is on track to become the worlds most complete and widely influential entertainer we’ve had in recent history.
Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino has the world buzzing right now. From his hit show Atlanta on FX to the chart topping genre blending exploits of his music, Glover is on track to become the worlds most complete and widely influential entertainer we’ve had in recent history.
It would be redundant to list the many talents this man possesses, as chances are, you’ve read or heard about them in all of the many blogs, interviews, articles, etc that are currently flooding the internet about him right now.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you know all about Glover’s success as an actor and musician. You’ve probably memorized every word of his song—and instant classic—“Redbone” from his latest album “Awaken, My Love” or have already been charmed to death by his charisma oozing turn as the suave card playing scoundrel Lando Calrissian in Solo: A Star Wars Story. Chances are, you already know: This man can do it all.
Most recently though, “This is America” is driving the Glover conversation into another stratosphere. The song and its accompanying video have sparked the world’s consciousness with its socially charged message and it’s deliciously detailed symbolism. With what is being called a masterful execution of his conceptual vision he has perfectly leveraged entertainment to “introduce a narrative into pop” as Justin Simien, creator of Dear White People, so perfectly put it.
that is creating an icon...
Now, like I mentioned above, if you’re reading this now, I am pretty sure you’ve seen all there is to see regarding this song. From the reaction videos on Youtube to the “10 Things You Might Have Missed…” blogs swirling around the windstorm of attention Glover has garnered since this song’s release. And, while I am biting my tongue a bit and may find myself working up another 500+ words on the video itself, I am a little more interested with what, or rather, who is behind this and many other of Glover’s visual masterpieces. I am more concerned with the unsung hero who is eerily crafting everything you know about Glover's work. It's a collaboration that is creating an icon and he is perhaps today's best kept Hollywood secret.
His surreal aesthetic is key to everything we know and love about Donald Glover.
From the growing shadow of Glover’s incandescent success hides a ghost. A haunting vaporous eye that is guiding the visual landscapes of a lot of Glover’s music videos, movies, and TV shows. From the brooding dark, director Hiro Murai emerges as that ghost. A faceless specter hovering above, beside, and many times through everything that Glover does. Murai's surreal aesthetic is key to everything we know and love about Donald Glover.
Like a ghost
Murai effortlessly phases between the ordinary and the unusual within a moments notice.
Like a ghost, Murai effortlessly phases between the ordinary and the unusual within a moments notice, a quality that has become synonymous with Glover and something we've become accustomed to seeing in FX's Atlanta, which Murai has directed on multiple occasions. In fact, of the 21 episodes of Atlanta from Season 1 & 2, Murai has directed 14 episodes. The only other director with more than two directing credits is Donald Glover, who has directed 4 episodes in its two seasons.
We (The Beta Report) have recently talked about the sudden shift Atlanta has taken in its second season. From socially poignant satire to the surreal ubiquity of a black Justin Bieber, a pet peacock, or the existence of an invisible car. No matter which direction this show went, it was always hilarious. However, the second season has taken a rather dark turn. Every episode now feels like it’s part of a Black Mirror-esque series within the Get Out universe (Is this America?).
It’s not to say that this season is lacking in humor, its more that—like everything Glover and Murai do—its social complexities and moral dilemmas are layered beautifully within its stellar writing, mesmerizing visual cues and terribly deep symbolism. However, now its all shrouded in foreboding. And though the first season of Atlanta had the same visual aesthetic: a warm smoothed contrast giving everything a polished grit that borders on ethereal urban dreaminess. This new season carries that same look, but dips it in fear. Turning the lighthearted glow of season one into less of a dream and more of a waking nightmare.
mastered the art of the unexpected.
While Murai's work with Glover has definitely propelled him further into the spotlight, its what he’s done outside of Glover's universe that has made me fall in love with his work even more. The reason being, Murai has mastered the art of the unexpected and it’s evident in everything he does. His conceptualization and style appeals to our curiosity, and much like the alluring fascination people have with ghosts, he entices us with the mystique of the unknown. Again, much like a ghost, we're drawn in by two things: familiarity and mystery, themes he utilizes to optimal effect in all of his work. Paired with the power, persuasion and politics of the source material he is adapting, the end product is a force to behold. Ultimately, we're possessed by the spirit that dwells within his work and the evocative power that permeates from his style.
Take for example, these two videos Murai directed: Michael Kiwanuka's "Black Man in a White World".
And, Flying Lotus' "Never Catch Me" featuring Kendrick Lamar.
Like everything he does, these two videos have this palbable surreal energy coursing through them. They both effortlessly move between reality and the intimate realness of a dream, and they never give you a chance to differentiate between the two. In both instances, Murai can only be successful in creating and cultivatating that mind bending conflict by executing his vision with unwavering conviction, which he does with religious fervor. But, he also exhibits perfect control. And, not just of his camera, but of the narrative itself too.
In both videos, Murai vividly navigates through the stillness of every scene, focusing on the seemingly normal and lucid authenticity of the world he’s placed in frame. He furthers his empathetic manipulation by accentuating the familiar, allowing us to settle in and become part of the story he wants to tell: the church pews, the flowers, children jumping rope, the electric lines, a helicopter, the city streets. We’re subconsciously lured in by its relateability. That is until he decides to flip things on their heads, juxtaposing the ordinary with the sudden unforeseen chaos that is now commanding our attention on screen: dancing children jumping out of the coffin, the car crash, and the flying man. Like the viscous drawl of a phantom moving from one haunted room to another, his work is arresting and at the risk of being redundant, the end result is: haunting.
Murai has worked with a long list of artists like: A Tribe Called Quest, Queens of the Stone Age, Earl Sweatshirt, Flying Lotus, Michael Kiwanuka, The Shins, Spoon, David Guetta, and of course, Childish Gambino/Donald Glover, to name a few.
In fact, Murai has collaborated with Glover on multiple platforms: Music Video, TV, and Short Film as well. I’d be so bold as to say that without the ghost that guides our eye, his unearthly lens and transcendental style...Without Hiro Murai, we wouldn’t know the genius that is: Donald Glover.
If you guys would like to see more of his work, make sure and check out his website: hiromurai.com.