Written By: Lane McArdell
Childish Gambino, also known as Donald Glover, recently released his new single, “This Is America”, which is getting much attention and rightfully so. Gambino’s video accompanying the song, released on May 5th, has already reached over 170,000,000 views. The reason for its media success? A controversial yet undeniably accurate representation of America. Gambino touches on gun violence, racism, social media, and American distractions in his spell-bounding video, “This Is America”.
Shots are fired twice throughout the video. Before the shootings, the music and dance is light-hearted, but after the cracks of the gunshots blow the rhythm is serious and Childish Gambino claims “This Is America”, instantly drawing viewers in. While it is easy to be distracted by the raw visuals of the video, what cannot be overlooked is the treatment of the guns after they are fired. A man with a clean cloth runs out to Gambino to collect the gun and gently remove it from the scene after both shootings. It is clear that the artist is commenting on the power of the NRA over gun control, how despite all the violence, fear, and grieving guns have caused, the weapons are still being protected, while the victims are not.
Childish Gambino’s dancing is the most engaging feature of the video. Throughout the entire clip, the camera is focused on him and all of his body movements. Many, if not all of his moves, are well known to most of America and he showcases his mastery of the many current and trending dance moves. Many of these dances created by African Americans. However, he is surrounded by chaos as cars are set on fire, people appear to be rioting, African Americans are running from the police, and a white horse with a hooded rider runs in the background. Despite all the madness around Gambino, his entrancing movements and wild faces make it very hard for the viewers to look away.
In these scenes, Childish Gambino is addressing many of America’s faults. First, consider his dance moves. Dance is a part of African American culture that many Americans have chosen to embrace with open arms. These dances have gone viral and many Americans have become determined to master the moves. However, the chaos occuring around the dancer is what really matters. This is the part of African American culture that many other Americans have turned their heads from, or given up on. The lawless chaos seems as if it should be the distraction, yet it isn’t — the dancing is. That’s Gabino’s argument in this video: so much of America is hung up on insignificant things, they have either become ignorant of or have subconsciously, or consciously, distracted themselves from the current failures of this democracy. Many Americans have chosen to focus on irrelevant, non-issue ideas and have gone blind to the mistreatment of their fellow patriots.
The video ends with Childish Gambino dancing atop a car accompanied by the man he had shot earlier in the video, symbolizing the never-ending cycle of racial brutality. The car he dances on is surrounded by the remains of the previous chaos, emphasizing how Americans seem to start to care about the violence only when the damage is done. The final shot is of the artist frantically running, a terrified look plastered on his face, from the demons of the pandemonium before. This can only be a representation of the stark awareness of the flaws of the country and the immediate fear and denial each American eventually comes to.
Other subtle clues to the message of Childish Gambino’s song are hidden throughout the video. First is the singer’s attire. Some have linked his pants to those worn by Confederate soldiers during the Civil war. Along with the pants are the two gold chains around his neck that possibly represent the bondage his ancestors faced and the different form of bondage he faces today. The two items worn together could symbolize how many of the issues of yesterday are still problems of today. Lastly, Gambino slips in social media’s role in all of this turmoil by having the camera pan to a balcony where four or five young people sit recording all of this madness. The quick reference is subtle but true. Much of the brutality in America has been caught by cellphones and broadcasted through social media.
Childish Gambino’s song and video, “This Is America”, is no doubt a sign of the times. While it does not call for reforms, it does beg of the American minds to realize the chaos around them, to no longer be ignorant. Our country is distracted, all this video asks for is focus.