Childish Gambino’s This Is America is truly a piece of art. For those who haven’t watched it, the music video is a social commentary on gun violence, racism and police brutality in America, and among other things, being a black rapper and living up to the stereotypes/expectations, the effects of social media, and black culture. Gambino shoots singers, dances manically with high-schoolers, and eventually runs away from cops that chase after him. As the video is ambiguous, surreal, open-ended, I think it would be interesting to evaluate some of the Easter eggs in the video and explore what they signify.
So, here are some of the theories hashed out:
In the opening scenes, Glover dons grotesque smiles and pops his hips out when he shoots the man. This exaggerated pose has many believing that Glover is mimicking Jim Crow, a theatre character by Thomas D. Rice and an ethnic depiction in accordance with contemporary Caucasian ideas of African-Americans and their culture. The resemblance is uncanny and although I find this theory very interesting, I’m not sure why he would want to invoke Jim Crow’s caricature in his video. Comment down below what you think!
What’s with all the dancing?
Many people were quick to notice that Gambino and his posse of students were posing many dance moves throughout the video. Some believed that it was slightly insensitive and distracting because it was curtailing the main topic of the video – gun violence. Few theorized that the dance moves’ main purpose was to distract the audience from the all craziness and chaos in the background. With the trendy dance movies literally picked out from pop-culture, I think Gambino is mocking the way in which everyone is immaturely handling the gun violence debate.
Look how I’m geekin’ out (hey)
I’m so fitted (I’m so fitted, woo)
I’m on Gucci (I’m on Gucci)
I’m so pretty (yeah, yeah)
I’m gon’ get it (ayy, I’m gon’ get it)
Watch me move (blaow)
This a celly (ha)
That’s a tool (yeah)
On my Kodak (woo, Black)
These lines support this idea, as well. The repetition of “I’m” makes Gambino seem vain and self-centered. Moreover, he constantly seems to assert that he is cool to the point where the audience realizes he is insecure about this particular trait. It’s almost like Gambino is so interested in being cool and trendy that he forgets about the real issues at hand like high-schoolers having to deal with gun violence issues in their own lives. This contrast may also allude to the cyclical shifts in mood whenever there is a shooting in America— one second, the entire nation is in an uproar, but the next, they are happy and unconcerned, placated by pop culture trends like the dance movies.
The video’s choreographer, Sherrie Silver, retweeted a comment, perhaps in agreement, from someone who argued:
Childish Gambino’s dance moves distracted all of us from the craziness that was happening in the background of the video & that’s exactly the point he’s trying to make.
What about the guns?
The video opens with Glover’s character executing an innocent black man with a gun. Many viewers commented on the fact that the gun used in the murder was treated with more care and attention than the dead bodies, which are left out in the open. Additionally, the video portrays that gun violence is happening everywhere, all the time, yet people are numb to it and distracted from it.
I also found the scene with the gospel quite interesting. In it, an all-black church choir are happily singing and worshipping until Glover shoots them all in the matter of a second. The urgency of his actions coupled with his nonchalant expression mock the seriousness of the issue. Many have recognized this as a reenactment of the Charleston shooting in June 2015, when a white supremacist murdered nine African Americans in a church. Once again, the gun is handled with special care while the bodies just lie there.
Social Media? NO.
At one point in the video, the camera pans over a group of kids who are watching the violence go on from a balcony and are documenting it on their phones. Meanwhile, their mouths are covered with cloth, and they remain utterly silent. What is surprising is that these kids who are barely teenagers take all of the violence and chaos in without any changes in expression. Their nonchalance shows how people witnessing murders, inequality, racism, and violence, are willing to document it for the sake of views without speaking up and actually taking action. Sitting on the balcony suggests they have the power to get help as they are above the mess, instead they choose to surveil the surroundings blithely.
I think one of the main reasons that this video went viral (obviously after Fortnite because Fortnite is the best and no one can compete with that…) was because Gambino left many hidden messages in the video rather than explicitly sharing his opinion on the gun violence debate. As a result, many fans were willing to watch the video multiple times to catch all of the messages in an attempt to fully grasp its impact and meaning. Not only was the audience challenged by the video, but it also forced them to reflect on their own stance on gun violence. Brimming with commentary on polarizing issues in America really drew in the audience and piqued their curiosity. It reminds me of something John Krasinski said during an interview for A Quiet Place, his latest directorial debut.
Audiences are very, very, very smart. They want to be challenged, and go on a ride with you, and not be told everything.
I think Gambino lived up to this quote. He did exactly that. His video wasn’t so much self-explanatory as it was contemplative and thought-provoking. He deliberately left small message and made references to other literary characters, forcing readers to “earn” the meaning of the video rather than directly handing it to them. (You can check out Krasinski’s interview here. If you are pursuing film studies, I highly recommend it.)
Also, check out what other people think: