”This is America”: An Unsettling Work of Art
”This is America”, by Childish Gambino, was released on 5th May, and has already received nearly 137 million views (about 12 million a day), putting it at number 1 in the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Childish Gambino, A.K.A. Donald Glover, has always made strong social criticisms through his role as actor, screenwriter, comedian and singer. This time, he did it with the help of Japanese director Hiro Murai. Interestingly, the video was released just a few days after the controversial declarations that Kanye West made about 400 years of slavery, confirming that it revolved around one simple ‘option’.
The video is a ‘masterpiece’ involving expressive dance, looking to draw attention and distract people from what is actually happening, obscuring the chaotic events which express a mixture of violence, persecution and racism. The video unashamedly presents America’s
arms conflict and the discrimination against Afro-americans, supporting these with historical and current references to segregation and assassinations, without losing the continuous symbolism that characterizes this audiovisual piece.
Below we will explain some of the references:
Allusion To Jim Crow
The sequence opens with the artist (Glover) doing a curious jerky, syncopated dance. Meanwhile a man who was playing a guitar comes into frame, and we see that he now has a bag over his head. Here we may suddenly go from thinking ”How cool is this!?” to ”what is happening here?” Gambino fires a bullet into the back of the man’s head, imitating the pose of Jim Crow, a character from the 19th century who represents American laws of segregation.
Uncle Ruckus The Racist.
A character from the animated series ”The Boondocks”. Ruckus represents self-hate for his own race.
Taking Great Care of the Gun
In both assassinations, the weapons are treated with care; delicately taken away in a handkerchief, whilst the corpses fall to the floor. This shows clear priority for weapons over human life.
The Charleston Massacre
The video references the 17th June Charleston Church Massacre of 2015. This section of the USA is a concentrated hub of racism, which perhaps caused Dylan Roof to open fire on the worshippers in this church, assassinating nine people of color.
”He looked, and saw a pale horse. He that mounted it was called Death, and Hell followed him” (Ap. 6: 7-8). This could easily be a Biblical representation of Death, an image that passes by almost unnoticed, that you need to view a many times over, just as with the rest of the video, to get its full impact.
Social media and the digital era have allowed us to use our phones as a method of self defense through exposure, and in this case to expose events of political and racial abuse, though this could be a double-edged sword because these ‘reporters’ are more concerned with filming the events than intervening.
Still Frames That Tell A Story
Glover standing on a car, the assassinated guitarist revived and Sza posing on the bonnet of another car – all with parking lights on and doors open. These cars have been involved in abuses and assassinations of young Afro-americans by the police, and therefore are an important symbol. The singer Sza represents an allegory to a black Statue of Liberty due to her hairstyle, clothes and posture. The reborn guitarist symbolizes the cycle of life and rebirth and continuous
Run, Gambino, Run
The final scene, the escape of the criminal, you can feel the desperation in his face with the darkness pursuing him. In this part, the lyrics say ”You just a black man in this word, you just a barcode, driving expensive foreigns, you just a big dawg, I kenneled him in the backyard, no proper life to a dog, for a big dog.” Ultimately, the final message sides with both groups, no matter who you are, both for the victim who flees from violence as for the victimizer, as much cruelty as there may be in your heart, there will always be a bigger
evil behind you.