldn't help but notice he stuck out in the writer's room. As Glover recalled to The New Yorker, "I wondered, Am I being hired just because I'm Black?" Fey admitted to the outlet that Glover's instincts were partly true. According to the outlet, she said "she admired Glover's talent but hired him because funds from NBC's Diversity Initiative 'made him free.'"

A star-studded college counts Donald Glover as an alum

As Donald Glover recalled to The Hollywood Reporter, he didn't have the same opportunities as some of his classmates growing up, but he "never saw the roadblocks." After high school, he went to New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. As the program's website notes, the school's list of famous alumni includes Lady Gaga, Alec Baldwin, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Glover arrived at school with a rather wholesome background; the Village Voice wrote he was "a virgin who had never tasted alcohol." When he tried his first adult beverage about a year later, the outlet said, "He sat in the corner of a room full of people, his hoodie pulled over his head, debating the whole night whether to take a swig or not. When he finally did, he thought for sure he might die."

According to the Village Voice, Glover said he "lost his virginity" to one of the residential assistants in his dorm his junior year. He remembered the woman saying the physical encounter "was just fun. It doesn't mean anything." Glover recalled thinking, "Oh, OK" when he realized he didn't "have to marry this girl."

As a child, Donald Glover wanted to 'save the world'

As noted by Blues and Soul, Donald Glover was born in 1983 on Edwards Air Force Base in the desert outside of Los Angeles. He and his parents soon relocated to Stone Mountain, Georgia, where Glover spent his childhood. In an interview for Esquire, Glover talked about his difficult upbringing. "If people saw how I grew up, they would be triggered," the actor said, noting that there were "Confederate flags everywhere." He also recalled that some parents of his white friends "were very sweet to me but were also like, 'Don't ever date him.'"

Glover lived with his mother, father, sister, brother Stephen, "two adopted siblings and a rotating cast of foster kids," according to The Hollywood Reporter. "I saw kids dying of AIDS in our house," Glover shared with the outlet. "I saw people getting stabbed. I saw drug dealers stealing people's address books so they could get to my house because people [there] owed them money." But even with all these difficulties surrounding Glover, the young boy dreamed of a brighter future. According to Esquire, he wrote himself a letter at age 11 that said, "I'm gonna try and I'm gonna save the world."

Finding the funny called to Donald Glover

While attending New York University, Donald Glover decided to join a school sketch comedy group called Hammerkatz. There, he met D.C. Pierson, Dominic Dierkes, Dan Eckman, and Meggie McFadden. The five members broke off on their own and started to create content: Eckman took over directing, McFadden producing, and the remaining three the star actors. All started to record comedy sketches and uploaded them in the early days of YouTube, and McFadden explained to Mel Magazine that the team worked because of their close personal relationship. "We literally hung out all the time," she recalled to the outlet. "When we weren't making sketches, we were playing Street Fighter or Mario Kart. I have nostalgia for the way we were creating those sketches. Us just hanging out at 3 a.m. and having a weird idea." The YouTube videos were a hit and the crew went on to self-promote and create the indie film Mystery Team. As Mel Magazine noted, the movie premiered "at Sundance on January 17, 2009, and netted about $90,000 in total."

The year before the film was released, Glover tried out for the most famous sketch comedy platform, Saturday Night Live. According to the Village Voice, he "auditioned to play Obama as a cast member" but sadly "didn't get the part." This didn't stop Glover, who decided to attempt stand-up comedy. As the Village Voice noted, he asked for advice from two very famous comedians: 30 Rock colleague Tracy Morgan and Chris Rock.

