Childish Gambino's jarring new video about gun violence, race and apathy goes viral, artists react

This is America offers a chaotic, unflinching and symbolism-heavy look at violence and racism in America, and at how easily we are distracted from hard truths.

This is America offers a chaotic, unflinching and symbolism-heavy look at violence and racism in America

In his new video This is America, rapper Childish Gambino takes on gun violence, racism, complacency and ignorance. (YouTube)

As debates over gun violence and race rage across the U.S., Donald Glover — who performs under the name Childish Gambino — is stopping everyone in their tracks with his jarring and politically fuelled new video This is America.

Released the same weekend that Glover appeared as host and musical guest on Saturday Night Live, the video begins with a musician taking a chair and strumming sweetly on an acoustic guitar as vocal harmonies create a cheerful mood, and a shirtless Glover begins to dance. 

But both the scene and the music soon turn dark as the camera returns to the chair, where a prisoner is sitting with his head covered, echoing terrorist kidnappings, and Gambino shoots him in the back of the head.

From there, the video goes back and forth between scenes of uniformed school kids performing popular dance moves, seemingly oblivious to the violence happening around them. 

Through the rest of the video, cultural and political references abound: confusion as people run away from a mass shooting; guns being carefully coddled and taken away by a young man wearing khakis and a golf shirt; facial expressions and physical positions that echo minstrel shows and Jim Crow; kids filming on their phones; vintage cars that reference earlier, but not necessarily "great," times in America. All of the people who are shot are black, and in the end Glover is seemingly running for his life.

But what's most jarring is how easily we are distracted from what's happening in the background — death riding through on a horse, a man jumping to his death, police making arrests.

The video has generated a tidal wave of discussion online, with many calling it a work of art. This is America has been up for less than two days and already it has over 20 million views, and is YouTube's top-trending video. #ThisisAmerica is also trending on Twitter.

Warning: some videos contain graphic violence.

Many musicians and actors are pointing to the video, too, among them Black Panther actor Winston Duke, singer Erykah Badu, Janelle Monáe and Adele.

"Donald Glover is a genius," wrote Badu in a tweet. "New Childish Gambino video is absolutely game breaking," wrote Irish musician Hozier. "My God."

"Childish Gambino how the hell do you have time to offer us so much greatness on so many platforms," wrote Adele on Instagram. "I adore you."

Warning: some videos contain graphic violence.

Kanye West, who has been embroiled in controversy after stating his support for U.S. President Donald Trump and saying that slavery was a choice, also retweeted the video.

          Meantime, others suggested the video marks a way to move on from discussions about West.

The video was directed by Hiro Murai and produced by Doomsday with Ibra Ake and Fam Rothstein of Wolf + Rothstein. Watch it in full here: 

Warning: video contains graphic violence.


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