June 30, 2019
In order too fully grasp Donald Glover or other known as Childish Gambino’s latest song “This Is America”, you will have to watch the music video more than once. As Jacques Morel describes as “in searching for more symbolism, you might miss a major part the lyrics”. This song was released on May 6th, 2018, produced by Ludwig Göransson and Childish Gambino. The director for this music video was none other than Hiro Murai, who is a Japanese filmmaker based in Los Angeles, who also won a third-party award for “Best Director” for filming Gambino’s “This Is America”. This music video is very special to our society because when you first watch it you realize how powerful it actually is. Then not until you’ve watched it and listen very closely to the lyrics do you realize this is a historic event. The music video is dropping political and cultural turmoil, Gambino appears to be a commentator within the video itself speaking towards black life in America and American culture as a whole.
Gambino’s perspective on popular culture’s perception of black experience and “often brutal reality by juxtaposing happy, carefree choruses and dark, aggressive verses” (Morel). In the very first scene of “This Is America” Gambino is wearing old confederate overalls and stands in a Jim Crow Law posture after shooting a male black man in the head for simply playing the guitar. Symbolizing that in America if you’re black you can be perfectly fine one minute, the next you’re being gunned downed for no apparent reason. When Gambino posed in a Jim Crow Law posture this is a reference in minstrel shows in the late ’80s and 1900 (Genius). The reference is this when white male actors would perform in blackface and would act out black stereotypes. I believe here in this segment Gambino is trying to argue that in today’s world white Americans are still in a way wearing that blackface. When a white male gets gunned down by officers they will typically put on that so-called “blackface” and try to play their role as when innocent black males are killed by officers of the law and nothing is done about it. This was very captivating for viewers because so much is going on throughout the video the only possible way to inhale everything that is being shown to you. The only way to fully grasp this concept is if you go frame by frame and see everything that is being portrayed thought out the video.
Throughout the music video, there is so many cultural viral messages and dances going on throughout all the chaos, which was intended by Choreographer Sherrie Silver. Silver intentionally put these dances in the music video to distract the viewer of the violence and madness going on around Gambino. Which symbolizes violence in America that within that violence we try and brush it underneath the rug with a viral dance or something that is going viral at the time to distract us from what’s actually going on. Genius interviewed Silver and she had this to say about the choreographed scene of Gambino dancing just after being fired at by police officers. Silver says. “This is what it’s like, Gambino’s video seems to say, to be black in America—at any given time, by vulnerable to joy or to destruction”. Which is rightfully so, because this is truly what we see on television. A young boy minding his business walking home then the next. Gone. Because someone thought he was “suspicious looking”. On one specific dance Silver wanted to implement within the music video was the “Gwara Gwara” which originated in South Africa. This particular dance shows the racisms in America and South Africa apartheid. Silver tells Genius that these dances were targeted to specify “a method of survival toward black culture and that America has a tendency to applaud for black culture and cruelty while turning their backs to the issues they face”.
Whether the dancing is to numb the pain, gain followers on social media, or simply survive Gambino’s movements are a literal and figurative distraction from the chaos behind him. The gun violence within this music video is very much an explicit take on gun violence in America. The elements of the video that shock you aren’t just the viral dances and stereotypic movements. But the gun shootings throughout the entire music video. The murders are indicators of modern-day American gun violence. The second verse “Get your money, Black man. This is America Don’t catch you slippin’ now Don’t catch you slippin’ now” (Genius). These lyrics are being performed by a church choir as soon as they stop singing, Gambino’s character shoots them all down. It is impossible to not be drawn to parallels with the Charleston Church shootings which were found to be racially motivated (Morel). Charleston church was a mass shooting who was initiated by Dylann Roof, 21-year-old white supremacists. He murdered nine “African Americans during a prayer service at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, June 17, 2015” (Morel). After each shooting scene was down Gambino handles each gun after each shooting exactly the same. Wrapping it in red cloth with care. Symbolizing how Red America values guns over human lives.
“And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and the name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him” (Revelation 6:8). This exact text from the Bible was implemented into the music video. Gambino is not only taking political aspects, gun violence, society events, but goes even further to throw biblical symbolism into the video. In one scene Gambino is dancing with a group of children and for a few seconds in the background appears a pale horse with a rider dressed in all black as a police car followed. Interpreted by the bible this particular event is symbolizing the upcoming of the apocalypse. A pale horse with a rider clothed in all black symbolizing Death. The police car following the rider is symbolizing Hell. This scene, in particular, is overall symbolizing
Gambino’s audience is simple. He is targeting all Americans, to let us visually understand that these events in our era right now that are still going on and need to be dealt with but really aren’t being dealt with. This music video uses all three of Aristotle’s Rhetorical Triangle, hitting the viewer with Pathos when Gambino shows them the imagery of the shootings throughout the music video and impactful stories about shootings throughout the last decade. Following close by with the Logos of the music video which is having the cold hard evidence to back up the Pathos influences. Lastly, Gambino’s main intention seems to be Ethos. Meaning the reputation that America has on these sorts of events and problems throughout society. America tends to brush these life-changing events underneath the rug. Gambino understands this and is trying to show the world with this music video that these things are very still happening. America’s reputation and pride are too high to even address it nationally which is why we are always keeping these tragic events from ever blowing up nationally. We hear of them in the news and we tell ourselves “wow that’s so sad”, but what is actually being done besides the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Overall Gambino’s message is our own interpretation because in an interview with Genius when asked about the music videos meaning, he flat out refused to discuss the music video at all. We know the Logos and Ethos he is using throughout the music video which tells us this is his very own interpretation of America, but it’s getting worse.
Morel, Jacques. “Childish Gambino – This Is America.” Genius, 6 May 2018, genius.com/Childish-gambino-this-is-america-lyrics.
“Childish Gambino Collaborator Ludwig Göransson Says ‘This Is America’ Took Two Years To Finish.” Genius, genius.com/a/childish-gambino-collaborator-ludwig-goransson-says-this-is-america-took-two-years-to-finish.
THE HOLY BIBLE: NEW STANDARD VERSION. Bible. Oxf. U.