Masterfully painted with symbolism, metaphors, and messages about race, gun violence, and society’s narcissism, Donald Glover, also known as Childish Gambino, has dropped a new single and music video titled “This Is America” which has racked over 50 million views in just four days.
Directed by Hiro Murai, who has worked with Glover on past projects like Atlanta, the music video starts off with cheerful, African/Caribbean beats and vocals by Gambino who sings, “We just wanna party, party just for you/ we just want the money, money just for you.” I could be overanalyzing, but it doesn’t seem like a coincidence how the first lyrics speak of having a good time and making money but having it given to or taken by someone else – kind of how social media is always popping up with new dances and content created by black youth yet is taken over by white kids who get to show up on Ellen and receive sponsorships, forgetting about the originators.
With the first gunshot, delivered from a strange crouching position, the style changes to trap. This transition is slightly disturbing. It could be because the stance is a replica of Jim Crow, an image that hasn’t been published since the 60’s. It could also be because the unjust murder of the man – who was at first playing the guitar, then tied up with rope around his wrists, clothes torn up with a bag over his head as he is shot from behind representing the unfair killings of black lives in America today. Or it could be because as the beat drops in the switch of the tempos Gambino looks directly at the camera and somberly/accurately says, “This is America.”
The way guns are treated with care and respect in the video, first received in a red cloth by an eager schoolboy and again after shooting the church choir, shows how idolized gun culture is in America. Never once are the guns carelessly tossed or received, unlike the lifeless body of the bagged man being dragged away or the immediate disregard of the murdered church choir – a reference to the Charleston shooting in 2015. It shows how guns are treated with more respect than human lives, especially black ones.
The video slowly ascends to chaos as fires start happening and people are running around after each other like it’s the purge. Yet despite all of the madness, Gambino keeps sporadically dancing trendy new moves.
Lines like “I’m so Gucci” and ‘I’m so pretty,” are mocking how we ignore real life issues because we are distracted by our narcissism and image on social media. This preoccupation is exactly how the dancing serves as a distraction to the rioting in the background, which is similar to how America eagerly adopts black culture while ignoring the racial injustices plaguing the country every single day.
Despite the mayhem unfolding around them, you even see the children in school uniforms hanging from above with some of their legs casually dangling, recording everything and adapting to what’s happening as they wear face masks with all the smoke in the air instead of running for their lives.
Unknown to Gambino and his dancers, a white horse and a cop car appear in the corner of the frame. As Gambino talks about getting “hunnid bands, hunnid bands, hunnid bands,” a rider, dressed from head to toe in all black, symbolizing death, rides a white horse in the background. Gambino holds an imaginary gun with his hands and all the children around him run and disappear before it falls silent for 17 seconds, a moment of silence perhaps dedicated to the 17 innocent lives lost in the Parkland shooting.
He then lights a blunt and the murdered man from earlier returns, playing his guitar once again but still with a bag over his head, showing how although black people in America are the main victims of mass incarceration and injustice, they’re still the main source of entertainment.
The way he runs in the ending is almost so desperate, it’s disturbing. As Young Thug sings “You just a black man in this world. You just a barcode” in the background, dating back to a song from the 19th century titled “run nigga run.” The finale also mirrors Jordan Peele’s 2017 film, “Get Out” showing themes of the sunken place – a mental prison for black people where the true soul of the body is detached from their actions.
Gambino running with pure dread on his face could mean that all the dancing and strange facial expressions he makes throughout the video aren’t really his true self and that the whole time, he’s been running for his life in the sunken place, looking for a way out.