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Childish Gambino's "This Is America" Strikes A Nerve

Childish Gambino's "This Is America" Strikes A Nerve

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"We just wanna party 

Party just for you"

Such are the playful words that start out Gambino's new video "This is America", as he grooves towards the camera. But right from the start, like a haunting lullaby, we're already given the impression that the mood of the video will have dramatic fluctuations and sharp contrasts.

Subtle, but effective, Gambino head-bops towards the back of the warehouse before slowly twisting his body around to face the camera.

His facial expressions morph from happy, to relaxed, to agonised.


"Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah... go, go away"

Expressing the present culture of America as the song title, "This is America" tells us, we're given a chilled, care-free scene with a dark and bitter back-story, that, for the most part, is metaphorically, kept out of the shot. 

But when it does emerge, it's ugly.

A kidnapped person is shot in the head and an all-black choir is obliterated with a machine gun, all between light-hearted scenes of school kids dancing. 

Gambino shrugs off the intensity and shock of the video. Dropping the mic, he brings the video to a close by dancing indifferently on top of a car.

CNN's Isaac Bailey summed it up well. “What Gambino put together is a true picture of America, where so many of us get to dance and sing and laugh and create. 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.”

Although speaking to present cultural issues in the USA, this video is also hard-hitting to the UK. Not only has knife crime seen a 21 per cent rise year-on-year, but Gun crime has also seen a rise of 20 per cent rise amid a surge in police incidents.

Some of these are race-related. 

Hiro Murai
Directed by Hiro Murai, the aim of the video is to tackle racism and gun crime

Many have applauded Gambino's artistic honesty about the wrongs done to victims in both today's politics and society:

With emotions still running raw in Britain, having recently commemorated Stephen Lawrence, an 18-year old black teenager who was stabbed to death in a racially motivated attack in London, Gambino's timing couldn't be more poignant. 

Stephen Lawrence
It has only been a few days since the UK commemorated the death of Stephen Lawrence, the 18 year-old teenager who was stabbed to death in a racially motivated attack

"Guns in my area, I got the strap, I gotta carry 'em"

 Unsurprisingly, not all critics have been enthused about Gambino's boldness. The contributing editor of Vanity Fair wrote: "How do we solve problems plaguing the inner cities, like Chicago, when this kind of #ThugLife "art" permeates the culture?”.

Gambino's message is blunt, moving and thought-evoking. No, not everyone will like it, as with anything that touches on sensitive issues. 

But the truth must be told, if change is going to be made.

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