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Since the debut of “This is America” on May 5th’s episode of Saturday Night Live, Donald Glover’s new music video has reached over 40 million views. Uniquely, it’s not the song itself but rather what is in the video that has sparked both major debate and applause.
Courtesy of Hot New Hip Hop Images, “We just wanna party, Party just for you, We just want the money, Money just for you” kicks off the music as we see a man sit down and play guitar in an empty garage. Gambino appears in only gray pants dancing provocatively and kneels to shoot the man in the head. Suddenly, everything takes a turn; The rapper distracts us in a rhythmic way while utter violence occurs behind him.
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This video is not one that should be viewed once. After watching it multiple times, you begin to notice things that weren’t obvious while staring at Glover’s hip dance moves. Although there is quite the laundry list of things to notice in the video, a few stand out to be the most hauntingly creative.
When Gambino kneels in an unnatural position to shoot the sitting man, he poses as a drawn image of a black man that was depicted during the Jim Crow era. After the man falls, he is quickly dragged on the floor and out of the shot while Glover carefully hands off his gun to a young boy who wraps it with a cloth. The next prime example is when he dances cheerfully in front of the singing church choir and shoots them down with an AK-47. The same younger boy appears with the red cloth and carefully escort the automatic weapon again. Not only does this scene allude to the 2015 Charleston Church shooting, but it represents the mass shootings that can no longer be counted in the United States.
The lyrics go, “Watch me move, This a celly, That’s a tool, On my Kodak”. This shot actually represents many cultural motifs. Gambino is discussing both gun violence and the presence of social media in today’s age. The cellphone represents “the tool” that police officers thought Stephon Clark held this past March when he was shot and killed. Although the perception may be that it is a cellphone, it also embodies what is mistaken to be a gun that has caused undeserving death. In another way, the cellphone does represent a tool that can be used to videotape these shootings or anything for that matter, for social media has been the largest source of documentation.
And lastly, one of the most haunting images that are depicted appears when Gambino dances surrounded by others. We see a black-hooded man riding a white horse across the shot. For those of you who did go to Sunday school, this alludes to the biblical image of death riding the pale horse as Hell follows behind. This is one of the most unsettling images that leaves the video marked with dark tones and discomfort. The scene is also indicative of the grim presence that emerges with gun violence and police brutality towards those of color.
I think no matter what side or belief you stand on in regards to today’s politics, it is significant to recognize the power of this video. Gambino balances artistic creativity and confusing visuals to create a musical satire. The point itself is to not notice what goes on behind him during our first watch. In a way, he represents pop culture, social media, and entertainment that blockades our focus from what is really going on in America. His sick dance moves will never feel the same when you realize the hidden messages.
“This is America” proves how powerful music, video, and art can be in regards to social statements. Although he is not actively protesting via Twitter or Instagram, he is saying something that a larger audience can understand and support. With a mix of upbeat rhythm, sheer violence, and satirical dance, Gambino successfully emulates the need for reform on gun violence and systematic racism in America.
listening to film scores and drinking smoothies