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Childish Gambino’s song “This Is America” has been a subject of controversy since its May 2018 release. Its shock value and the coded imagery challenges viewers to understand it. It interest readers to decode the meaning behind the explicit and shocking dances with the scene that occurs throughout the background of the entire video. The music video uses popular culture to address the ongoing and deeply-ingrained issues surrounding race. It integrates South African influences, and the clothing is culturally ambiguous. There is a cry against gun violence, the stereotyping of the black-American community, and how death is normalized in America. The video foregrounds the racial discrimination against the African American race and highlights the violence that police and African Americans go through. The Post and Courier had mixed reactions to the depicted violence. Their criticism rose on the overuse of “traumatic violence against black people to convey an artistic message.” Many writers, such as Anupa Mistry and Sonia Rao, have attempted to interpret the meaning and purpose of this video in today’s political context. Mistry believes the video itself has to do with gun violence in America and structural racism that has lead people to label the African American community as violent and chaotic. The video brings forth the oppression of African Americans, gun violence, and our blindness to distractions.
The video acknowledges Childish Gambino shirtless, his contorts in his face, and shape is
reminiscent of Jim Crow cartoons. We look at him and ignore the reality of the situation he challenges. When he runs from the police at the end of the video, it illustrates how the African American community is in the constant struggle with being criticized and in fear. The video serves as an example of how we digest media. It’s supposed to reflect on society by primarily focusing the camera on Gambino himself. It was produced so that its viewers pay more attention to the dancing choreography than the actual chaos that is going on behind him. Washington Post writer Rao comments, “Glover’s erratic dancing, choreographed by Sherrie Silver, distracts from everything happening in the background throughout the video.” (Rao) This demonstrates how everyone in America is blinded by what is happening in real life. We don’t pay close attention to the fact that we live in a world of violence and racism. In addition to this, Rao also comments that “The camera quickly glides past young people with their phones while glover sings, ‘This a celly, that’s a tool.'” (Ministry) This points out how cell phones are being used as a tool for social media purposes. We tend to pull out our phones on any occasion record incidents rather than helping out. By doing so, society starts to ignore the problem by not helping, therefore the reason why dancing and such was set to be a whole distraction. There are several cases where people could have saved a person’s life or stopped someone from inflicting pain on another person. But, we choose to stand there and do nothing but post it on social media for everyone to see. We primarily watch and record while the violence that happens. The video displays what the African American community goes through on their daily lives. Around the two minute mark, childish Gambino states, “watch me move” (Ministry 1), while cops are chasing people in the background. It shows the police running with their batons in the air chasing black men. Police brutality going against African Americans has been an ongoing issue that affects the United States. The police are mistreating African Americans due to the color of their skin. Glover points out the racism by using African Americans throughout his video. He establishes, “Imma go into this” (Ministry ), referring to the fact that he is fed up with the police brutality and racism. Ministry claims, “The brutality heightens the surreal nature of the four-minute piece, which alternates between tableaus and careening like a live-action Caravaggio painting.” This conveys how people are running around, causing riots, and the cops are chasing after them because it is their job.
Additionally, she also claims, “The video specifically references the needless deaths of black Americans, including the victims of 2015’s Charleston church massacre at the hands of a domestic terrorist, and trigger-happy police officers” (Rao 1). Police brutality relates to Glover when he shoots down a church quire in the video. This is a representation closely related to the police brutality in being that they were “trigger happy” and just shooting to shoot.
Lastly, it is demonstrated how gun violence was the primary focus throughout the entire video. You can count that he shoots and kills a total of 11 black people. This illustrates how easy it is in the United States or anywhere in general to kill somebody. This stirs problems with gun violence in America, which has been an ongoing debate on whether they should be banned. Rao from the Washington Post points out, “Glover’s character, who appears to represent how white American culture oppresses black people, periodically kills innocent performers” (Rao 1). She remarks on this to demonstrate how innocent people are killed. For example, Trayvon Martin, whose life was taken by Zimerman who had a gun. As Mistry comments in this respect, “Over the past few years, it’s become impossible to ignore the body count amassed by explicit and structural racism toward black people in the United States and beyond.” (Ministry 1) We countlessly see so many deaths due to a gun and still haven’t made a difference. Glover was trying to give a visual aid to show that what is happening is real. He wants to snap people back into reality to see that guns are a big issue in the United States.
In conclusion, Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” demonstrates the importance of videos and how it should not be underestimated. We need more videos like this that shake us and explain the reality that we live in. Caulfield points out that Beyoncé’s Grammy-nominated Formation was the No. 1 hit on Billboard’s top 100 and Twitter Trending 140 Chart. He was able to highlight that Beyonce is the one who is empowered. She illustrated her cultural identity and didn’t care if you don’t like it. It mentions where she comes from and how her heritage has formed her in the woman she is today. Both songs appear to pull us towards the motivation behind the Black Lives Matter campaign and display that it is more than just a politicized event. Therefore having songs and music videos that shine on current events such as “This is America,” will get people to make a change. For those who are blinded, it will open there eyes to see what America has come to. This could be an awakening so that the community will see that oppression is still present, police brutality needs to be stopped, and the guns need to be regulated. This video was put on to show the controversy that is still around today.
- “This Is America is a brutal and necessary look at black death.” Globe & Mail [Toronto, Canada], 14 May 2018, p. A15. World History in Context, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A538505669/GPS?u=mstc4680&sid=GPS&xid=9ad0b4e0. Accessed 3 Aug. 2018.
- Rao, Sonia. “Analysis | ‘This Is America’: Breaking down Childish Gambino’s Powerful New Music Video.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 9 May 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2018/05/07/this-is-america-breaking-
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