As fans and cultural critics continue to analyze the symbolism in Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” music video, the creative director behind the clip has explained what’s going on.
The video, which Gambino premiered after performing on “Saturday Night Live,” garnered more than 60 million views by Thursday. It features the singer, who’s also known as Donald Glover, with schoolchildren Gwara Gwara and BlocBoy JB “Shoot” dancing interspersed with Glover firing upon a Black guitarist and choir as chaos ensues behind him.
It’s a bold commentary on gun violence and race in America.
“This Is America” only serves to remind you of how much the death of black people—whether captured on dash cam footage or cell phone videos or used in a “message” video—goes viral in our culture to the point of desensitization. https://t.co/OTxAl10OAn
— Vladimir (@mrmxyzptlk) May 9, 2018
“As creators who are kind of marginalized with our voice, we try to make stuff in a vacuum in a way where we’re not influenced by what was made before us, which usually ― in the media specifically ― comes from a white world and a white infrastructure,” Ibra Ake, who also writes on Gambino’s “Atlanta” series, told WNYC’s “The Takeaway” Tuesday, May 8. “Even with this video, we reduced it to a feeling ― a very Black feeling, a very violent feeling, but also a very fun feeling where if you’re at the club and there’s a shooting outside, you still have to go get food afterwards and you have to compartmentalize that.
“Being marginalized is compartmentalizing trauma to exist in the world,” he added. “I can’t stop being Black because of trauma and discrimination. I still have to live life and forge on.”
Ake said he and Gambino didn’t think the imagery in the clip would be as big of a deal as it was and noted that lots of the symbolism think pieces and Twitter users dissected were “dead on.”
“But I don’t think we’re as cerebral or calculated as people think,” he says. “But obviously, people picked up on Donald’s dancing as [Nigerian musician] Fela Kuti, but there’s a little bit of Jim Carrey in ‘The Mask’ there and a minstrel attitude to it. … Just be that kind of like, vaudeville entertain-ish, coon-ish smile.”
He plays a Jim Crow caricature that shows plenty of symbolism through subtle nuances & direct distractions by entertaining through Trendy dances and trap lyricism while chaos, violence and death takes place in our direct viewing pic.twitter.com/eBSSlq7v9z
— 🎮✌❤️➕ (@_The1JBust4Life) May 7, 2018
The writer also acknowledged the Jim Crow references while noting the movements are also influenced by the South African Gwara Gwara dance itself, telling the story of enjoyment. Ake also emphasized the video isn’t just about the violence but about Black self-expression — even down to likening shirtless Glover to a Nigerian uncle who drinks Harp Lager.
“Our goal is to normalize blackness,” Ake said. “We don’t really think of it in that editorial way. … This is how we would like to dance, but we have to be aware of the danger and the politics of how we’re perceived and the implications of the history of how we were treated and a responsibility against current events and current times.
“There’s all this math you’re constantly doing expressing yourself,” he added. “We’re trying to not have to explain ourselves to others and just exist, and not censor what our existence looks like as people.”