A critical look at Childish Gambino’s ‘This Is America’ video

Childish Gambino (the rap alter-ego of actor Donald Glover) has released his ‘This Is America’ video and the social commentary/video has gone viral, amassing well of 125 million views on YouTube in just a matter of days!

So, what is it about the video that is catching everyone’s attention? If you haven’t seen it, check it out here:

The video contains so much that you may need to watch it a few times, but here are some points to look out for…


Childish Gambino’s Physicality

Childish Gambino’s dancing, movements, and facial expressions point to Jim Crow, a character whose name went to the ‘Jim Crow’ laws that made segregation legal.

The character was originally invented by a white man called Thomas Dartmouth, based on a real-life disabled African-American slave. Dartmouth wore ‘black face’ and impersonated the slave to create a mentally backward caricature of black men. Glover’s use of this character is a nod to the commercialisation and distortion of black culture for white people, with Jim Crow being one of the first historical examples of this. Also, notice how Gambino wear Confederate-style pants throughout the video – of course it was the Confederates in the South who wanted to keep slavery legal.

Guns are more important than people

Notice how the gun which is used to kill the guitar player (and any subsequent guns) are carefully collected and wrapped up to keep them safe. Meanwhile, the victims of the violence are shown much less respect.

The murder of the black choir

A later scene show Gambino murdering a black choir with a rifle – a clear aside to the 2015 Charleston Church shooting that saw a 21-year-old white man gun down 10 African Americans in South Carolina.

The ‘Celly’/’Tool’ lyrics

It’s not just the visuals that offer meaning as Gambino notably uses the word ‘celly’ and ‘tool’ in his rhyme. With ‘celly’ being slang for cellphone and ‘tool’ for gun, could it be that Gambino is referencing the police killing of Stephon Clark who was gunned down when the cops thought he was holding a gun – when it was only an iPhone. The video then pans across a group of young people holding cellphones in what seems to be a prison environment – offering the double meaning of ‘celly’ as ‘prison cell’ – which has been used as a ‘tool’ by America to keep black people incarcerated in the system. Of course, there is also the notion that your cellphone is a tool that is used to distract you from reality…

Entertainment to distract from reality?

After every murder, Gambino breaks into a dance as if he is using entertainment to distract from reality – including scenes in the background, such as rioting breaking out. Keeping people pacified by entertainment seems to stop them thinking about the reality of their lives…

All-in-all, Childish Gambino’s video makes some incredibly strong points about the state of society (especially for African Americans). Now you have seen this critique, check it out again and let us know what you think…

Oh yeah, did you spot Sza in the video too?


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