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Review: Childish Gambino’s “This is America” music video

Sky Barratt, Staff Writer

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WARNING: This music video contains language and images of graphic violence.

I can only review this music video from an outsiders’ position as I am a middle class white woman and don’t fully experience the events that take place in this video. It’s not designed for my culture to critique or to examine for its validity, rather it is something for me and other white people to learn from and seek to make changes. So, here is my evaluation from such a perspective that does not critique the video or go into depth regarding the metaphors. While I can appreciate them, I can not portray the emotions that are supposed to be felt by them. I’ll present a small summary of the video and then give a short excerpt of my opinion on the video.

The scene opens on a chair where an upright guitar has taken residence, inside of a seemingly empty warehouse. A man enters from the right side of the screen and picks up the guitar, sitting in the chair and strumming along to an African-style beat. The camera pans around a pillar to a black man in Confederate army pants, his back to us.

“We just wanna party, party just for you. We just want the money, money just for you,” disembodied voices sing cheerfully in the background to an upbeat tune. The man turns around to reveal Donald Glover, A.K.A. Childish Gambino, the songs author and singer. Glover dances slowly towards the man in the guitar who now has a bag tied over his head. Glover comes up behind him and pulls a gun out from behind his back, seamlessly contorts his body into an image reminiscent of the original Jim Crow poster, and shoots the man through the head.

The beat drops and the cheerful music quickly dies off.

“This is America. Don’t catch you slippin’ up,” Glover sings as a man in pressed khakis and a collared shirt runs up and carefully grabs the gun with a cloth before running off the edge of the screen.

The dead body is grabbed by two men and dragged away by the arms.

The video continues in a similar vein, initially appearing as a typical upbeat rap music video. Eerily, as Glover and teens in school uniforms dance at the front, distracting from the  background, unsettling images remind the audience of the real point. It’s all there in the title, “This Is America”. Gambino is using his position as an influencer to highlight the issues he sees in America in 2018.

The video is quite frankly a piece of modern art. Rarely have I seen a music video that requires watching ten times over to catch each poignant, politically-charged and metaphorical detail that paints a tragic and heartbreaking scene of not only black America, but the brokenness of America as a whole.

The video speaks on police violence, the VIP treatment of guns over people, the realities of being black in America, and the facade that the country as a whole puts up. All of this is portrayed in a piece of political artwork so unique and outstanding that there is nothing I can compare it to. The scene it depicts is so rooted in truth, stepping away from the Lamborghinis and Ferraris seen in most rap videos. It’s full of hidden gems of metaphor- such as the pale horse of death in the background or SZA as Lady Liberty towards the end of the video- that one can’t take in all in one viewing. It takes several views to look away from the happy dancers and see what’s really going on.

And that’s exactly the point.

I believe the “This is America” music video is one that will shape and define music videos from here on out, a ruler they can all be measured against. When someone has a platform such as Donald Glover does, using it to make a difference or to relate to a group of people is important. In such a broken world, taking steps to unite it, no matter how that looks based on your beliefs, is exactly what God has called to do.

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