Donald Glover works with a family member

Not only does Donald Glover get to write and star on the successful series Atlanta — he also gets to work alongside his sibling. The actor brought on his brother, Stephen Glover, to help write for the series, and it's not just a ceremonious role. Stephen is the "only credited writer on four of 10 episodes" in the first season of the show, according to The Hollywood Reporter. In fact, Stephen and Donald were both nominated for the same Emmy award for writing. Both men lost out on the Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series award in 2017 to Lena Waithe and Aziz Ansari for their work on Master of None. This also transitioned into the opportunity for both men to work on a Deadpool series together. "[Our lawyer] was like, 'No one does that. No one goes from staff writer to creator in a year,'" Donald said in The Hollywood Reporter.

Describing their childhood to The Hollywood Reporter, Stephen remembered that he and his brother listened to "bootleg audio of Simpsons episodes, their primary source of amusement was their own imagination." The two young boys created their own "fake TV shows and commercials, or fake movie trailers where Donald would also do all of the sound effects." And as adults, Donald confessed, "I'm definitely more intense" than his brother who is "quicker to laugh."

Donald Glover's changed his approach to dating

Earlier in his career, Donald Glover admitted to having little free time. His creative output showed no signs of slowing down and he was constantly working on new projects. Plus, exploring the limits of his reach in the entertainment industry. In 2011, he said in the Village Voice, "Right now, I refuse to even have a dog. No girlfriend. I don't want anything tying me down." Glover explained that he wanted to have it all, with no compromises. "I want to be everywhere. I don't see a limit for me. I want to do everything," he added. 

As Billboard noted in a recap of Glover's performance as Childish Gambino at the Governors Ball music festival in 2017, at one point, the multihyphenate said, "This song is dedicated to everybody in this crowd and my young son, Legend," revealing the name of his child for the first time. This was Glover's first of three children with longtime girlfriend Michelle White. 

Perhaps the wildest moment for this dad was the birth of number three. Glover revealed in an interview for GQ that he had his newest son "during the coronavirus." He also remembered the birth was about an hour before the first time he saw the video of George Floyd's death. Glover called it "such an intense, weird moment" because of the tragedy he watched right after an "amazing, joyful, expanding moment." The star named the child after his father who sadly died in 2018.

What does Childish Gambino mean?

The future award-winning rapper's "first taste of rap," according to the Village Voice, was Fred Durst, the white rock-rapper who was a star as the frontman of Limp Bizkit in the late '90s and early aughts. "They say there's no place in hip-hop if you're in the suburbs," Glover told the outlet. He added another example: "Kanye is a suburban kid. The struggle is finding your place." 

Glover started to find his place at college. As the Village Voice noted, he spent his first year at NYU "mixing beats" until graduating to writing lyrics and rapping over his beats "with rhymes about girls and love." At the time, the rap collective Wu-Tang Clan, inspired a "name-generator" website. While searching for a stage name, Glover used the site and liked one of the results: "Childish Gambino." 

Glover's first commercially released album, Camp in 2011, received some negative results from critics. According to Pitchfork, the album featured "heavy topics like race, masculinity, relationships, street cred, and 'real hip-hop' as props to construct a false outsider persona." The singer changed his approach and for his 2016 album Awaken, My Love! Glover earned critical praise and five Grammy nominations. According to Esquire, "the album cemented Gambino as a radio star and put him on the big screen." His "George Clinton–inspired funk jam" called "Redbone" featured "over the opening credits of 2017's Get Out and went triple platinum."

How much is Donald Glover worth?

Donald Glover's success across multiple forms of entertainment — from the screen to your headphones — is a testament to his gifted mind. But it also means multiple revenue streams to continually grow his bank account. He reached the highest peak possible for a song — top of the Billboard Hot 100, with his single "This Is America" in 2018. This on top of his many writing and acting credits on the big and small screens. As of 2021, Donald Glover is worth an estimated $35 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth.

He uses part of this money on real estate. As The New Yorker noted in 2018, Glover had "a house in Atlanta and a studio in Los Angeles, and often rents a place in Kauai." This might sound glamorous, but the outlet went on to say the celebrity "sleeps on a couch at the studio" when he's in Los Angeles and "drove to Target to buy a blanket to make it cozier."

