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This Is America: 8 key moments from Donald Glover/Childish Gambino's explosive music video explained

It’s set to go down in pop culture history.

IF YOU HAVE yet to see Childish Gambino’s powerful video for his new single, This is America, you need to now.

Source: ChildishGambinoVEVO/YouTube

The incendiary single has exploded into pop culture since being released last week, amassing over 117 million views and holding the No.1 spot on Spotify’s Global Chart.

Donald Glover has been juggling as an actor, writer and singer for over a decade. His big break came in 2016 with Atlanta, the Golden Globe and Emmy Award winning series he created, starred in and occasionally directed.

Yeah, he’s a pretty impressive guy. And, all this whilst becoming a father twice in two years.

Source: Ian West

Glover, whose musical stage-name is Childish Gambino, hosted Saturday Night Live last week and debuted his single This Is America. His performance was a hit.

But the song’s video – cleverly released that night -  quickly overtook all chatter about SNL, becoming one of the most talked about pop culture moments of the year of so far.

Glover was asked pointblank in an interview  last week: “What’s the message behind your most recent video?, to which he replied ‘That’s not for me to say’.

So that’s where we step in.

In the era of #BlackLivesMatter, there is an ongoing major discussion about how Black Americans are treated and represented in modern day America. Along with Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé, Gambino is joining a long list of artists who are using their art to create a social commentary.

1. Gambino’s dancing

The video begins in an empty warehouse, where a black man sits down and begins to strum a guitar, as an Afrobeat folk-inspired melody plays.

The camera moves slowly so that our gaze rests on Childish Gambino’s bare torso.

Source: RCA Wolf + Rothstein

He dances in a manner that causes his body to flow between looking alluringly sexy and disturbingly manic.

For anyone who has been on a J1 to California (or perhaps any big American city), you might understand how Glover’s crazed facial expression reminded me of the many ‘crazy homeless’ you see on the street, and how a disproportionate amount are black.

Source: RCA/ Wolf + Rothstein

It was only through reading other articles that I saw that his dancing was meant to be reminiscent of a character that is well known to Americans: Jim Crow. History students might recall ‘Jim Crow’ laws, which made segregation legal.

Jim Crow references a ‘minstrel’ or ‘blackface’ character.

A white man, Thomas Dartmouth, came up with the character by using ‘black face’ and impersonating a real life man called Jim Crow, who was a physically disabled African-American slave. He used the African-American vernacular and dance to create a mentally-inept caricature of a Black man.

Dartmouth was using Black culture as a means of ridicule and financial gain.

Source: RCA/Wolf + Rothstein

The character Donald Glover plays is Jim Crow, representing the first time that Black culture was commercialised for the white masses. He’s trying to show the long history of White entertainers stealing from Black culture. The classic example of Elvis Presley becoming known as the ‘father’ of Rock n Roll, despite it being created by African-Americans.

Today, Iggy Azalea is accused of being ‘rap’s best drag queen‘.

Many Irish ballads reflect the pain of treatment under British colonization. How would we feel if the British had used our genre of music for their own commercial gain, without acknowledging how our music inspired them, and whilst simultaneously stereotyping and belittling Irish culture?

Source: RCA Wolf + Rothstein

Childish Gambino’s dancing is abruptly stopped when he uses a gun to shoot dead the guitar player.

2. How the gun is treated versus the body

There is a jarring contrast between the treatment of the dead body, and the gun which fired the execution shot. An eager young boy darts forward, head bowed slightly, holding a red velvety cloth which he encloses around the gun that Gambino hands him.

Meanwhile, the body is dragged away by its arms, leaving a trail of blood smeared on the concrete ground.

The gun is treated with more sacredness than a body.

Source: @thelocalemo/twitter.com

The music’s tempo, which had changed with the gun going off, is disturbingly upbeat as Childish Gambino opens his rap with ‘This is America’. Glover is commenting that for Black Americans, America is unexpectedly violent towards them.

