We running out of superlatives for Donald Glover and Director Hiro Murai. By now you’ve likely contributed to the Childish Gambino thesaurus. Beautiful. Violent. A surreal mirror. Mesmerising. Geezer. Dope. A letter to America.
If you’re a video maker, fan or someone’s auntie, you’ve probably spun through the film a dozen times, each turn revealing a Freudian puzzle piece. . The obvious reflection-on- America themes are not lessened through the next watch. You might even have said, “Damn ! I could a..” Too late! It’s out there. Anything that follows is a cheap imitation.
This is America’s timing is like the slow reveal of a poker full house. And that house has everything conceivable trippin. Everyone’s watching the reveal and only after proclaim, “I knew it! I knew it!”. Yeah coarse you did ! That and the Fanny mae crash. What positions CG as a cultural drill is it’s probably the first film this side of Goddard’s thesis espousing the reframing of mise en scene as a movie in itself. Damn! If you’re going to film school and they don’t show this in the first lecture ask for your money back. Meanwhile, that white horse? Biblical. The jumper. The cell phone foci.
Emerging as it has in the slip stream of Kanye’s banana plantation skin slip, and Ta-Nehisi’s take down on the Genius one, it’s a reminder of that rare zeitgeistian trait few artists possess on social commentary.
Indeed Kanye had it till he didn’t. Public Enemy riled against the system in the manner befitting 90s injustices. No let up, Gambini’s boy-next-door persona is like a piercing last word on the dinner table, before the host washes the dishes in silence.
Watching it, I had all sorts of references fly by. Prince and Kiss ( the harmonics); Ghanaian Adowa (that body shimmy); American and South African race civil struggles in the backing dancers; Shaft…
The thing with narrative is it guides you through a common window of cognition. Ah I get it! With art there’s an elasticity that stretches meaning. Art at its most configured is as shocking as reality — if perversely not more. NWA have something to say on that. Other thing with art, don’t try and deconstruct whether it does for you. You can try, but no one’s listening.
But the themes in This is America dovetail seemingly the unforeseen. “Did he just do that?” is as freakin something as watching any number of crime incidents through YouTube mobiles and live TV.
Songs like this shouldn’t just win gongs, but become anthems of their time and filter down into the docile habitats of the living room, where in its own way it should tame any number of nay sayers.
Then I went back to my Twitter feed and read this. #IsthisAmerica?
I’m a lead writer on journalism on @medium, a former artist-in-residence at Britain’s biggest art centre the Southbank and have done all sorts of weird things — from hosting a radio show on the BBC interviewing, Fela Kuti, Quincy Jones et al, to dodging violence in Apartheid South Africa as BBC World Service reporter and filming on the Syrian border — as part of my PhD.