Since Donald Glover/Childish Gambino released the awe-inspiring video for his song “This Is America,” the internet has been filled with people explaining the symbolism of the imagery, subtext and subtle references contained in the music video.
Those people don’t know shit.
Instead of overwhelming you with bullshit phrases gleaned from an art-appreciation class, we decided to have two uniquely qualified critics explain the video in terms anyone can understand:
- Michael Harriot is a staff writer at The Root. As someone who studied film as an undergrad and travels the country as one of the country’s top-ranked poets whose poems often include the word “motherfucker,” he has examined the video a total of at least three times.
- Stephen A. Crockett Jr., a senior editor at The Root, was kicked out of the Museum of Modern Art when he alerted a security guard that someone had thrown up on one of the Jackson Pollock paintings.
Michael Harriot: We can’t begin without addressing the subject of Childish Gambino’s decision to go topless in the video. I think this is a commentary on our obsession with perfect body images. His lack of a shirt symbolizes our need to see normalized bodies.
Stephen A. Crockett Jr.: Nah, bruh. I think this nigga just doesn’t do pushups. Not to disparage him, but if I was rich, I wouldn’t work out, either. We also must remember that he just finished filming the new Star Wars movie as Lando Calrissian. His lack of definition could be explained by the fact that weights don’t work in space. They probably didn’t have Bowflex on the Millennium Falcon.
MH: As someone who has never seen a Star Wars movie, I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t film it in space. So what do you think the man playing the guitar symbolizes?
SAC: The man with the guitar clearly symbolizes slavery. As with most black art, slavery can be used to explain anything you don’t understand. Or Kanye. The man with the guitar is old Kanye, who is promptly executed by being shot in the head—e.g., new Kanye wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. It is the execution of old Kanye and the death of string music.
MH: So you’re saying Donald Glover wants to kill Kanye? Aight. I like how there is chaos in the background throughout the video. Is Childish the distraction, or are the harsh realities going on in the background the true distraction?
SAC: I think the true distraction is Gambino’s dancing. He dances like someone who thinks he can dance because he only dances when he’s around white people. Gambino is showing all his white friends that if he’s invited to their wedding, he will lead them in all the line dances they don’t understand.
MH: But notice that the kid background dancers are the only pleasant part of the video who survive. That’s powerful commentary right there.
SAC: Why did he have to shoot the choir, though?
MH: Because their part in the hook was finished, which made them disposable. And guns. And the Charleston, S.C., Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church massacre. And the police were coming.
SAC: Notice that the police don’t chase the black kids who are smiling, dancing and dressed in uniforms. They don’t kill the harmless blacks. Wait ... did somebody just ride through in a white horse?
MH: Yep. I think it symbolizes heroin. Or that a hero on a white horse won’t save us. The really unrelatable part of the video is when he pulls out a joint. Who still smokes joints besides white people and rich people?
SAC: That and Gambino’s disco chest hair were the oddest parts of the video to me. Joints are for black guys who ride longboards and wear surf shorts and pajama tops as regular shirts. I wonder if his chest hairs got caught in his space suit in Star Wars?
MH: Bruh, I honestly don’t think the set was actually in outer space. Gambino is actually continuing the black tradition of woke black chest hair. In which black men liberate their taco meats ... oh shit, Kanye’s back at the end! I really doubted your observation, but now I understand the Kanye symbolism. There’s a bag over his head, but he’s still singing! He has no idea what’s going on. Yeah, it’s definitely Kanye.
SAC: Wait. Is that SZA? How does she just show up at the end?
MH: Because, like this video, everyone pretends to understand what she’s saying, but no one really does.
SAC: I really like her song “The Weekend,” though.
MH: You listen to the Weeknd? I can’t listen to him. I can’t take a hood nigga serious if he sings falsetto.
SAC: Not the singer the Weeknd. The song “The Weekend,” by SZA.
MH: Ohhh! Yeah. I especially like the part where she says, “Oisrkjbe wrojgvfws the weekeeend.”
SAC: I actually think it’s “Uerwg wsouhg saljhfs the weeeeekeeeend.”
MH: My only criticism of the video is the full-body shot of him running at the end. It’s so unathletic. Now I understand why he cut away from that scene in Atlanta where he was going to race Michael Vick.
SAC: You’re being too harsh. You don’t have to run in space. Maybe he was running like Lando would.
MH: Bruh, Star Wars is not a documentary! I don’t think they shot it in real outer space!
SAC: How do you know that? You just said you’ve never seen Star Wars! I bet that’s where he got the joint from. Some of that good Jedi weed. That’s probably why SZA is there. She wants to take a hit so she can compose more nonsensical lyrics. I always thought Lando Calrissian enjoyed a nice spliff with his Colt 45.
MH: I don’t think you understand anything about how ... anyway, the video is dope. I’m pretty sure everyone understands it now.
SAC: I’m glad we could help.