To be flippant, it’s reminiscent of  Luke sucker-punching Ryan in The O.C and muttering the iconic ‘Welcome to the O.C’. Outsiders are not welcome.

welcome to the oc Source: Warner Bros

3. Childish Gambino’s outfit

Glover wears Confederate-style army trousers throughout the video. The Confederates were the side who fought to keep slavery legal in the southern American states.

The Confederates lost, but Confederate flags continue to be flown in southern states, used as bumper stickers or displayed on clothing.

Source: @boolin_metro/twitter.com

The trousers symbolise that there are millions of Americans who every day display the flag that represents America’s colonial history of owning Black humans as personal slaves.

4. What the Choir means

This scene is transparent if you’ve been following news coverage of racially charged violence in America in recent times.

Source: RCA/Wolf + Rothstein

An all-black choir sings joyfully, and Glover dances to their beat, until he is handed a rifle and turns around to murder the group. The gruesome killing of the choir represents the 2015 Charleston Church shooting, where 10 black Americans in South Carolina were murdered by a 21 year old White man.

The White shooter walked away unscathed, just as Glover does.

5. Stephon Clark Murder

It’s believed that the March 2018 killing of Stephon Clark by police, who mistook his cell phone for a gun, is referenced in the lyrics:

this is a celly (ha)/that’s a tool (yeah)

The lyrics have a double meaning: first by using the slang ‘celly’ to mean cellphone and ‘tool’ to mean ‘gun’, which references the police believing that Stephon Clark was carrying a gun. In reality, he was carrying his iPhone.

Source: RCA/Wolf + Rothstein

The camera pans to young people holding cellphones in what looks like a prison, so ‘celly’ could also mean a ‘prison cell’ which is used as ‘tool’ by the American government to imprison Black people in the prison-industrial complex.

For more on this, see the phenomenal documentary 13th by Ava DuVernay on Netflix.

6. Get Out reference

For anyone who’s seen Jordan Peele’s Oscar-nominated film, Get Out, the link between the two is apparent. Childish Gambino runs for his life as he is chased by white people.

Source: @thelocalemo/twitter.com

The wide, frightened, bulging eyes of Childish Gambino and of Get Out’s main character are eerily similar. Both have realised that they are part of a system, that they cannot get out of.

This is America, welcome, bish!

Source: Universal pictures

7. Dancing as distraction

After each bloody execution, Glover immediately breaks into dance. As a viewer, watching Glover switch from killing to dancing joyfully, with schoolchildren joining, makes for uncomfortable viewing.

We are distracted from the murders by looking at the entertaining and infectious dancing.

Source: RCA Wolf + Rothstein

Over thirty years ago, educator Neil Postman wrote a book called ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’, where he discussed how people were medicating themselves into bliss which results in them voluntarily sacrificing their rights. He highlighted how ‘talking hairdos’ on television news shows could not be taken seriously. If we only went by print media, and not television, would the ‘walking hairdo’ that is Donald Trump have been elected?

The link here is that we are distracted by what we see in popular culture, be it on television, computers, and increasingly our phones.

Before our brains have time to understand what we’ve witnessed, we are on to the next image on our phones.

Source: RCA Wolf + Rothstein

The dancing distracts from the rioting that is ongoing in the background signifying how America continues to ignore the social problems and frustrations that Black Americans face.

Glover, along with other black entertainers like Beyoncé, acknowledge that as entertainers they distract from the reality of life in America.

Their art can be used to draw attention to the reality of their fellow black Americans who are suffering because of living in a racist state with a legacy of colonialism. Other entertainers, like Kanye, have embraced their success without question, and don’t see a need to use their position to help those that are left behind in the racist and capitalist system we live in.

8. SZA

So now that you’re up to speed or ‘woke’, I thought I’d distract you and draw your attention to the amazing goddess that is SZA, who features in the video in the bottom right of this scene.

Source: RCA/Wolf + Rothstein

She released a snippet of the video for her latest single on her Instagram yesterday, and it’s set to star…Donald Glover.

DailyEdge is on Instagram!

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