Watch: Childish Gambino's provocative music video for 'This is America' critiques gun violence, racism

Prahlad Srihari

May 07, 2018 17:28:16 IST

Less than 24 hours after wrapping up his hosting gig on Saturday Night Live, Donald Glover has released a brand new music video to accompany his latest single, “This is America.”

The four-minute clip created for Glover's hip-hop alter ego Childish Gambino is directed by Hiro Murai - a filmmaker who has also worked with Glover on his television series Atlanta. Rich in symbolism and layered with question-raising imagery, the music video shows what it means to be black in trigger-happy America.

With “This is America,” pop culture's most important multi-hyphenate confronts many issues currently facing 'the land of the free and home of the brave' — racism, gun violence and police brutality. But, above all, Gambino questions how easily we ignore the devastating consequences of such systemic issues for superficial distractions.

His commentary reminds you of a similar message embedded in Black Mirror's pilot episode, where a deranged artist proves how we prefer to be distracted by screens, devices and the virtual world, than be faced with/reminded of real world issues.

Filmed in a large empty warehouse, the video for “This is America” begins with a shirtless and heavily bearded Gambino dancing in a seemingly upbeat and celebratory mood. He then proceeds to shoot a hooded black man and mows down a gospel choir with a semiautomatic weapon. But as protests, police clashes and chaos ensue in the background, he continues to sing oblivious to his environment.

"This is America/ Don't catch you slippin' up/ Look at how I'm livin' now/ Police be trippin' now/ Yeah, this is America/ Guns in my area/ I got the strap/ I gotta carry 'em"

Childish Gambino in a still from "This is America". YouTube

Childish Gambino shares a powerful message about gun violence in "This is America". YouTube

It is interesting to note that while the shooting victims are dragged off-screen in the video, the guns are carefully placed on a red cloth held by well-dressed man. Despite frequent gun-related tragedies and subsequent national debates over gun control, the NRA and gun owners only seem to hug their semi-automatic rifles tighter and spout the Second Amendment louder. They still value their weapons over the lives of innocent civilians.

This repeated exposure to acts of violence — even when that exposure comes vicariously through the media — has had a numbing effect on Americans. And Gambino points out how artists and musicians like him must also share some of the blame; how even art and music can distract one from the stark reality of such issues. Each time there's a gun-related tragedy, we grieve, debate and then go back to smiling and dancing until it happens again.

The video is expertly choreographed and directed sucking you in with a cheerful folk song before deeptoned bass pulses and Gambino's self-aware verses take over. The camera is deliberately focused only on Gambino dancing and rapping in the foreground while the chaotic scenes of unrest play on in the background. The music turns from joy to bloodbath to joy again. Its jarring universe is redolent of "The Sunken Place" in Jordan Peele's 2017 social horror-thriller Get Out.

The "Redbone" singer references everything from the 2015 Charleston mass shooting to the Charlottesville protests and from the Civil Rights movement to Black Lives Matter in order to bring to attention to the gun and racism epidemics ailing America.

SZA makes a brief cameo in Childish Gambino's music video. Image via Instagram/SZA

SZA makes a brief cameo in Childish Gambino's music video. Image via Instagram/SZA

The music video also includes a cameo from Grammy-nominated R&B artist SZA and adlibs from rappers like Young Thug, 21 Savage, Quavo, Rae Sremmurd’s Slim Jxmmi, and BlocBoy JB.

"This is America" is the most powerful and pointed reality check in the form of a music video, since Kendrick Lamar — standing upon a graffiti-covered police car with a threadbare American flag waving in the background — so beautifully articulated in his seminal 2015 album, To Pimp a Butterfly, the preeminent protest song of our generation - "Alright".

The new single marks Glover’s first foray into music since his Grammy-nominated 2016 album Awaken, My Love!. He is expected to release what could be his final album this year before he retires his musical persona, Childish Gambino.

"This is America" has already set the bar high for his swansong album. And we can't wait to hear the whole thing!

Updated Date: May 07, 2018 19:59:50 IST