Something strange has been happening since Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” video dropped. Memes are surfacing, as they inevitably do, and some people are pushing back.
“It’s disrespectful” is a common criticism directed at the meme-makers and sharers. Some feel the video’s powerful messages, which together amount to a statement on the black experience in the United States, qualify it as a sacred work.
That’s a completely valid read. The video is an exceptional framing device for Gambino’s song, which contrasts joyful, cheery melodies against a harsh, thumping trap beat. But it’s also a standalone work with its own artistic merits.
Donald Glover, the IRL voice of Gambino, slyly commented on the video’s meaning when he was asked about it at the recent 2018 Met Gala. “I just wanted to make, you know, a good song, and something people could play on the Fourth of July,” he said, grinning.
Something that people can play on the Fourth of July, a.k.a. Independence Day. The most patriotic of patriotic holidays. A song, and a video, about the inescapable reality that a marginalized community in this country faces on a daily basis. Can you see it?
“I just wanted to make … something people could play on the Fourth of July.”
Ibra Ake, the video’s producer, offered a much more explicit read during a recent radio interview. Discussing the video’s violence — Gambino guns down unarmed black people at two specific moments — Ake pointed out that the video’s use of imagery is itself both informed by and a reaction to the state of American life in 2018.