When the final season of Hulu’s comedy-drama series Atlanta ended in the fall of 2022, fans were left wondering who Thomas Washington is and whether Disney really had a black CEO.
The quick answer is no, he’s not real. He’s a fictional character developed by the writers of the show.
Nevertheless, Thomas Washington is the key to several controversial issues discussed in the show. Keep reading to find out more about this made-up, but highly intriguing character.
The Goof at the Door
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past five years, you’ve probably either heard about or watched diligently the comedy-drama series Atlanta. The show ran for four seasons, from September 6, 2016, until November 10, 2022.
Created and directed by the show’s main actor, Donald Glover, Atlanta has had fans raving about it since the pilot aired. Even those who aren’t necessarily big admirers of the show have admitted that it’s smart, well-written, and packed with witty humor.
Yet, it has to be episode number eight in the fourth and final season of Atlanta that had everyone riled up.
Both lovers and haters of the show were all in agreement that this could quite possibly be the best-ever episode compared to all those that came before it in the previous three seasons.
Some went as far as saying it was one of the best things they’d seen on TV in recent times. It’s not hard to see why they gave it such a high status once you get to see what the episode is talking about.
For starters, it’s structured to appear as if it’s a documentary that highlights the story of the first black Disney CEO, Thomas Washington. To add subtle nuances of meaning, the writers decided to call the episode “The Goof Who Sat by the Door,” which references Sam Greenlee’s novel The Spook Who Sat by the Door.
Is Thomas Washington Real?
No. Thomas Washington is a purely fictional character created by the writers of this particular episode, Francesca Sloane and Karen Joseph Adcock.
Played by the highly talented actor Eric Berryman, Washington rises through the ranks at Walt Disney Studios until he finally becomes CEO.
The storyline starts with him as an art student who shines at the Savannah College of Art. His unrivaled talent, creativity, and intelligence earned him a spot at Disney Studios as their first-ever black animator.
Senior designers were so impressed with his talent that they put him to work right away. His first project was working as an assistant animator on DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp.
Then, when the interim Disney CEO dies in the 1992 riots, the board hires a white man called Tom Washington. However, there’s a mixup of names, which results in Thomas Washington filling the position instead.
Of course, the board isn’t pleased. Though they have no choice but to keep him on as CEO
As CEO, he sets out to make several changes to the company. He also sets out to create a movie that highlights many of the problems that black fathers face, especially when raising their children.
The young animator had always been a fan of Goofy, and he felt that it was the best character to illustrate these types of issues.
So, he teamed up with another black Disney illustrator, Frank Rolls, to produce the project. Out of their hard work came the brilliant movie about a father going on a camping trip with his son, A Goofy Movie.
Yet, as time goes by, Washington starts spiraling out of control both at home and at work. His wife, Annie, files for a divorce and they share custody of their son, Maxwell.
Then, when he realizes that Disney executives had decided to change out the ending of his Goofy Movie, he decides to end his life. Yet, despite having found his car in the same lake where he took his son fishing, his body has never been found.
Who Is Thomas Washington Based On?
Despite its attempts to create an inclusive work environment, Disney has never had a black CEO.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of black employees, starting with Floyd Norman who was hired by Disney in 1956 as the company’s first black animator.
Norman’s first assignment was to work as an in-betweener on Sleeping Beauty. He also helped animator Frank Thomas work on the three fairies: Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather.
Norman later became an assistant animator on Mary Poppins, specifically on The Pearly Band. He also animated most of the gags and tricks in the “Trust in Me” sequence between Mowgli and Kaa in The Jungle Book.
After leaving Disney for a few years, Norman returned in the early 1970s to work on Robin Hood as well as several animated TV programs. He also worked briefly as a scripter in the comic strip department.
More recently, Norman has worked on hit animations like Mulan, and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. He also collaborated with Pixar Animation Studios on various hits, such as Monsters, Inc. and Toy Story 2.
Norman is now 88 years old and still going strong as an animator, storyman, and artist.
1. Who is Thomas Washington in the series “Atlanta”?
Thomas Washington is a fictional character portrayed as the first black CEO of The Walt Disney Company in the comedydrama series “Atlanta”.
2. Is Thomas Washington a real former CEO of Disney?
No, Thomas Washington is a purely fictional character created by the writers of “Atlanta”. Disney has never had a black CEO in reality.
3. What is the significance of the episode titled “The Goof Who Sat by the Door”?
The episode is structured as a documentary showcasing the story of the first black Disney CEO, Thomas Washington. Its title references Sam Greenlee’s novel “The Spook Who Sat by the Door”.
4. How does Thomas Washington become the CEO of Disney in the series?
In the show, due to a mixup of names between him and another person called Tom Washington, Thomas ends up filling the CEO position.
5. Was there ever a black animator at Disney?
Yes, Floyd Norman was hired by Disney in 1956 as the company’s first black animator. He contributed to numerous films, including “Sleeping Beauty”, “Mary Poppins”, “The Jungle Book”, “Mulan”, and others.
6. How does Thomas Washington’s story end in “Atlanta”?
Washington spirals out of control in his personal and professional life, leading to his apparent suicide. However, while his car is discovered in a lake, his body is never found.
7. What has been the reception of the episode featuring Thomas Washington?
Both fans and critics have lauded the episode, with many considering it one of the best in the series and among the best things seen on TV in recent times.
8. Who created the series “Atlanta”?
“Atlanta” was created and directed by Donald Glover, who also stars as the main actor.
Whether you’re a fan of Atlanta or not, you’re sure to appreciate all the comical, witty dialogue of the show, especially in the eighth episode of the final season.
It’s in this episode that the writers decide to go with a documentary-style format that highlights the fictious Thomas Washington’s rise and fall as the first black CEO at Disney.