‘This Is America’: Breaking Down Childish Gambino’s Powerful New Music Video

Posted by on May 12, 2018 in Entertainment, Films & TV, Internet, Media & Arts with 0 Comments

Donald Glover / YOUTUBE

Sonia Rao | Washington Post

While hosting “Saturday Night Live,” Donald Glover dropped a music video for the new single “This Is America” by his rapper alter ego Childish Gambino. Watch it once, and your eyes will naturally be drawn to his movements and facial expressions. Watch it again, but focus on the chaos reigning in the background. Watch it a third time, and the reason for this juxtaposition becomes increasingly clear.

Because this is Glover we’re talking about, there’s a surreal element to all that goes on. He and frequent collaborator Hiro Murai — who has directed a number of “Atlanta” episodes, including the haunting “Teddy Perkins” — pack every frame with visual references to racism and related violence in the United States, from Glover mimicking minstrel characters to cellphones recording it all. The video racked up more than 30 million views on YouTube in 48 hours, and sleuths among those viewers have taken to social media to share their interpretations.


Let’s break it down.

(Donald Glover/YouTube)

“This Is America” begins with a man seated in a warehouse, playing a guitar. Many misidentified him as the father of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager killed in 2012. The man is actually Calvin the Second, a Los Angeles-based artist who shared on Instagram that he “got to be a part of history.”

The camera soon finds Glover. He stands behind Calvin the Second, whose head has been covered with a bag, and shoots him with a gun pulled out of his back pocket. As several have pointed out on Twitter, his stance while holding the weapon mimics that of the minstrel character Jim Crow, the origin of the term used to describe pre-Civil rights-era segregation laws.

(Donald Glover/YouTube)

Glover’s erratic dancing, choreographed by Sherrie Silver, distracts from everything happening in the background throughout the video — purposefully so, it would seem. Paired with exaggerated expressions like the one pictured above, his movements further the connection to minstrel shows, a form of entertainment popularized in the early 1800s that mocked black people in the United States. The stock characters were usually played by white people in blackface, though some all-black groups performed under white directors.

(Donald Glover/YouTube)

Glover’s character, who appears to represent how white American culture oppresses black people, periodically kills innocent performers. As a choir joyfully sings the refrain — “Get your money, black man, get your money” — Glover slips out from behind a door and dances in front of the choir. He is handed an assault weapon, shoots all 10 singers and walks away. The imagery evokes the 2015 Charleston church massacre, in which attendees of a prayer service were murdered by self-described white supremacist Dylann Roof.


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