Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” Video: The Complex Symbolism Explained
The video, directed by Hiro Murai, begins with African-sung melodies and shows Calvin the Second playing guitar, who has a striking resemblance to Trayvon Martin’s father, in the opening scene of the video is shot in the back of the head by Glover. Martin an unarmed black teenager was shot to death in Florida in 2012 by George Zimmerman.
Cats out of the bag! Catch me in @childishgambino’s music video for his song “This Is America” (it’s a bit graphic, so don’t necessarily let your kids see it though ) Got the call from one of my agents while up at Coachella that they wanted me for the shoot on Sunday, drove down and got to be a part of history. #ThisIsAmerica #Childish Gambino #DonaldGlover #Atlanta #Music #Musicvideo #guns #gun
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Throughout the video, Gambino shows America’s love of guns. Every time Gambino shoots it’s quickly handed off to someone else in a red cloth. Many viewers see this as a readiness to protect gun rights over human rights. It also shows how quickly gun violence is passed off and a blame game ensues. In one of the most alarming scenes of the video, Gambino shoots up a choir referencing the Charleston church mass shooting in 2015.
Everything in the background should be in the forefront, including when a man jumps to his death at the 2 minutes 13 second mark. As chaos runs rampant in the background, Gambino smiles and dances in the forefront, showing how the most aching acts, murder, suicide, mental illness, gun violence is ignored and normalized.
No one caught the fact that at 2:13, a man jumps to his death. It shows how we don’t care about suicide in America, yet are all in when it’s a dance/trend. This Is America. #thisisamerica @donaldglover pic.twitter.com/OXhFMUjX6V
— iris (@siriouslyyy) May 7, 2018
“This is a celly, that’s a tool,” Gambino raps. In another scene, black teenagers use their cellphones to record the pandemonium as their mouths are covered by white masks. Some viewers might describe this as an upsurge in viral videos documenting racism and police brutality.
Childish Gambino’s overall look, bearded, shirtless and in trousers, a throwback to the ‘70s has many variations on symbolism. This look has been compared to Nigerian musician Fela Kuti. A civil rights activist, Michael Skolnik tweeted, “Fela Kuti reverberates in Childish Gambino’s body in This Is America. It is art at its highest form. Still in awe.” Some compared his pants and shoes to that of the Confederate army.
— n o e l l e (@the_tumblebug) May 7, 2018
— n o e l l e (@the_tumblebug) May 7, 2018
Glover left watchers shook as he posed before shooting a seated man with a bag over his head. Dear White People filmmaker Justin Simien sang praise about the video. “Jim Crow began as one of the first fits of white American culture to address its former African slaves (and their descendants) at all,” Simien wrote. “A minstrelsy mainstay played by white men in black face, and sometimes by black men in black face.”
Simien went on to say that Jim Crow began as pop culture entertainment at the expense of freed slaves and became their oppression. The character’s name, Jim Crow, was eventually lent to laws enforcing racial segregation in the U.S.
— Mocha_Doll (@NaiyaDuckett) May 7, 2018
Childish Gambino also gives a nod to Jordan Peele’s 2017 film Get Out as he ends the video with him hauntingly running. It reminded many people of “the Sunken Place” in the film, which is the mental space where the main character Chris goes after he’s been brainwashed, unable to control his body, representing marginalization. Daniel Kaluuya, who played Chris in Get Out, introduced Childish Gambino’s performance of “This Is America” on Saturday Night Live.
Other notable mentions of symbolism are the video location – an all-white warehouse where the beans, the foundation is systemically white often compared with the country’s founding. R&B singer SZA also makes an appearance, her hairstyle has been compared to the crown of the Statue of Liberty. The video as a whole is one that illuminated symbolism from beginning to end and has messages and subtleties intertwined with history, race along with the past and present of this country.
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