Over the weekend, Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, took the internet by storm with the release of his new single “This is America.” First previewing the track on SNL, the rapper then premiered the Hiro Murai-directed music video which includes several references to significant events within past and recent history.
Shot in a fluid format, the music video balances well-choreographed moments amid scenes of brutal violence, including the use of guns, physical harm, and even suicide. Both the lyrics and visuals take a hard-hitting stance on violence and race relations within the U.S., while ultimately speaking to how they’re downplayed, romanticized, or even ignored.
Notably, “This is America” marks the artist’s first release since his 2016 album Awaken My Love, which featured the lead single “Redbone.” In light of the new track and its accompanying four-minute visual, we’ve compiled a list of ideas and concepts you may have missed.
First, re-watch the video below.
Guns are valued more than people
“This Is America” graphically depicts gun violence, with some claiming the video, in certain scenes, is trying to convey how firearms are treated with more respect than human lives. In the opening scenes, Glover shoots an unnamed person, execution style. In the following frame, the gun is carried off in a special cloth by a well-dressed man while the lifeless body is dragged away. Each time someone is shot, this same process takes place.
Terrorism as a growing threat
Similarly, the video points out the consistent presence of firearms when it comes to acts of terror. In addition to the aforementioned execution scene, the above shot, where members of a choir are singing, could be pointing to the 2015 Charleston Church Massacre. Here, the video potentially stresses that death by gun violence is not a one-off occurrence, more so when it comes to black Americans.
Notably before their death, the choir repeatedly sings, “Grandma told me/Get your money black man,” which has been attributed to religion’s encouragement of material obsession.
The return of Jim Crow
During the Jim Crow era – which legally enforced racial segregation in the South – minstrel shows and blackface were not uncommon. Here, some have drawn parallels between Gambino’s movements and that of an old Jim Crow poster.
The significance of dancing
Following suit, the video includes references to several popular dances both in the U.S. and across Africa. The South African Gwara Gwara and Blocboy JB’s dance flag are included while people riot in the background. This could be read as how people happily adopt black culture but turn a blind eye to the violence that affects black people.
In the Bible, Revelations 6:8 (KJV) reads: “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and the name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.” According to the scripture, the appearance of four horsemen signifies the oncoming apocalypse – with death represented by the final, white one. Unbeknownst to Gambino and his dancers, a white horse and a cop car appear in the corner of the frame.
On a lighter note, TDE’s SZA also makes an appearance in the video. The singer can be seen sitting on a car on the right in one of the end scenes.
Ad libs and features
A select group of artists are credited on the song. According to genius, “This is America” features adlibs from 21 Savage, Young Thug, BlocBoy JB, Rae Sremmurd’s Slim Jxmmi and Migos’ Quavo.
The Sunken Place
Last but not least, Gambino also makes a reference to Jordan Peele’s Get Out. The film – which also featured Gambino’s song “Redbone” – notably introduced the theory of the “sunken place,” in which marginalized people are aware of the violence that surrounds them, yet are powerless to stop it.
What are your thoughts on the video? Sound off in the comments below.
Elsewhere, Donald Glover is set to play Lando Calrissian in Solo: A Star Wars Story dropping in theaters May 25.