Directed by Donald Glover, new Atlanta episode “The Goof Who Sat By the Door” gives a fictionalized and tragic look at A Goofy Movie.
The fourth and final season of Atlanta has given two looks at Black men in high-ranking entertainment positions. First, in “Work Ethic!” where series creator and star Donald Glover portrayed Tyler Perry-esque production studio owner Mr. Chocolate. In the season’s latest episode, “The Goof Who Sat By the Door,” co-writers Francesca Sloane and Karen Joseph Adcock give a fictionalized and tragic look behind the scenes of 1995 animated comedy A Goofy Movie. With ties to 1973 Black militancy film The Spook Who Sat By the Door, and the historical racism of Walt Disney Studios, the episode centers a faux-documentary on Thomas “Tom” Washington, who set out to make the “Blackest movie of all-time.”
Although characters in A Goofy Movie are anthropomorphic and don’t have a particular race, fans have long believed that the film was “Black” due to it’s R&B-focused soundtrack and feel-good relatability. Sloan and Adcock kick up the narrative, writing about fictional Walt Disney Pictures CEO Tom Washington, the company’s first Black CEO, in a special on B.A.N. (Black American Network). Born and raised in East Atlanta, Washington accidentally became a part of Walt Disney Pictures, and fought to include POC-coded animated characters.
In childhood, Washington was bullied and called “white” from family members and peers alike. But finding refuge in illustrating, he aspired to become a Walt Disney Pictures animator while attending Savannah College of Art and Design. Art Babbitt, the creator of Goofy, visits the college and gives a talk that resonates with Washington, leading to the point of obsession.
“Goofy, you know, he was a dolt. He was someone who wasn’t aware of how slow-witted he really was, and he thought long and hard before he did anything, and then he did it wrong,” Babbitt says in a talk that foreshadows the rest of Washington’s life.
The characterization of Goofy has origins that suggest that he’s a Black stereotype, opposite of the well-meaning (but possibly white) Mickey Mouse (although it’s rumored that the mouse was designed after a minstrel character).
Arriving at Walt Disney Pictures after graduating college, Washington enters the company’s diversity program and eventually lands the role of CEO during the 1992 Los Angeles Riots amid heightened racial tensions. The corporation intended to promote a white employee named Thompson “Tom” Washington, but Thomas earned the CEO position by default, creating a new Black utopia while creating A Goofy Movie. With the plan of making a film about Black fatherhood, Washington wanted to prove the “systemic factors” of Goofy and the relationship with his only son, Max.
The episode leans into effeminate and hyper-masculine portrayals of Black men in the ’90s, also making a commentary on Black exceptionalism in a scene where Max performs onstage before dunking a basketball. Sinbad and Brian McKnight make cameos, with the latter explaining that Washington wanted Tevin Campbell to appear in A Goofy Movie as Powerline (although Bobby Brown was supposed to play the character in the actual film). Washington’s obsession with Goofy went into overdrive, and his former teammates and family members describe his mental breakdown. Washington hires Nation of Islam members as security, also building partnerships with Black radical groups and local gangs.
The animator attempts to make a statement on police brutality and Black existence in A Goofy Movie, but the scenes are changed to fit the palate of Walt Disney Pictures. After being terminated (and having his vision corrupted), Washington seemingly dies by suicide, although his body isn’t found. In the end, Washington’s “Black” legacy is sealed, with his own son (also named Max) finding amusement in the “Damn, you live like this?” meme, which features A Goofy Movie characters Max and Roxanne.
While the episode doesn’t include the usual Atlanta characters, “The Goof Who Sat By the Door” is a dramatic and satirical look at being a Black creator, easily becoming one of the series’ best episodes.