Childish Gambino's viral video unpacked
With the release of ‘This Is America’ on May 5, Childish Gambino swerved straight into first place in the race for 2018’s best music video. The powerful visual has now been viewed more than a hundred million times, and there are plenty of reasons to watch it again. Here are 10 references you might have missed.
1. Jim Crow
At the start of the video, Childish Gambino strikes a pose to shoot a hostage to repurpose the pose and exaggerated manner of Jim Crow, a cartoonish minstrelsy character created by Thomas D. Rice. As Dear White People creator Justin Simien wrote on Twitter: “Jim Crow began as mere pop culture entertainment at the expense of America’s freed slaves and became the means of their oppression.” The name later became used to describe segregation laws – the Jim Crow Laws – in the south of America.
Watch carefully at the 55-second and 1:57 marks, and you’ll see guns being treated with great care immediately after they’ve killed people. They’re wrapped in cloth and immediately carried off-screen, while their victims lie unceremoniously in shot on the floor, or are simply dragged away. It’s not hard to see parallels with the way America tends to treat guns after mass shootings: the second amendment holds up discussion about gun-control while ‘solutions’ imposed by schools include see-through backpacks.
3. Guns keep being given to children
As well as the esteem guns are shown in the video, there’s also the fact that Donald Glover hands them to children in both cases after he’s used them in a possible critique of how easy it is for teenagers to acquire guns in America.
4. The murder of the choir
In the video’s second key scene, Childish Gambino guns down a choir in a church – read by many as a brutal reference to the 2015 Charleston shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
5. The first horseman of the apocalypse
There’s a brief moment in the video where a white horse ridden by a hooded figure gallops through the background of the video – linked to the First Horseman of the Apocalypse, who rode a white horse.
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6. Tons of African dances
Choreographer Sherrie Silver has explained the origins of several of the dance moves within the ‘This Is America’ video, which include the South African gwara gwara and Blocboy JB’s ‘Shoot’ dance.
7. Confederate army trousers
Donald’s trousers look suspiciously like Confederate army trousers – a reference to the oppression of African Americans imposed by the Confederacy in the southern states of America.
8. Old cars
All the cars in the video are years old, and people don’t all agree about what they signify. Some say it’s a reference to Philando Castle, who was killed by a police officer in 2016 while he was in a 1997 Oldsmobile. Others suggest the old cars reference the “stalled socioeconomic and political mobility of black people in America”. It could be both.
9. SZA as Lady Liberty
At the end of the video, you may have missed SZA sitting on an old car. She captioned a photo of herself on the set as ‘Liberty’, possibly in reference to America’s iconic Statue of Liberty, which embodies the ideal of American liberty.
10. Get Out
Many have drawn parallels between the running scene in the video’s final moments and various scenes in Get Out – the running scene and the sunken place. Either way, Childish Gambino’s own running scene is a nightmarish recollection of a nightmarish and equally weighty movie.