We watch films like The Purge, sit through countless hours of Black Mirror and seek comfort in believing the world has yet to reach a point of such disparity, such total depravity and degeneration. But we’re wrong. Whilst it may not be heavily collected and played on a loop before our eyes, our world is slowly falling into a chaos so many are choosing to be ignorant of. Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’ is a jarring awakening for some whilst the fears of others are only being confirmed. Bleeding with political and cultural symbolism, the music video currently stands at over one-hundred-million views on Youtube and is an ingenious and outstandingly artistic portrayal of the current social climate in America.
Watch the music video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYOjWnS4cMY
Before even delving into the numerous layers of symbolism contained within the music video, the video itself is a true portrayal of cinematic art. Filmed in only a few impressive one-shot frames, sharply crafted and delivered choreography, stunning production and a song that resonates with so much meaning in so few words. Directed by Hiro Murai and starring Donald Glover (Childish Gambino), ‘This is America’ is an example of the important work music and artists can accomplish, using something they know captivates millions to bring attention to such important issues.
‘This is America’ begins with the artist, Childish Gambino, dancing in a seemingly odd way to a soft, light-hearted plucking of strings and chorus of voices, his facial expressions shifting and twitching to match the jagged movements of his body. The choreography is a mimic of Jim Crow, a theatre character created by Thomas D. Rice that was a gross and inaccurate portrayal of black people by a white audience. The parallel becomes clear with Gambino’s stance when he shoots the man previously playing guitar, the combination of his movements and actions quickly making it apparent the music video will be a comment on the current situation concerning gun laws in America. The uncut fluidity of both the camera and unveiling of the gun could be a representation of how easily such situations are happening in America, highlighting the lack of control and resistance. From here both the music video and song begin to descend into a darker tone with the gun carefully being taken away whilst the victim’s body is crudely dragged off screen. The symbolism, combined with the sudden lyrics ‘this is America’, is unquestionably a comment on how more attention is being paid to people’s rights to own a gun than to basic human rights and decency. Gambino’s continuous off-kilter dancing embodies the confusion toward and ridiculousness surrounding the lack of action being taken. The chorus voices heard within the song are given body in what seems to be a reprieve from the heavy, serious tone only to have them all shot dead. The sudden and unexpected action is heart stopping, the audience plummeting from the infectious beat of the song back into the harsh reality it is representing. The inclusion of the scene was a bold but effective move in its relation to the Charleston church shooting, something still fresh on people’s minds and reminds them of the unjustified hate the black community are still facing.
Throughout various points within the music video Gambino and a group of school children are dancing in the foreground whilst the background of the video continuously spirals faster and faster out of control. Upon multiple watches, various acts of violence and injustice can be glanced through the blurred screen placed upon them representing the ignorance and marginalisation of these things. The lyrics of the song, ‘I’m on Gucci/I’m so pretty/watch me move’ combined with the dancers highlights how people become so easily distracted from what is going on in the world, their overly energetic moves and stretched smiles portraying the desperation some people feel to shut it all out. The message that people are focussing on trivial issues is arguably furthered when the song suddenly stops for a few moments whilst Gambino lights a joint/spliff, possibly referring to marijuana laws and how more people are paying attention to that than the unjust loss of lives. The music video ends with Gambino running from a group of people, the wide-eyed expression on his face seeming to be one of fear. Undoubtedly this is a comment on the fear many black people live in whilst the dark, derelict setting is allegedly a reference to the Sunken Place in Jordan Peele’s Get Out, a place that represents marginalisation and a system that refuses to hear the screams for help. The forward movement could also be a foreshadowing of the even darker world we are heading towards if action is not taken now. An interpretation also portrayed by the hooded figure riding a white horse during one of the background shots who could be representing the four housemen of the apocalypse. However, because only one is depicted, the appearance could be a message that there is still time to change the current path we are on.
‘This is America’ is overflowing with symbolism that has been left almost entirely up for viewer interpretation, Childish Gambino and those associated purposefully not making any explicit comments in its regard. It would be impossible to dissect everything within the music video over the course of one blog post, but the importance of the video is undeniable. It brings forth a true admiration for Donald Glover and an inspiration to take action.
Review by Skye W. Winwood