Donald Glover is one of pop culture’s biggest jack-of-all trades, with talents extending to acting, comedy, music, and just recently becoming the showrunner of the great FX series Atlanta. However, the “big one,” so to speak, has always eluded him. But even without a defining feature or franchise to his name, he’s amassed a sizeable fan base just by being himself. Whether he’s eschewing traditional hip-hop beliefs as Childish Gambino, or shining a light on the city he was born in with Atlanta, Donald is the voice of a demographic that is bankable and in need of an intelligent, and more importantly, black representative: Nerd Culture.
Donald has never been anyone but himself, and for better or worse that’s why he’s so damn hard to root against. When Disney announced that he would step into the shoes of Billy Dee Williams’ iconic Lando Calrissian character for the as-yet-unnamed Han Solo solo movie last week, I had to come to terms with my own biases against him. I may never be a fan of his music, but in the past few years I’ve become increasingly drawn to the fact that he’s an endearing and charismatic vessel for a lot of issues that minorities face in show business. Seeing him campaign to become Spider-Man six years ago, and faced the ire of many closed minded, mouth-breathing dorks in return was frustrating to watch. His call for inclusion was something that predated #OscarsSoWhite and was just as poignant—why can’t black kids want to be something more than just an extra, or in Donald’s case, the sidekick in Community?
Being a black nerd myself, I have to applaud Donald for truly bossing up, staying low, and building himself into one of the most beloved actors to not just black people, but to anyone not clinging to the status quo. He’s been an underdog who hasn’t spread himself thin but rather expanded his reach to exemplify what it’s like to be the smartest kid in the room—no matter what color you are. He’s a true student of the game, a guy who scoured hip-hop forums and made an album about it, who is taking the piss out of meme culture on FX every week and getting us all to high five each other about it. It’s genius, and it’s why he’s become a hero for black people and nerds alike.
Marvel Studios has attempted to take the sting of him being overlooked for Tom Holland (who has been awesome in what we’ve seen of him so far) by casting him in Spider-Man: Homecoming, but to be honest—I think he’s better off without the role. From Tobey Maguire to Andrew Garfield, Spider-Man movies have been defined by weirdo, swaggerless white dudes who eventually get the girl. Peter Parker is a static character, defined by a death, and later defined by the non-action that led to it. I doubt we’ll see anything different come next summer when Holland takes on the role, and I’m even more skeptical that Marvel wouldn’t have done something similar even if Parker was swapped for Miles Morales, a minority who dons the Spidey costume as a hand-me-down in the comics. There’s nothing to be gained from Donald filling the shoes of a character that’s been beaten into the ground—he’d be better suited to blaze his own path, as he’s been doing already.
Becoming Lando is a natural, and incredibly cool, extension to who Donald Glover is. Lando is the “only black guy in the galaxy,” in much the same way that Donald is the only true black nerd in his industry. He represents a one-of-one, and I’d much rather see him in this universe rather than the MCU. But he got to this point because he’s never been ashamed of his multi-faceted personality and interests, and people have responded in kind. Donald has bet big on himself, and in turn is reaping the benefits of the support of nerds, and people of color who are in need of a true superhero.