This is America: The Art We’re Seeing in a Post-Trumpalyptic World
On May 5 (ironically a day where many Americans appropriate the culture of many Mexicans to Celebrate Cinco de Mayo), the musician Childish Gambino released the music video for his new song titled “This is America”. If you haven’t seen it yet – go watch immediately – then return back here for some cultural analysis.
Another important piece of recommended watching with this article is one of the many videos that explain the symbolism in the video. Much of it is hard to see at first watch – and that’s intentional. The whole point of the video is to make us realize that actions are being taken by our government that are detrimental to the US – and the world – while we’re being distracted by shiny objects like Russia, Stormy Daniels and cofveve.
So, what exactly went down in the music video? The video itself is almost shot as a one-take pan around a room. It was way more than that, however. According to The Washington Post, the video gives a “chilling look into [USA’s] gun epidemic”, and also speaks to the Black Lives Matter movement.
We see Donald Glover (Childish Gambino) dance in a peculiar way with his song playing in the background. The way that he’s dancing mimic’s a Jim Crowe caricature. He does this before he shoots his first victim – then carefully gives the gun off to a mystery hand that wraps it pristinely in a cloth. The thing to note here is that more care and attention is given to the weapon rather than the victim in this country.
His second victims appear to be in a Church choir – this is reminiscent of the 2015 Charleston church shooting. The way that Glover and the school children dancing behind him have been interpreted a few ways – it could be a statement about how America moves on from these tragedies too quickly, or about how communities of color are learning to cope with trauma.
Those are just some highlights, but the major takeaway is that there’s out of pocket – and at times traumatizing – things happening every day in this world but we as a society A) move on and forget too quickly and B) can’t help but move on because there’s always another distraction.
No wonder one of Glover’s morals of this music video are that America, and us as humans in general, aren’t processing well enough. There’s so much concerning events happening every day. I could name five major pieces of consequential legislation that has either recently passed or that are being voted on recently and the same amount of natural disasters or recent tragedies that Americans have to worry about along with the constant scandals and investigations. HOW are they supposed to process this? How are they not supposed to go numb?
Is America processing through music and art? To me, it appears that way. Like the “This is America” song and video, art that has come out recently is becoming more protest-like and statement-based. We’re also seeing these same artists marching at the protests and sharing their causes in social media. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but since the world has turned for the worse, music and art has been so amazing.
For example, so many diverse Netflix originals have released. Based on the Spike Lee’s 1986 movie, She’s Gotta Have It, a Netflix series with the same name was released in 2017. This remake was also created by Spike Lee. The series is about a polyamorous, pansexual sex-positive woman of color who is trying to navigate love, life and art in Brooklyn.
Brought to you by the same creator of the heartwarming MTV coming of age series Awkward, On My Block was released in 2018 and is a, “…coming-of-age comedy about four bright, street-savvy friends navigating their way through high school in the gritty inner city of South Central Los Angeles,” according to IMDB. This series touches on all the quintessential, awkward high school emotion that we’re all too familiar with, as well as the dynamics and struggles of living in the lower-income south-central Los Angeles.
There’s Black Panther, of course. What do you do when you have a racist President? Make an all-black super hero movie and even better – produce an iconic soundtrack to go along with it with all black artists as well. Speaking of music, between Troye Sivan’s anthem about his love for a man, “Bloom”, alongside Hayley Kiyoko and Kehlani openly making love songs about women and being queer, musicians are making huge statements by being just themselves.
What I love about the art being produced right now is that I doesn’t outright say words of protest – the protest is in the artists being themselves in times of oppression. They’re also communicating the message that their identity doesn’t always need to be a statement. It can speak for itself.