This past weekend, Donald Glover hosted “Saturday Night Live” and his alter ego Childish Gambino performed his two latest singles, “Saturday” and “This is America.”
Later that night, Glover released the song’s music video, which embedded political issues, such as gun control and police brutality, in overt, shocking scenes, though the musician danced throughout the montage, somewhat drawing the viewer’s attention away from the violence.
Since Glover’s dancing serves as the visual focal point of the video, viewers can overlook the clip’s extras carrying baseball bats and rioting, as well as the subsequent police cars in the distance. After watching the video a second time, however, even more detail emerges; following a second viewing, I saw a man being pushed from an elevated area onto the hood of a car, another car slowly melting in flames and a person riding a horse to an unknown location.
Directed by Hiro Murai, who works for Gambino’s show “Atlanta,” the video shows a shirtless Gambino shooting a black choir and a masked man, while someone cleans his fingerprints off the weapon. In both instances, when Gambino finishes shooting, he gives the gun away for it to be wiped of his fingerprints. The gun gets more attention and more importance than the victim or the person affected.
According to the Atlantic, Gambino shooting a black choir in the video directly makes a reference to Dylann Roof, who shot a black church in Charleston, South Carolina. In both instances, Gambino dances as if everything is normal, prompting the idea that America has become numb to gun violence, since it happens frequently in our society.
Critics have touched on the message of the video, which is that Gambino’s dancing draws more attention than the issues that plague the country.
Jon Spence spoke on the broader implications of the video in a tweet, saying, “The fact that Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’ tackles police brutality, gun violence, media misdirection, and the use of African Americans as a brand shield, all while dancing in Jim Crow-style caricature, shows a transcendence or mere performance and demands attention.”
The fact that Childish Gambino’s “This is America” tackles police brutality, gun violence, media misdirection, and the use of African-Americans as a brand shield, all while dancing in Jim Crow-style caricature, shows a transcendence or mere performance and demands attention.
— Jon Spence (@reallyjonspence) May 7, 2018
Additionally, in an attempt to collect different interpretations of the video, the lyrics website Genius made a video asking people on the street about Childish Gambino’s video. One of the men mentioned that the masked man represented the American public: blind to the repeated attacks against our own people, which is an important theory that has not been explored.
“This is America” is another example of how hip-hop artists use their platform to discuss political issues. Gambino attempts to make people understand how gun violence should receive more attention than the latest viral dance craze.
Following the project, people are starting to open their eyes about how the video criticizes the contradictions of America: a country of the free, shackling people of color every day.