Childish Gambino's "This is America" Video is the Mothership of Metaphor
In six days, Childish Gambino's "This is America" (TIA) video has been viewed by a staggering 84,061,091 million people on You Tube.
Gambino's video is a stunning work of genius, indicting the Cathedral's (America) state-sanctioned violence directed against the Darker Nation and its pervasive "gun culture." Laced with complex metaphors and high symbolism, TIA has emerging as a global cultural manifesto. Controversial, to say the least "This is America" has been the subject of broad interpretation from music critics, to the mainstream media, to millions on social media.
EXCERPTS FROM HUFFINGTON POST--BLACK VOICES CHILDISH GAMBINO'S "THIS IS AMERICA" VIDEO, EXPLAINED: FROM JIM CROW TO GWARA GWARA,
“This Is America” is set entirely in a drab warehouse, which some viewers interpreted as the country’s foundation, built on systemic white supremacy and oppression.
“Much of this seems to take place in a building/warehouse where the foundation and support systems (the beams) are mostly white,” tweeted @JarridGreen.
Some veteran Childish Gambino fans pointed out similarities to his 2011 “Freaks and Geeks” music video, which also takes place in a warehouse.
The video features a shirtless Childish Gambino donning a gold chain necklace and trousers that give off a ’70s vibe. His look appears to be inspired by the late Fela Kuti, a Nigerian musician dubbed “Africa’s answer to Handel” by one arts critic.
Childish Gambino’s nod to African dances, including Shoki and Gwara Gwara, a style of dance popularized in South Africa (and featured in Rihanna’s 2018 Grammys performance).
Justin Simien, the filmmaker behind “Dear White People,” tweeted a “love letter” to the video on Sunday, breaking down its searing use of Jim Crow imagery.
“Jim Crow began as one of the first fits of white American culture to address it’s former African slaves (and their descendants) at all,” Simien wrote. “A minstrelsy mainstay played by white men in black face, and sometimes by black men in black face.”
“Jim Crow began as mere pop culture entertainment at the expense of America’s freed slaves and became the means of their oppression,” he continued, noting that the character’s name was eventually lent to laws enforcing racial segregation in the U.S.
HANDING OFF THE GUN
Each time Childish Gambino fires a gun in “This Is America,” he hands it off to someone who whisks it away in a red cloth. Viewers interpreted these scenes as a reference to Americans’ willingness to protect gun rights over people, despite the country’s alarmingly high rates of gun violence.
One viewer suggested the apparent suicide scene points to a pervasive mental illness stigma plaguing the African-American community.
“Does the man jumping to his death that goes largely unnoticed because of Gambino’s dancing serve as a reminder that suicide & poor mental health in the African American community is being ignored,” asked @JuelzKojoey on Twitter.
THE WHITE STALLION
It’s easy to miss the white stallion galloping by in the background on the first viewing of “This Is America.” Upon closer look, viewers pointed to biblical references of a “pale horse” heralding the apocalypse, which largely goes unnoticed by the characters dancing in the foreground of the video.
Karen Civil, a social media and marketing guru, pointed out the specific passage from the Bible’s Book of Revelation: “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.”Anyone who has seen the film “Get Out” likely picked up on the eerie vibes at the end of the video as Childish Gambino attempts to escape the warehouse. It reminded many of “the Sunken Place” seen in the 2017 film, the mental space where the main character Chris goes after he’s been brainwashed, unable to control his body.
THE SUNKEN PLACE
“The Sunken Place means we’re marginalized,” Jordan Peele, the movie’s director, explained on Twitter in March 2017. “No matter how hard we scream, the system silences us.”
EXCERPTS FROM TIME MAGAZINE INTERVIEW WITH PROFESSOR OF MUSIC HISTORY, GUTHRIE RAMSEY
The “This Is America” video, reveals provocative imagery of the rapper as he guns down a choir at one point and dances while violence breaks out all around him. Childish Gambino/Glover‘s decision to wear just a pair of gray pants without a shirt in the video, allows viewers to identify with “his humanness,” as he raps about the violent contradictions that come with being black in America. You have him almost unadorned, as if he were totally without all the accoutrements of stardom. It's just him, and therefore, it could be us."
THE CENTRAL MESSAGE
“The central message is about guns and violence in America and the fact that we deal with them and consume them as part of entertainment on one hand, and on the other hand, is a part of our national conversation. You’re not supposed to feel as if this is the standard fare opulence of the music industry. It’s about a counter-narrative and it really leaves you with chills.”
THE FIRST SHOT
The opening moments of “This Is America” show a man strumming a guitar alone to choral sounds. Within the first minute, Gambino shoots the man, who has been tied up with a head cover. Childish Gambino hands the gun to another man, who safely wraps it in a red cloth as the obscured man is dragged away. The moment goes right into the first rapped chorus: “This is America / Don’t catch you slippin’ up.”
DANCING WITH SCHOOLCHILDREN AMID VIOLENCE
Gambino and a group of kids clad in school uniforms dance throughout much of the video, smiling through impeccable moves as violence as violence erupts behind them. Ramsey says the dancers could be there to distract viewers in the same way black art is used to distract people from real problems plaguing America. "Even though we think of popular culture as a space where we escape, he's forcing us to understand that there's actually nowhere to run. We have to deal with the cultural violence that we have created and continue to sustain."
The style of dancing by Gambino in the video also calls out the way we consume culture. Gambino samples at least 10 popular dance moves derived from hip hop and African moves, including the South African Gwara Gwara dance. Ramsey says the use of so many famous dance moves show how ultra-popular pieces of culture lose their specificity over time as they become more ubiquitous.
"It's really a commentary on how much violence and contradictions there are in the consuming of pop culture, particularly the violent elements of it. With all conspicuous consumption that global capitalism inspires, part of what we are consuming is this appetite for violence."
GAMBINO RUNNING AWAY IN THE CLOSING MOMENTS
The final moments of the video show Gambino running, terrified, down a long dark hallway away from a group of people as Young Thug sings "You just a Black man in this world / You just a barcode, ayy." Gambino's spirit goes back to a long tradition of black Americans having to run to save their lives, according to Ramsey, who says one song dating back to slavery in the 19th century called "Run N--Run. A black person running for his or her life has just been a part of American culture dating back to slavery."
Alt-black.com has posted excerpts from two articles that breaks down some of the metaphors and high symbolism embodied in TIA.
We continue to return to the point we raised when this site was launched in January 1018, that "we have entered into a period of sustained and intensifying, race-based cultural warfare." While this cultural warfare was initiated by the Alt-Right and Tribal Leader Trump, this warfare is also raging inside the Darker Nation, as the recent comments by Kanye West on slavery demonstrated.
Chlidish Gambino's video, "This is America" has upped the level of the cultural fight-back.