This story first appeared in The Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.
Being Stefani Robinson in the “Atlanta” writers room is both a blessing and a curse.
As the youngest member on the writing staff for Donald Glover’s FX series, the 26-year-old will tell you she is fortunate to be in such a good place so early in her career. But as the only woman penning scripts for the surrealist hit show, she has become a target for some criticism this season — not from her colleagues, but from viewers.
“It’s a bummer,” Robinson said of being the lone woman in the show’s writers room. “It’s a really bittersweet thing, I think. I’m so happy to be the woman in the space, because I think that it’s so rare in Hollywood for a woman, especially a woman of color, to exist in these spaces. “So on the one hand, I’m grateful and I think it’s so important and I feel so blessed. But on the other hand, you always wish there was more than one.”
Robinson was hired by Glover on the basis of the very first pilot script she ever sent out, which happened to land at FX while he was looking for another writer for the show. But the Atlanta native and Emerson College grad, who recently signed a deal of her own with FX, can confirm her position comes with an “enormous amount of pressure, either real or perceived.”
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The ensemble comedy, which stars Donald Glover (Earn), Brian Tyree Henry (Alfred/Paper Boi), Lakeith Stanfield (Darius) and Zazie Beetz (Van), has seen more women introduced as side characters in Season 2 — and “there have been a lot of very passionate reactions to the female characters this season,” she said.
“I just see my name get thrown around, like, ‘Well she’s the only one, so she’s responsible. Is that how she thinks of all women?’ I become the lightning rod for the females’ perspective.
“I’m just one person, and I’m here, and it’s a different perspective and I’m championing this and I’m happy to be in this space. But I think when you are the only one of anything you are suddenly the voice for everyone. And it’s such a hard place to be in and, I think, not a fair place to be in. There need to be more women everywhere, to be honest.”
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During the series’ first season, Robinson wrote the scripts for “Value” and “Juneteenth,” two episodes that focus more on Beetz’s Van character. And though there have been more stories revolving around the mother of Earn’s child this season, the two episodes Robinson has written for what has been dubbed “Robbin’ Season” — “Barbershop” and “Woods” — have both focused on Paper Boi’s journey.
Robinson says tackling plots that center around a male character this season wasn’t a conscious decision. But she also doesn’t want to label herself as Van’s “voice,” as she wasn’t hired to be.
“I don’t have control over that character,” she said. “That’s a misconception. Obviously I would love to give voices to all of the female characters, but that’s just me being a female. I love writing for women and it brings me joy. Like the ‘Value’ episode — I wrote a dinner-table conversation in that episode and it was so great to have interesting, complicated women talk about life. But I wouldn’t say I have control over many of the female characters this season. I just sort of help with everything.
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“Donald recognizes I’m the only woman, but I don’t think he’s comfortable making that my ‘thing.’
“But I will say if you are a writer worth your salt, you will do the research. If you are a man, you will speak to women and involve as many women or female voices as possible to inform a character. And the same thing with me writing male characters.”
Ultimately, Robinson — who most enjoys the “sillier” aspects of “Atlanta” — said that a talented writer should be able to bring any character to life. “That’s the joy of writing,” she said. “If you start putting boxes around what people should write or can write or need to write, that’s a very dangerous thing.”
Read more of TheWrap Emmy magazine’s The Race Begins issue here.