Donald Glover as his lyrical alter ego Childish Gambino this weekend released new track and video for “This is America.” It’s safe to say the video had everyone that watched it collectively clutching their chest and gasping for breath with black Twitter erupting into frantic commentary. Why? Because the video vulgarly and unapologetically encapsulates what it means to be black in America today.
Directed by Glover’s longtime collaborator Hiro Murai, the video poignantly tells the story of 2018 American living, where entertainment is more important than justice and black suffering is made light of. The themes run plenty and deep with every watch producing more allegory and granting you more insight into the point Gambino is making. Rich in metaphor, it’s easy to get lost in such a visual master piece, so here are the four biggest themes of “This is America” broken down into digestible morsels.
One of the most glaring themes is how black culture is distracting us from black persecution. The video opens up with a black man strumming lightly on a guitar; Glover dances over to him and shoots him in the back of his head while striking a Jim Crow-esq pose. Almost immediately the beat changes up with lashings of bass and unmistakable hip hop flavour as Glover fills the screen with his dance moves accompanied by some children. We’re instantly distracted and it takes high concentration to pay attention to the chaos that ensues in the back ground and ignore the entertainment directly in front of us. To add insult to injury, the gun used to kill the victim is wrapped up gently in cloth and carted off screen, while the body is carelessly dragged away. Guns have more clout than black people. We already bin knew this, but, it’s still harrowing seeing it so truthfully played out.
The laissez faire attitude of our youth is definitely near the top of the list of themes this piece evokes. Throughout the video, young children are seen following Glover’s lead, dancing without a care in the world, seemingly unaffected by the chaos that surrounds them. They take no positive, affirmative action and seem to revel in the anarchy, almost oblivious to the destruction around them; an indictment of youth today? In some ways yes, although there is something to be said for the leader they are following, Gambino, who as his character in the video is the Pied Piper of parent’s nightmares. How can they be expected to act any other way when he is their leader? Answer; they can’t.
The irrelevance of older, church going generations is another big theme. In the video, Gambino dances into the middle of a choir rehearsal and guns them down mid hymn. Again, his automatic rifle is delicately carted away while the bodies are left bleeding in a heap. With clear paralleling of the Charlottesville church shooting, it’s a hard watch, but you won’t dare look away. The church has never been safe from persecution, but the brazenness of the imagery makes you think; we’re not safe on the street, we’re not safe in our homes and we’re not safe in the house of God, making our state of affairs truly tragic.
Throughout the rest of the video, amidst the chaos we see people falling to their deaths, death riding in on it’s white horse, riots, looting, children videoing the scenes on their phones with no mind to get involved. Perhaps the most provoking scene of the video, due to it’s subtlety, happens right near the end in a simple cameo from artist SZA. She sits calmly on the hood of a hoopty as the camera pans away from Gambino who is finishing his dance routine on the roof of another car. She neither says nor does anything, pretty much blending into the background of the black mans monologue. Clever. The video shines a light on the plight of every black person bar the black woman. With the rest of his themes so flawlessly executed, we have to assume this was another point Glover was making. The plight of women has always taken back seat to the plight of men, but it has to be said this disparity is seen most plainly in the marginaliseation of black men, vs black women. By not highlighting it, Glover makes his boldest point in the video. We just have to hope that in all the confusion, people don’t miss it.