One of the modern era’s most unconventional yet impactful protest songs, “This is America” by Donald Glover, aka, Childish Gambino suggests a story of blood-soaked redemption and torment. As playful as it sounds, the track steers one down into the dark interiors of American politics and leaves the listener waiting for the next truth to sprout. Hiro Murai, the director of the music video, has managed to incorporate complex visuals and meanings with Gambino’s song’s rhythms.
THE FIRST GUNSHOT
The song starts with a visual of a guitarist strumming and a gospel choir singing in chorus, representing the long music and art tradition of the African-American community. Within the first minute, Gambino is seen pulling the trigger on the guitarist, who is tied up with a headcover. At this very moment, the beat shifts abruptly, and the music takes a more aggressive tone with a prominent bass line hitting us with lower frequencies and opening us to a wide array of forthcoming ideas. This also highlights the raw and hauntingly spiritual lyrics of the chorus,
This is America
Don’t catch you slippin’ now
Look at how I’m livin’ now
Look what I’m whippin’ now
Police be trippin’ now
Gambino is trying to highlight the prevalence of gun violence in America or even the numerous instances of police brutality. However, even more, interesting is that while shooting, Gambino’s body is contorting into a pose reminiscent of the old Jim Crow caricature based on the racist ‘imitation’ and mockery of African-American people.
Additionally, a schoolboy is seen bringing a red cloth for Gambino to place his gun on after he shoots the man. This represents the simple yet grievous thought that guns are treated with more respect than human lives.
GAMBINO DANCING AMONG SCHOOL CHILDREN AMID VIOLENCE
Two contrasting videos are playing simultaneously within the purview of the actual video. In the foreground, we see Gambino and many school kids perform popular dances like the “shoot” and the “Roy Purdy dance,” while in the background, we see havoc and devastation, like burning cars and falling bodies and raging crowds. The focus is on Gambino performing entertaining trends representing how social media blinds people from the real problems they face and how ignorance is causing bliss.
More specifically, the explosion of the police car may be a reference to the uprisings in some American cities like Baltimore when some African-American people were deceased in various police brutality episodes, and some protestors set police cars on fire.
THE GUNNED DOWN CHOIR
Representing one of the most significant and impactful visuals of the entire music video is the church choir shooting massacre wherein the choir is singing enthusiastically in a very happy tone before Gambino rifles them down. The warehouse takes a turn of pure chaos and smoke, as Gambino insists, “This Is America” at the junction of abrupt change in the music once again.
This recalls the 2015 Charleston shooting in which white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine African Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Gambino is extremely vocal through these killings and demonstrates the ruthless history of silencing African-Americans and their artistic and cultural contributions to American society.
What makes this song particularly unorthodox is that, although it’s imbued with a political slant, it’s not a song of resistance envisioning a clear villain or threat and rather gives us a multitude. It makes us glide down a trip of historical sacrifices and injustice, making us aware and embedding in us a trove of questions to which there are no solutions or paths forward.
“This is America” ends the way it begins – with ruins, pain, and blood.
Written by Abhineet Kashyap for MTTN
Edited by Kriti Gopal for MTTN
Featured image by Adam Howard
Artwork by Kavion Robinson, Jon Moody