If you haven't seen Childish Gambino's new music video for the song, "This Is America", then take the time to watch it here- I promise it's worth it! But be warned: you may need to watch it more than once to appreciate the utter genius that was put into it.
Let me start by saying that I've been a fan of Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) since I first saw him as an actor in the hit show Community, which was before I even knew him as Childish Gambino. Once I discovered his music, I felt an even deeper admiration for him. While he hasn't been the biggest name in the music industry so far, I feel that he's been largely underappreciated- and his newest song, "This Is America" only further proves that point.
If you've had the chance to listen to "This Is America", you may at first have overlooked it. While I personally love the song itself, others may have brushed it off. The background music, while appealing, may not have made a big enough impact to catch the listener's attention. The lyrics could have passed as being repetitive and even confusing without any background knowledge. In other words, just listening to the song risks leaving the audience underwhelmed or even confused. But the secret of the song- and a true statement to the genius of Childish Gambino- lies within the music video itself.
If you've had the chance to watch "This Is America", then you'll understand what I mean. And if you don't understand, you may need to watch it again. And again. The truth is, each time I've watched the video, I've noticed something new. It reminds me a lot of a video that became popular years back in which the audience is too distracted by a challenge to notice the absurdities occurring in the background. And if you don't believe me, then here's a little test: did you notice Death riding a pale horse in Gambino's video? If not, jump to 2 minutes and 36 seconds into the video and you'll see him riding along from the left side of the screen. Crazy that you missed that, huh?
Before you beat yourself up for not noticing it, consider the fact that this was very much so intentional. The reality is, Childish Gambino wanted you to miss it. He wanted you to feel silly when you discovered that you had, and it's not just for giggles. In a span of 4 minutes and 4 seconds, Childish Gambino manages to fit in quite the ambitious theme, which is the current state of America, particularly in relation to the current state of the black community within America.
Now, I'm willing to bet that there are a few things that you did notice. You probably, for instance, were surprised when a man is executed within the first minute of the video. That surprise was intentional, too. If you're still confused as to what Childish Gambino's message is, here's a little hint: you aren't looking closely enough. No, that doesn't mean that the message is literally hidden within the video. It means that in general- in everyday life- America is not paying attention. Specifically, America is not paying attention to how racism, mistreatment, and corruption continue to impact the black community- yes, even today.
So, here are a few things that you may have missed in the video.
1. Childish Gambino's facial expressions and poses
When I say that Childish Gambino makes an entrance in this video, I mean that he makes an entrance. As the camera pans in on his figure, Gambino begins to dance, move, and make facial expressions in a memorable way.
One expression that is particularly notable is the when he widens his right eye, shutting the other and baring his teeth 40 seconds into the video. While this may at first seem amusing, there's a hidden message within it.
Many people have pointed out this expression is very similar to an expression made by a character, Uncle Ruckus, from the show The Boondocks, who is a black character that is depicted as being self-hating and racist towards other black characters. The hint at racism continues with Gambino's dancing in which he poses with his back bent and leg outstretched, which is very similar to a Jim Crow caricature, as pointed out by many twitter users
So, when I say that he makes an entrance, I mean that from the very start, Gambino is working to get his point across.
2. Repeated executions and gun violence
Another theme that is extremely prevalent in "This Is America" is the gun violence epidemic that exists within our country. Childish Gambino masterfully represents this theme in a variety of ways, including 2 prominent shooting scenes: the execution of a black man at the beginning of the video and the shooting of the black choir about 2 minutes into the video. This contrasts with some of the more hidden symbolism and references, as it's meant to take the audience by surprise. Even this, however, is intended, as it represents the fact that a lot of gun violence is not hidden in America, and yet we continue to ignore or become numb to it.
Moreover, Gambino uses the shooting within his video to reference historical events. For instance, the shooting of the black choir has been compared by many people to the Charleston shooting in 2015 of a predominantly black church. Through this, Gambino tackles 2 issues in 1- gun violence in general as well as the racially motivated gun violence that continue to plague the black community.
There are, however, a few hidden gems to find about violence within the video. For example, the background often features images of rioting as well as acts and symbolism of police brutality, which continue to represent the corrupt and violent state that we live in. There also features a scene about 2 and a half minutes into the video in which children are seen on their phones amid the violence occurring around them. This goes hand in hand with the continuous dancing of children to show how people, specifically children, have become numb to such violence. Thus, Gambino continues to make a statement on how such visible acts of violence go seemingly unnoticed within America.
3. Corruption of police
Police brutality, as well as the general mistrust and tension that exists between police and the black community, is also heavily prevalent in "This Is America". Throughout the video, there are scenes of police cars and police, many of which display a clear tension or otherwise outright battle between police and citizens. And if you remember the reference to Death, you'll notice that the figure comes from the side of the screen in which there is a police car, possibly hinting at the number of deaths within the black community that comes from police.
Some people also theorize that the first execution of a black man in the video is meant to reference the countless black men who have been executed by police, which is an issue that has gained a lot of momentum within recent years.
4. The "Sunken" Place and black stars
Perhaps one of the most striking visuals within Gambino's video is at the very end. As the music fades and becomes increasingly ominous, Gambino is seen running through a dark tunnel-like area as many people follow. The beginning of this scene is particularly reminiscent of "Get Out," a film which through equal genius, addresses similar racial themes.
The scene referenced in "Get Out" is that in which a black man is trapped within a "sunken" place and completely controlled by a white family, unable to escape or even fight back against their control. It is also a period in which, from the outside, the character may appear normal, but is chaotic and without control on the inside.
This is not only a statement to racial issues within America, but also to the lack of control or acknowledgment presented by Americans. Essentially, Childish Gambino could be stating that Americans in general, or otherwise the black community, are existing in a "sunken" place.
Now the next part is simply a theory of mine, though I haven't seen any others reference it, so I'm not sure how accurate it is. Gambino seems to cleverly references another complex theme within America, which is the use of large stars to mask the issues that exist within the black community.
While this appears to be more prevalent within the lyrics, there are also hints of large black stars, such as a zombie-like dance similar to Michael Jackson's "Thriller", within the video. At one point in the song, however, there is a repeated line, "Get your money, Black man." There is also a segment in which there are lines such as, "I'm on Gucci" and "I'm so pretty."
This could be hinting at the lavish lifestyles that are portrayed by black celebrities and how it may be misleading in the state of the black community in America. It's almost as if to say that there still exists a puppetry of sorts in which black celebrities are misused in an attempt to cover up issues- it's like saying, "Look how well this person is doing! Clearly, there is nothing wrong."
This could also extend into America in general. We spend so much time idolizing the successful people around us that we don't see the destruction in the background- much like you may not have noticed Death the first time you watched the video.
So, here is my statement to make: if you haven't watched "This Is America," please do. It is a very intelligently crafted piece that reflects many issues that need to be reflected on. Not only is it a good song in general, but it also carries many powerful messages and themes that cannot go ignored any longer. Childish Gambino has shown the world an incredible amount of thought and care which has resulted in an absolutely monumental song and video. And if you have watched the video, then it may be worthwhile to look again- and while you're at it, take another look at the world around you, as well.