May 5th, Donald Glover, better known under his stage name of “Childish Gambino”, hosted Saturday Night Live. Glover hosted and was the musical guest in this episode, stealing the show at the end with his performance of “This is America”.
The music, while powerful, was eclipsed by the release of the music video of the song, in which Glover depicts the harsh and unfortunate reality of gun violence and racism in present-day America. But the video, which at the release of this article has 137 million views on YouTube, is believed to have a deeper meaning through subliminal messaging and historical context.
A major point of symbolism occurs throughout the video, where Donald Glover is accompanied by a group of African American kids wearing uniforms. For most of the music video, “This Is America,” they are dancing. While violence and chaos erupt in the background, the group continues to smile and show off their moves.
According to Time, the dancers have been interpreted to resemble the distraction to viewers to the extent of the problem, just like how social media is used to distract people from the real problems in America.
These students provide many symbolic meanings and representations throughout the video. In addition to their dancing and positive attitude being used as a distraction, it has been said that the students are meant to represent the fact that if one sticks with America, pretends nothing is happening, and overlook the wrongdoings in the country they will be safe and protected. Glover seems to represent and play the role of America in the video, and the students going along with him and his ignorance of the situations around them further exemplify that idea.
At the commencement of the video, Glover incorporated a pose that was resembled a historical depiction of Jim Crow. The Insider stated that Jim Crow was a fictional character that characterized African Americans as “lazy, stupid, and inherently less human.” Later on in history, during the Reconstruction Era, the term “Jim Crow” referred to a series of racial segregation laws that were created to be used against African Americans.
Glover’s stylistic appearance is extremely symbolic. According to Insider, Glover is shirtless to resemble that there is an element of vulnerability. The pants that he is wearing are inspired by a pair of trousers that were worn by Confederate soldiers along with the yellow canvas shoes he is wearing. His attire is a reminder of the historical violence that was inflicted upon African Americans.
Towards the middle of the video, a choir of African Americans church singers are in the background of the image singing when Glover walks into the room, gets a gun thrown to him, and shoots all of them. Many are not alone in their feelings about the scenes being very shocking and graphic, but it is a reality that Glover felt was necessary to portray because it brings real issues and happenings to attention. This scene has been interpreted to resemble the 2015 Charleston massacre shooting in white Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, shot 9 black people in a church basement. This scene also resembles America’s struggle to reconcile with, and differentiate all of the different instances of gun violence because so much of it occurs.
Senior Dominic Kaimakis appreciates the music video as it brings a greater light to music video culture.
“I think he is bringing back the music video culture by making people freely express their opinion,” said Kaimakis “It confronts the issues of gun violence and gun control in the U.S.”
Music videos are often used by artists to address issues and show the deeper meaning behind their songs while also allowing people to connect and relate to their music through visuals. With mass shootings and gun laws being such a relevant topic that many people are very passionate about it is not surprising that Glover touched on this subject and created this imagery in the video.
As Glover moves about the warehouse, there are two incidences where he shoots people. After the shootings, the guns are wrapped in a red cloth, taken away, and handled with care while the shooting victims are left lifeless and forgotten on the ground. According to Times, this not only symbolizes the issue of gun violence, but also highlights how people in society appear to care more about guns than they do about the victims of gun violence.
In the later parts of the music video, many empty old cars are shown as the camera zooms out from Donald Glover dancing on top of the car. Much speculation has occurred in how the old cars are related to the symbolism in the video, which mostly alludes to the African American men and women who have died from gun violence and their lives left unknown.
Some have interpreted the empty cars as symbols of the stagnant economy for African Americans. They can represent the incapable task for a lot of African Americans to make a decent living.
Also towards the end of the video, Glover sings the words “Hunnid bands, hunnid bands, hunnid bands, contraband, contraband, contraband”. These lyrics symbolize how modern rappers are constantly rapping about meaningless things such as how much money they have, instead of focusing on legitimate issues. Glover is actually addressing real-life problems in this video and making people really think about the meaning behind it.
Senior Lucy Yates enjoyed the meaning behind the video.
“I like how he tackled the systemic issues of racism that plagues our country,” said Yates.
In the very end of the video, Glover is shown sprinting down a long, dark hallway, running away from a group of people with immense fear. This has been interpreted as black Americans having to run to save their lives. This scene has also been compared to a scene from the film “Get Out” where another black character is sinking in space, symbolizing a mental prison for African Americans. The Miter staff has also interpreted this clip as the “invisible man” – a term used to represent black society is the 60s- coming to light and expressing what they go through on a daily basis.
One YouTube star by the name of Nicole Arbour took it upon herself to make a parody for the cause of Feminism. She made it about white women and used Glover’s symbols and artistic eye to make a video that actually struck no real meaning, but was meant for entertainment. This is ironic considering the ideas portrayed in Glover’s video. Arbour took the entertainment aspect of the video for her own use, while forgetting the struggles, chaos, and real issues that were displayed in the video. Arbour was doing the exact thing that Glover was attempting to show about white people taking and absorbing black entertainment, but ignoring the hardships and issues they face.
Many African American artists use their platform in the music industry to talk about real issues and relevant topics, but Glover takes it to a whole new level. Glover combines the power of music, direct delivery, and gruesome imagery in the video to create a powerful message. Talk show hosts and media outlets have asked Glover to comment on and share his feelings on the video and what it means to him. In an interview with Jimmy Fallon, Glover expressed that he does not want to share his interpretation of the symbolism portrayed in the video. Glover said he wants to video to be for the people, and he wants to let people have their own ideas and interpretation about the video and how it makes them feel.
Senior Luke Bader understands why some may interpret the video as controversial, there is great meaning behind what is occurring.
“We live in a society where the truth can be graphic,” said Bader “ But that is the kind of urgency we need in these types of issues”.
For many people, it is easy to hear about the problems in the country, but with the gore and loss that “This is America” depicted in the video, there is no way to deny the voice of Glover and his belief on current issues. Regardless of people’s stance on the subject and ideas portrayed, it is hard to ignore the harsh reality expressed through Glover’s artistic style and complex ideas.