Donald Glover - aka Childish Gambino - released the track and video for ‘This Is America’ over the weekend. Here’s why everyone is talking about it
If you fired up the Twitter machine at any point this weekend, you’ll have seen literally EVERYONE screaming and shouting about the new video from Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino. Called ‘This Is America,’ it’s already got more than 32 million views and it’s currently the number one trending video on YouTube.
What is the video?
The track, which Glover also performed on Saturday Night Live this weekend, and video are an explosion of violent choreography, gun warfare and American racism. It’s both stunning and frightening at the same time.
Who is Childish Gambino?
Donald Glover, 34, is a writer, actor and comedian who also performs under the name Childish Gambino. You’ll know him from the sitcoms 30 Rock and Community and his own TV show Atlanta. He’s also going to play Lando Calrissian in the upcoming Solo: A Star Wars Story.
As Childish Gambino, he’s released three albums and his 2016 song ‘Redbone’ received three Grammy Award nominations including for Record of the Year.
Basically, he’s a modern-day Renaissance man. He excels in everything he tries.
What are people saying about the video?
The song itself features background vocals by American rappers Young Thug, Slim Jxmmi, BlocBoy JB, 21 Savage, and Quavo, was written and produced by Glover and Ludwig Göransson, and switches between gospel, folk and dark trap sections as it progresses, with Glover using the triplet, ‘Migos flow’ style of rapping which has become popularised over the last few years.
Meanwhile, everyone from Janelle Monáe to Kanye West has been tweeting about the video, which was directed by frequent Glover collaborator Hiro Murai.
Glover’s been labelled a “genius” and the video’s been called “ground-breaking”.
What does it mean?
The video is absolutely packed with symbolism, from the references to Jim Crow - a caricature of a clumsy, dimwitted black slave which originated in the 1830s - to the running scenes from Get Out.
The creator of the TV show Dear White People, Justin Simien, posted a fascinating breakdown of how he interpreted the video. It’s well worth a read:
For the second time this year I've been shifted by @donaldglover's work. He forced me to confront the effects of consumerism on the lives of people of color in @AtlantaFX Robbin' Season; with Teddy Perkins still haunting me with the choice to either participate and brave the— Justin Simien (@JSim07) May 7, 2018
Should've known it was a trap from the beginning. The innocent appeal of a guitar against white, which draws, yes, Travon Martin's father to play. All the while someone (obscured by more whiteness) lies in wait. "We just wanna party. Party just for fun." pic.twitter.com/ESxF7xUOCV— Justin Simien (@JSim07) May 7, 2018
That someone being, as the net has deduced, is Jim Crow, who Gambino embodies with a combination of popular dance memes sporadically interrupted with bug eyes. Jim Crow returns to Travon's father with a gun. Our father's guitar is gone. His head shrouded in white. Spoiler alert. pic.twitter.com/qvEdUgVZyH— Justin Simien (@JSim07) May 7, 2018
Fitting because Jim Crow began as one of the first fits of white American culture to address it's former African slaves (and their descendants) at all. A minstrelsy mainstay played by white men in black face, and sometimes by black men in black face. "We just want the money."— Justin Simien (@JSim07) May 7, 2018
Jim Crow began as mere pop culture entertainment at the expense of America's freed slaves and became the means of their oppression. The term "Jim Crow" became so pejorative this country's apartheid separating Africans and their descendants from white Americans its name. pic.twitter.com/IEwLwfB2i4— Justin Simien (@JSim07) May 7, 2018
But this is America, Gambino tells us. It's brutal, but either you participate in the space American culture has allotted you (even if only to play Jim Crow as many black entertainers have and continue to do since the country's founding) or you perish. pic.twitter.com/aEC2s7qdSm— Justin Simien (@JSim07) May 7, 2018
That participation may include the misleading of impressionable black youth along with outright brutality against other black people. It may even result in our attention spans (articulated through razor thin depth of field) being distracted from the suicidal mayhem around us. pic.twitter.com/K7C5U6chc1— Justin Simien (@JSim07) May 7, 2018
And on Twitter, one commenter pointed out how the video could be making further statements about suicide and celebrity culture.
also to add on, the kids follow his every moves. this is what is happening with our younger generations. someone famous does something, they all follow. someone already pointed this out I’m pretty sure but— iris (@siriouslyyy) May 7, 2018
‘This Is America’ seems to reflect the apparent conflict in Glover’s career as both a comedic genius and as a producer of some of the most searing critiques of American life.
It’s also a shocking, unvarnished confrontation of the violence rooted in American life and the way American racism treats black bodies.
Simply superb stuff.
- If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, reach out to charities like Samaritans or Mind.
(Images: Childish Gambino / This is America / Getty)