Glover also used part of his net worth for altruistic reasons. On The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, the host surprised Glover with a special guest — a little girl who went viral by rapping about Girl Scout Cookies to the tune of Childish Gambino's hit song "Redbone." When the young girl asked if Glover wanted to buy Girl Scout Cookies, he said, "I'll take them all" to help her reach her sales goal of 113 boxes.

This is America receives acclaim and criticism

In 2018, Glover — as Childish Gambino — released "This is America." The song, co-written by Jeffrey Williams and Ludwig Göransson, and its accompanying Hiro Murai-directed video, was an immediate viral hit. It launched a thousand thinkpieces, scouring its every lyric and image for meaning. Murai presents the bulk of the video as a single take, following Glover through an empty warehouse, alternating between moments of joy (Glover dancing with a gospel choir) to moments of shocking violence (Glover gunning that gospel choir down with an assault rifle). Likewise, the music crashes buoyant, Caribbean-inspired rhythms up against the haunting drone of its chorus. Glover performed the song when he hosted "Saturday Night Live" that year, and a version of it also appeared in Glover's 2019 short film "Guava Island." It won Song of the Year, the first rap song to ever do so, at the 2019 Grammy Awards.

Glover's work elicited a number of negative reactions as well, with some taking issue with what they saw as his exploiting Black trauma and violence under the guise of making art. He has also (per the BBC) been accused of plagiarism more than once. In 2018, fans noted the similarities between "This is America” and rapper Jase Harley's 2016 song "American Pharaoh." Harley declined to take legal action, grateful apparently just to be part of the conversation, but in 2021 artist Emelike Nwosuocha, who performs under the name Kidd Wes, filed suit against Glover on behalf of his 2016 song "Made in America." Glover maintains that "This is America" predates both Harley and Nwosuocha's tracks.

Miles Morales

In 2010, Twitter was lit up by a campaign to get Donald Glover cast as Spider-Man. Glover himself started the campaign in a tongue-in-cheek way, and even referenced it by appearing in Spider-Man pajamas on an episode of "Community," but the hashtag #donald4spiderman soon took on a life of his own. Comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis took notice, and in 2011 he introduced a new Spider-Man to Marvel Comics' "Ultimates" series: Miles Morales, a Black and Latino teenager at least partially modeled after Glover. "He looked fantastic!" Bendis told USA Today in reference to Glover in his Spider-Man jammies. "I saw him in the costume and thought, 'I would like to read that book.'"

Glover missed out the 2012 Sony reboot "The Amazing Spider-Man," which used the Peter Parker version of the character (played by Andrew Garfield), but he did voice Morales in a two-part episode of the animated series "Ultimate Spider-Man." In 2017, he made his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in "Spider-Man: Homecoming," playing small time crook Aaron Davis, known in the comics as The Prowler — as well as being Miles Morales' uncle. The in-jokes and references get even more twisted around, appropriately enough, in 2018's "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse." The reality-hopping animated film centers on Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) and includes a cameo of sorts by Glover, as Aaron Davis (Glover's role in "Homecoming," voiced here by Mahershala Ali) watches the episode of "Community" that featured Glover dressed as Spider-Man.

Donald and Chevy

Glover's breakthrough role was on the NBC sitcom "Community," but his time as high school football star turned Grade-A weirdo Troy Barnes was often fraught behind the scenes — not the least of which was due to the antics of co-star Chevy Chase. The "Saturday Night Live" alum has long had a reputation for being difficult to work with, and fulfilled expectations by seemingly alienating every member of the "Community" cast and crew. When it came to Glover, though, many of his remarks and off-color jokes had a racial edge to them — and perhaps some professional jealousy. "Chevy was the first to realize how immensely gifted Donald was," said "Community" creator and showrunner Dan Harmon in a 2018 New Yorker profile. "And the way he expressed that jealousy was to throw Donald off."

