When was the last time a music video condensed so many problems facing a minority group?
The entire internet was shocked at second 0:52 of Donald Glover’s music video “This Is America.” It happened when the rap song, which starts as a joyful mix of African choirs, hip-hop beats, and a black man playing the guitar, suddenly turns violent, dark, and disturbing as Glover pulls out a semi-automatic handgun and shoots the guitar player's covered head – and this is only the beginning of the song. Throughout the whole video, we see a mix of contradictions and satirical, cultural references approached from an ironic perspective that depicts the sad reality in which African-Americans are currently living in the United States.
Glover, an artist who uses the pseudonym of Childish Gambino, confronts the nation’s racial problems while fusing rap with different genres and elaborating a well-planned, thoughtful, and mind-blowing video. Every single detail of his music video captures America's conflict regarding race, while using references to American history, pop culture, and police brutality – all condensed in a four-minute-long video. It has already been viewed more that 40 million times on Youtube, and people are calling it “the best video you’ll see this year.”
What Glover wants us to reflect on
During the Obama administration, the Department of Justice issued a report where it acknowledged the excessive force and criminal tactics used by police officers on black people. However, this was nothing new to the black community, who have to deal with their lives being threatened on a daily basis by those who swore to protect them. The deaths of black people who have lost their lives at the hands of police officers have been made public thanks to videos filmed by witnesses who shared them on social media. From the settled case of Michael Brown in 2014, to the most recent shooting of a teen, Stephon Clark, in 2018, black people are overrepresented among those killed by police officers.
The many cases of excessive force on this community (caused by racial profiling and the police's racist stereotypes about African-Americans) have led to the creation and mobilization of movements like Black Lives Matter, which seek to raise awareness about this issue and remember the victims. Glover's video contributes to these movements by using his music and vision to make people think and talk about the issue.
How this video is relevant
As was mentioned before, every single dance move, lyric, and transition in the music video illustrates or captures the many factors that contribute to the nation's divide. For example, the case of Stephon Clark (killed by police officers who allegedly confused his cellphone for a gun) is portrayed with images of kids recording with their smart phones, while Glover raps: “This is a celly … That's a tool.” There are also other references, like the Charleston church shooting, which is shown when the rapper shoots a group of people from a gospel choir; the distinctive pose of Jim Crow, to represent segregation; and the iconic faces of Uncle Ruckus, a comic strip antagonist, to represent the denial of people's heritage. Here are some of the symbols that appear throughout “This is America.”
Childish Gambino posing as Jim Crow while shooting a black man with his head covered.
On the evening of June 17th, 2015, a white supremacist (Dylann Roof, in the photo on the right) murdered nine African-Americans in a church.
Stephon Clark was killed in his own backyard after police mistook him for a suspect. They fired 20 rounds at him.
People have taken to the streets all over the country to protest police brutality and the recent killings of African-Americans.
At the end of the music video, Gambino is chased by a mob of white supremacists.
“This is America” was first heard on a performance on Saturday Night Live on May 5th. The symbolic images of chaos, violence, and joyful dances, are a metaphor for the current crisis the nation is facing. Glover wishes to use his artistic talent to promote awareness about a dilemma that has been overlooked by the Trump administration. The recent incident that took the life of Clark, an innocent teen on March 2018 proves that there's still racial prejudice in the American judicial system, and it isn’t just killing members of the black community: it’s further splitting a nation that needs some deep healing.
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