Two Saturdays ago the world thought it was getting another fun, easy-going song from Donald Glover’s alter-ego Childish Gambino. Instead, it got something it needed far more. This is America demands attention and deeper reflection from fans and even those who are new to Glover’s music.
Warning: Contains one explicit word
The audience is immediately drawn in by Glover dancing to a groovy Afro-Caribbean beat. But the mood quickly shifts when he pulls a gun to the head of another man and shoots. In that moment you realize, this isn’t so much a music video as it is a statement.
You could watch This is America once and get a pretty clear sense of themes of violence and systematic racism. You’d see a few shootings that would make you cringe, but your focus would mostly be on Glover and some school children dancing.
You could also watch it a second time and look past Glover’s charismatic dancing and get an even clearer picture, not just metaphorically, although there is a lot of symbolism behind much of what he does. But you need to literally look behind Glover. This time you will see riots, suicide and destruction.
Nate Hardman, ’19, said, “It’s a music video that you have to watch more than once. There’s so much going on with so many symbols like gun violence is a major theme but a lot of other things are going on that are more subtle.”
Viewers have pointed out ties to Jim Crow seen in the way Glover contorts his body and similarities in the man shot to Trayvon Martin’s father. Even the choir that Glover shoots brings forth images of the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
But, with all the talk circling around the video, junior Kingsly Lott wonders if the song itself is blunt enough. “I thought it was a creative video, but it relied too much on underlying meanings and messages,” Lott said. “It would’ve been more powerful, I feel, if he would’ve used his words and actual lyrics to portray his feelings instead of a video.”
Despite the minor criticism, Lott believes it still shed light on issues in America. “His millions of views are raising awareness and is more than what most rappers do with their platform,” he said.
Rolling Stone dubbed This is America “a nightmare we can’t afford to look away from.” Junior Arkel Brown said similarly, “America should watch this video because it will start those hard conversations that everyone is afraid to address.”
Besides racism, another theme the video addresses is gun violence, which seems right on time in the midst of school shootings appearing in the news regularly. “The thing that stood out to me the most was how careful people were with their guns after Gambino shot them as opposed to how careless they were with the bodies afterward,” Brown said.
CNN made a related statement saying, “Murders occur, but the guns are treated more delicately than human lives in the video — a strong statement given the current debate over gun control.”
No matter how you feel about Glover’s method of communication, it does make a strong statement and requires conversation about its themes. “It [this video] helps to put in perspective everything going on. I think it can be kind of easy to brush things to the side without realizing who it has an impact on,” Hardman said.
Glover’s This is America almost seems to say, ‘try brushing this away America; I dare you.’