Race, gun violence and U.S. culture are explored in recording artist Childish Gambino’s “This is America” music video, which has gone viral. The video has garnered more than 74 million views on YouTube since it was released on Saturday and the buzz continues to grow.
Childish Gambino is the musical stage name of actor Donald Glover, who is also the creator and star of the hit FX show “Atlanta.” He uses artistry and symbolism scene by scene to express the truth about America from its past to its present.
In the opening scene, his dance movements and facial gestures may be mimicking the racial caricatures of the Jim Crow era, also a time where Blacks were lynched demonstrated when Childish Gambino shoots a Black man in the head. From there, he ushers viewers to another incident of gun violence, most poignantly murdering a Black gospel choir.
Some have pointed out on social media the scene represents the massacre of Black church members in Charleston, S.C. After both murder scenes, Childish Gambino hands over the weapon to a man who meticulously handles it with care. Is the weapon more valuable than the Black bodies it kills
Insider offers a good analysis of the hidden messages of “This is America.”
Ibra Ake, a writer for “Atlanta” and creative director for Childish Gambino, opened up about the video in an interview with Tanzina Vega, host of WNYC’s “The Takeaway,” on Tuesday. Ake confirmed the references to Jim Crow, as well as the dance moves as an ode to Nigerian music legend Fela Kuti.
“We try to make stuff in a vacuum in a way where we’re not influenced by what was made before us, which usually in the media specifically comes from a white world and a white infrastructure,” he said.
“We reduced it to a feeling a very Black feeling, a very violent feeling, but also a very fun feeling.”
In the video, which has more than 250,000 comments on his YouTube channel that has more than 2 million subscribers, a shirtless Childish Gambino dances with Black school children as chaos, including imagery of police violence, ensues all around them.
Our goal is to normalize Blackness,” Ake said. “This is how we would like to dance, but we have to be aware of the danger and the politics of how we’re perceived and the implications of the history of how we were treated.
“There’s all this math you’re constantly doing expressing yourself. We’re trying to not have to explain ourselves to others and just exist, and not censor what our existence looks like as people.”
At the end of the video, Childish Gambino runs down a dark hallway, using facial expressions reminiscent of racial caricatures, but this time, combined with a look of terror as white men chase him. The scene could be from the Jim Crow era or from the 21st century where an unarmed Black man, Walter Scott, was shot in the back and killed while fleeing from a police officer.