In recent years, since the dwindling popularity of VH1, a Television Station that specified with music videos, and the increase of explicit images, music videos have become widely ignored and rejected as important influences to society. The music video to Childish Gambino’s song “This is America” is definitely different than the bulk of music videos that have been produced for rappers in recent years. The music video produced by Hiro Murai connects the very thought-out and powerful lyrics of the song to a very powerful and thought-provoking visual journey. The music video expresses extremely vital issues in America such as, gun violence influenced by racism and the way America responds and tries to cover it up. For those of you who haven’t experienced this music video it is staged in an old pale colored warehouse. The opening scene shows an African American man sitting in a chair playing a guitar. The camera pans around a support beam to see Childish Gambino, known as Donald Glover, with his back turned to the viewer. He turns around on a beat drop and starts dancing his way forward. The man who was playing guitar now has a hood over his head and his hands tied. Donald Glover then pulls a handgun from his waistband, puts it up to the man’s head, and pulls the trigger. This is where the beat drops and the lyrics start with “This is America”.
One reason this music video is important to society is its ability to spread awareness about an issue such as gun violence without directly addressing the issue. The viewer cannot reject the content of the video the same way they could with a speech or an article about gun violence. Some may say that the viewer could click away from the video. However, they do not go into this experience expecting awareness of gun violence. One of the first references this video makes is to the man playing guitar. The actor that portrays the man shows extreme similarities between Tracy Martin, an African American Father and now author whose teenage son, Trayvon Martin, was killed from gun violence. Gun violence is any violence related to firearms, which is one of the biggest issues in modern day America. Each year more than 100,000 Americans are injured or killed by guns, 21.6% African Americas compared to 11.9% being white. It has been covered to some extent in the mainstream media for years which is continuing to raise awareness of this problem. Even with years of coverage much of the public is unaware of this issue. According to an article by Andrew Beaujon and data from Pew Research 17% or 55 million Americans do not consume any media on a daily basis. Through the means of this music video some of those 55 million may become aware to gun violence issues in their American society.
One way this video expresses how America responds to gun violence is through the way each gun is treated after the killings compared to the people involved. In total 11 characters in this video are killed by two guns. After every killing a young kid comes and takes the firearm with care protecting it with a red cloth while the bodies are dragged away quickly. This can be seen as a way America treats guns each time a gun related killing happens. Since 1999 there have been more than 600,000-gun related injuries or deaths and an estimated 200,000 of them being African American. Since the early 2000’s support for gun ownership has increased 22%. According to an article done by Dave Mosher with Business Insider, guns are one of the leading causes of death in America. However, consistently when a gun related killing happens, a group of American’s start fighting for more protection of gun’s in America. It seems that in this country people are more concerned with their guns than the lives of others. In a quote from Ricky Jones, the head of the Pan-African Studies Department at University of Louisville in Kentucky “We have, in effect, normalized black death in America, you have some people who may have a strong reaction to this video, but they don’t have a strong reaction to a 12-year-old child being killed by police in a Cleveland park.”
In my opinion one intent of this video is to create a reaction in the viewer to real life gun related killings affecting African Americans. One of the most talked about things from the video is his outfit and the mesmerizing choreography Glover does throughout the video with different groups of African American teens. He is wearing confederate pants and often is posing in the same position as old Jim Crow posters. The end of the video you see Glover dance on cars that are usually characterized with 90’s vehicles owned by African American. This can be seen how America pushes the thought of racism to the past. It is easy to say that a group of Americans would say that racism is a smaller problem than in past years since having the first African American president and the increase in civil rights. This is however not the case since we’ve seen the little growth of equality for African Americans in areas of salaries and poverty rates and have seen an increase in hate groups similar to the KKK such as The White Supremacists and the Neo Nazi’s. Since 2014 the number of hate groups has increased 20% in America. The video tackles this growing problem with the last scene of the video showing Glover running for his life from what appears to be a white mob. One counter argument people may have for the importance of this music video is that the only reason the video shows violence and dancing is to entertain and get more views. This is commonly seen in mainstream rap videos and songs where their dances go viral and skyrocket the popularity of the song. This is America, however, did go viral because of its contents, did not go viral because it has shallow, catchy lyrics or smooth looking dance moves compared to other modern rap songs. The reason “This Is America” recorded 50 million views in its first weekend is way it used dancing and catchy lyrics to express something bigger than just another trendy rap song (Penrose).Personally “This is America” is entrancing, thought provoking, and has reminded me of the current state and need for change America is in.
In conclusion, Donald Glover’s music video for his Viral song, “This is America”, is a mesmerizing, shocking, and real expression of modern America. It expresses many ideas and issues such as race related gun violence, treatment of gun’s in America, and the way America sees modern racism through its carefully planned out choreography, outfits, and plot.