Actor and artist Donald Glover is making headlines, not so much for his role in the new Star Wars movie Solo, but due to his new music video, This is America, which in less than a week has received more than 100 million views on YouTube. Its disturbing, violent, and nihilistic content makes it a hot and trending debate topic.
The knee-jerk reaction of most people is that it is a social critique of gun violence. However, the message of the video is mysteriously obtuse, and the fact that Glover has refused to explain the meaning of the video in interviews makes it even more intriguing. In this Liberty Nation Point Counter-Point, authors Onar Åm and Jeff Charles discuss what it means to them from their own unique perspectives.
When I saw the video, I was as shocked as anyone else, but at the same time struck by the high artistic quality of the video. It was practically brimming with symbolic meaning and was created in an almost dreamlike, mythopoetic style.
Initially, I thought it was just another leftist critique of systemic racism in America and yet another attack on the Second Amendment, but on closer inspection, the message seems far more subtle and ambiguous than that. There seems to be a reference to Jim Crow and some say they see references to Dylan Roof and the Charleston church shooting, but several conservative black YouTube commentators have interpreted it differently.
I am neither American nor black, so it is hard for me as a complete outsider to interpret its meaning. What’s your take on it, Jeff?
The video is certainly shocking. I do interpret the video as a critique on the idea of systemic racism in the United States. However, I believe Childish Gambino also — perhaps unintentionally — makes a statement about issues in the black community.
When Glover’s character shoots the black choir, it is a clear reference to the shooting of black churchgoers at a church in 2015. The shooting was committed by a white supremacist who wanted to start a race war.
To me, this video is powerful, but it seems that its primary objective is to reinforce the idea that blacks are helpless victims of white racism. While there is certainly racism in the United States, it is not the most dangerous threat to black Americans, and ironically, this is shown in the video.
Several key details break with the “obvious” leftist interpretation. First, in all the shooting scenes Donald Glover’s Childish Gambino character – who is black – is the perpetrator. There are very few whites in the video, and none of the shootings are done by white characters or by cops.
Second, in both shooting scenes, Childish Gambino hands the guns with care to a black child. Third, in the lyrics, he seems to be referencing a shallow materialistic pop culture among blacks, including lyrics such as “black man, get your money.”
In the first gangster shooting scene, he makes what appears to be a Jim Crow pose. But Jim Crow is a caricature of black behavior. Is Glover saying that black gang violence has become its own parody?
To my outsider’s eyes, it is almost as if the song is meant as a critique of destructive black inner-city culture.
I agree somewhat. However, when I watched the video, I didn’t see Glover’s character as an actual person. He was more of a symbol. So, when he shoots the choir, he is not referencing black on black crime. As I stated previously, he is referencing the shooting at the black church in South Carolina which was carried out by a white man.
However, his first shooting was interesting in that the body of the man he murders is quickly dragged off by other blacks. To me, this represents the tendency of many prominent blacks to gloss over the issue of black on black crime. Moreover, in urban culture, there is an unwritten rule that forbids people from speaking to the police — even if they witness a murder.
I did appreciate his critique of black entertainment culture and how it distracts blacks from what is going on in the world around them. The video is choreographed in a way that the dancing makes it more difficult to see the rioting and violence in the background. In one scene, a black man is thrown from a catwalk to his death, but the dancing is still the main focal point. The reality is that black Americans are victims of homicide at a much higher rate than anyone else, but the establishment media will not cover the issue. They only care about black lives when it fits their agenda.
I do think that Glover made the video deliberately ambiguous to create debate and if he intended it in part to be a form of critique of black inner-city culture, he has managed to do so without being labeled an Uncle Tom.
I agree, and his refusal to talk about it shows that he wants us to discuss the issues he brings up. I think the video is a critique of black culture, but I’m not yet convinced that it was his objective. The images of rioting blacks and the violent acts that the video depicts shows the real issues facing blacks living in the inner city.
The presence of police cars throughout the video along with the rioting and kids filming on their cell phones conjures images of the violent protests in Ferguson, Missouri. It calls to mind the idea that racist police officers constantly murder unarmed black men.
Over the past few years, we have seen numerous stories about officers shooting black men. Some of the shootings were justified while others were not. But the left has used these shootings to paint a picture of rampant racism in our law enforcement agencies. I believe Glover is doing the same here.
While I disagree with some of the points Childish Gambino makes in his video, I appreciate the fact that it highlights some of the real issues facing black Americans. However, I am skeptical that most of the country will get this. The left is already using the video to perpetuate their message of victimhood. Hopefully, I am wrong and more black Americans will see the aspects of the video that are truly important.
Regardless of his intent, Donald Glover has sparked many interesting conversations – this one included – and if the video gets people to talk about important issues, then it has already served a mission.
This is America is not suited for everyone, but it is an intelligent and surprisingly subtle political commentary on problems in America.
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