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Donald Glover's 'America' Video Is Packed With Meaning

One critic calls it a perfect, disturbing 'snapshot of the American cultural landscape'
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted May 7, 2018 11:00 AM CDT

(Newser) – You'll have to watch it more than once to pick up on everything going on, especially in the background. That's one common take in the wake of the newly released "This Is America" music video by actor Donald Glover, though under his musical alias, Childish Gambino. See it for yourself here. Glover premiered the song this weekend while hosting Saturday Night Live and doubling as the musical guest, but it was the video version released afterward that has caused such a ruckus. Some takes on the video, which has gun violence as its major theme:

  • Guns: At various, startling points, Glover executes a hooded prisoner and guns down a church choir. Afterward, he places the guns on a red cloth held by someone else. "Murders occur, but the guns are treated more delicately than human lives in the video—a strong statement given the current debate over gun control," writes Lisa Respers France at CNN.
  • The dancing: The video features 10 popular dances, both old and new, by the count of Adrienne Gibbs at Forbes. The dancers perform them flawlessly despite the bedlam behind them, opening this up to a few interpretations. "One, they are clueless and dancing," she writes. "Two, they have a clue and dance to keep from crying. Three, they are jamming for the camera or for social media video and know their dancing is a distraction, a salve, or an invisibility cloak." Or maybe all of the above, she adds.
  • Those phones: Mashable rounds up other nuggets: No, that's not Trayvon Martin's dad playing guitar, despite speculation on social media; the choir might represent those shot in a South Carolina church; Sza makes a cameo, hinting at a future collaboration; and the scene of young people filming with their phones might be a reference to the fatal police shooting of Stephon Clark, based on the accompanying lyric of "This a celly / That's a tool," writes Martha Tesema.

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  • The ending: Glover runs in slow motion through a dark passage. "He looks like the dark forces he has kept at bay for the previous three-plus minutes are finally ready to overtake him," writes Dade Hayes at Deadline.
  • In praise: Matthew Dessem breaks down the video (choreographed by Sherrie Silver and directed by Hiro Murai) at Slate and comes away wowed. Glover "whiplashes back and forth between oblivious consumerism—'I'm on Gucci / I'm so pretty,' he sings, shortly after someone is thrown to their deaths in the background behind him—and actively making things worse." All in all, "it's hard to imagine anyone taking a sharper snapshot of the American cultural landscape in 2018 than this one: Everything is in perfect discord."
  • On the rise: Fast Company notes that Glover is also enjoying acclaim for his hit show Atlanta and his role in the new Star Wars. But this weekend capped all that, causing Joe Berkowitz to invent a new verb: Glover "clearly Beyonce'd, hitting a high note in an ever-ascending career." The post runs down the details of Glover's SNL sketches.
(Read more Donald Glover stories.)

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