Glover and Chase would both leave the show after a troubled fourth season. Harmon convinced Glover to return for a handful of Season 5 episodes. There appears to be no one reason why Glover left "Community" – rather, it was a combination of factors, including artistic restlessness, the behind the scene turmoil of that previous season, and the development of his FX series "Atlanta." In the early days of the 2020 quarantine, Glover reunited with his former co-stars (less Chase) for a Zoom table reading of the Season 5 episode "Cooperative Polygraphy."

Twin Peaks for Rappers

Glover's explanation of the vibe of "Atlanta" to the Television Critics Association in 2016 was as succinct as it was difficult to picture: "I just wanted to make 'Twin Peaks' with rappers." "Twin Peaks," the surreal David Lynch television series whose central murder mystery made it an unlikely hit in its first season (only to crash and burn in its second), seemed like an odd comparison at the time. Everyone (FX included) expected a comedy more along the lines of what Glover was doing on "Community."

What Glover and his collaborators delivered instead is often a comedy in name only, or one that often substitutes unease and dread for belly laughs. He stars as Earn, an aimless man who has fallen into managing the career of his cousin Alfred (Bryan Tyree Henry), a mid-level Atlanta rapper known as Paper Boi. The show is frequently hilarious, but what Glover shares with David Lynch is a sense of the uncanny and the sinister lurking in everyday life. For Lynch, that "everyday life" is the white picket fences of "Blue Velvet" or the quirky logging town of Twin Peaks; for Glover, it's the already surreal world of Black life in America. And like fellow comedian turned horror maestro Jordan Peele, Glover understands how little it takes to tweak the daily struggles of Black Americans into something bizarre and terrifying. 

Who was Teddy Perkins?

One of the most bizarre and disturbing episodes of "Atlanta" was Season 2's "Teddy Perkins." In it, Earn and Alfred's stoner philosopher friend Darius (LaKeith Stanfield) shows up to a large house outside the city to pick up a free piano. There he encounters Teddy Perkins (Glover), a reclusive, light-skinned, face-lifted former songwriter who plays like a Southern Gothic mix of Michael Jackson and Howard Hughes. Teddy insists on giving Darius a tour of the house, which doubles as an museum dedicated to himself and his brother, who lives in the attic; by the time the tour is over, both Teddy and his brother will be dead at the brother's hand.

It's the furthest "Atlanta" has tipped into outright horror, at least in its first three seasons. It was made all the more unsettling when Glover brought his terrifying creation into the real world, apparently dressing as Teddy Perkins at the 2018 Emmy Awards, where he was nominated for Best Actor in a Comedy Series. That "apparently" is important, because later in the evening Glover and Teddy Perkins were photographed together. So who was sitting in Glover's seat? Internet sleuths scoured the possibilities for months. An E! News report at the time quoted a source claiming that the person under the makeup was former "SNL" cast member Jay Pharoah, which Pharoah all but confirmed in a 2021 video interview with Conde Nast Traveler.

Singing with Beyonce

Season 3 of "Atlanta" premiered in March 2022 after a four-year hiatus. During that time, one of Glover's most high-profile gigs was the 2019 live action remake of Disney's "The Lion King." Director Jon Favreau and an army of visual effects artists crafted a new version of the classic 1994 animated film in photorealistic CGI, but crucially retained the original film's award-winning songs. This meant that Glover, playing Simba, had to sing the well-known duet "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" with Nala, played in the remake by Queen Bey herself, Beyonce Knowles-Carter.

Glover was in London filming "Solo: A Star Wars Story" at the time, so he recorded his vocals separately, which, as he joked on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," was probably a good thing for him: "I did not want to be looking into Beyonce's eyes while doing this." Despite being an acclaimed recording artist in his own right, having to match pipes with Beyonce in the same room would be a pretty nerve-wracking thing. In the segment, Kimmel suggests that it was probably less intimidating to record separately; Glover agrees, stating "I imagine it's less intimidating playing basketball with Michael Jordan if you're at home just throwing pieces of paper in the trash."