‘This Is America’: 8 Things to Read About Childish Gambino’s New Music Video

By Judy Berman

A scene from Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” music video.Creditvia Vevo

In his opening monologue as the host of “Saturday Night Live” last weekend, Donald Glover quipped: “I’m an actor, a writer and a singer. Some people have described me as a triple threat. But I kind of like to call myself just a threat.” As if to drive home the point that he’s scarily talented, Glover, who created and stars in the surreal FX comedy “Atlanta” was also the episode’s musical guest, performing two new songs as his hip-hop alter ego, Childish Gambino.

The music video for one of those tracks, “This Is America,” appeared the same night, and it suggests that he is actually a quadruple threat: He can dance, too. But Glover’s graceful moves aren’t exactly the point. There’s plenty of messaging about race, violence and the entertainment industry in the song and video — which helps explain why fans and critics have devoted so much time to dissecting its references and debating its meaning. Here are some of their sharpest insights. (Excerpts below are unedited.)

[Read our interview with the director of “This Is America,” Hiro Murai]

"This Is America"CreditVideo by Childish Gambino

‘Unpacking All the References in Childish Gambino’s Phenomenal New Video’ [Dazed]

“This Is America” is dense with allusions to American history and pop culture. Natty Kasambala assembles a list of footnotes to the video, from its Jim Crow imagery to Glover’s references to other musicians.

‘Childish Gambino’s Video Grabs You by the Throat’ [CNN]

“What Gambino put together is a true picture of America, where so many of us get to dance and sing and laugh and create,” writes Isaac Bailey. “All the while others are largely ignored and trapped in the background, struggling and sometimes dying in a sea of ugliness that many of us would rather not acknowledge, knowing it would ruin the pretty pictures we’d rather focus on.”

‘The Carnage and Chaos of Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” Video’ [The New Yorker]

Doreen St. Félix notes that “The video has already been rapturously described as a powerful rally cry against gun violence, a powerful portrait of black-American existentialism, a powerful indictment of a culture that circulates videos of black children dying as easily as it does videos of black children dancing in parking lots.”

She continues: “It is those things, but it also a fundamentally ambiguous document. The truth is that this video, and what it suggests about its artist, is very difficult. A lot of black people hate it. Glover forces us to relive public traumas and barely gives us a second to breathe before he forces us to dance.”

Justin Simien Breaks Down ‘This Is America’ on Twitter

In an appreciative Twitter thread Sunday night, Justin Simien, the creator of Netflix’s “Dear White People,” analyzed the imagery of “This Is America” and concluded that the video asked black viewers, “How can those of us granted a moment in the proverbial spotlight just use it to entertain ourselves to death?” He continued: “It’s a challenge and a series of questions. Like art should be.”

‘What It Means When Childish Gambino Says “This Is America”’ [Vulture]

Frank Guan analyzes the lyrics of “This Is America,” which draw heavily on trap music, a gritty rap subgenre with its origins in Atlanta. “The incongruousness of Glover, raised middle-class and a NYU graduate, bragging about his Mexican drug supplier and threatening to have you gunned down, is intentional,” he writes. “It’s a tribute to the cultural dominance of trap music and a reflection on the ludicrous social logic that made the environment from which trap emerges, the logic where money makes the man, and every black man is a criminal.”

‘Donald Glover’s “This Is America” Is a Stylish, Ambitious Provocation — But What Is It Actually Selling?’ [Vanity Fair]

K. Austin Collins takes issue with Glover’s critique of black America’s complicity in the violence that plagues it. “I’m wary of any claim that ‘We’ are distracted from black violence,” he writes, “because who’s ‘we,’ really? Every other day of the week, America’s complaint is that the blacks doth protest too much.”

‘Making Donald Glover the “Anti-Kanye” Is Gross and Wrong and Will Backfire, So Please Don’t’ [The Root]

Damon Young points out the danger of setting up Glover as the antidote to another black male artist, Kanye West, whose recent political pronouncements have frustrated many fans. “Between ‘Atlanta’ and his music, Glover’s work could have an antiseptic quality, cleansing us of Kanye’s descent into anti-blackness and celebratory idiocy,” Young observes. “But at the very least, this comparison fails because it reduces Glover’s work to that of a palate cleanser. And also implied is that only one of these types of men can exist concurrently.”

‘The Filmmaker of the Year Hasn’t Even Made a Feature Film Yet’ [The Ringer]

Adam Nayman turns his attention to the director of “This Is America,” Hiro Murai, who got his start making music videos and has also directed many standout episodes of “Atlanta” and HBO’s recent critical favorite “Barry.” As Nayman sees it, “The power of Murai’s aesthetic is bound up in the balance between the camera’s visual overstatement and its subjects’ deadpan dismissal.”