There’s a lot to dissect in Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” music video. Between all the historical references and surreal mix of violent and joyous imagery, it’s not surprising that many people have continuously revisited the visual in an attempt to find additional layers of meaning. Yes, there are the obvious allusions to race issues, America’s devotion to guns, and superficial distractions; however, according to Gambino’s creative director Ibra Ake, their approach wasn’t as “cerebral or calculated” as some writers think; their main intention was simply to “normalize” the black experience.
“As creators who are kind of marginalized with our voice, we try to make stuff in a vacuum in a way where we’re not influenced by what was made before us, which usually—in the media specifically— comes from a white world and a white infrastructure or a system that is controlled by white people,” Ake said in a recent interview with WNYC’s The Takeaway. “So even with this video, we kind of reduced it to a feeling—a very black feeling, a very violent feeling, but also a very fun feeling.”
Ake, who is also a writer for Donald Glover’s FX series Atlanta, went on to talk about the ways in which minority groups are forced to compartmentalize traumatic experiences. The video underscored this issue with the juxtaposition of singing, dancing, and horrific death scenes.
“I cant stop being black because of trauma and discrimination. I still have to live life and forge on,” Ake said.
The Takeaway host Tanzina Vega addressed the criticism “This Is America” has received among the black community. She pointed to the following tweets by The Nod’s Brittany Luse:
Ake said he understood where Luse was coming from; and although he acknowledged that some of the imagery was unsettling, Ake argued that the video was shedding more light on unfortunate realties.
“I definitely feel her,” Ake said. “I think that’s just the nature of where we are and we don’t control that. I [know] a lot of people of color who, when we’re seeing a lot of images of violence―especially against us―have to take a break and cry in the bathroom and go back to work. That’s just part of life in America. I don’t think what we did anything remarkable or different than daily life in any way.”
He went on to talk about the significance of the dances featured throughout the visual, specifically South Africa’s Gwara Gwara:
“[…] Our goal is to normalize blackness, and I feel like we don’t really think of it in that editorial way. It’s, like, this is how we would like to dance, but we have to be aware of the danger and the politics of how we’re perceived and the implications of the history of how we were treated,” he said. “[…] There’s all this math you’re constantly doing expressing yourself […] We’re trying to not have to explain ourselves to others and just exist, and not censor what our existence looks like as people.”
Ake also confirmed that the upcoming This Is America full-length will be Glover's last. "I think we like to keep stuff under wraps, but there's more coming, and we like to think of ourselves as like the Avengers every time we can assemble and all our schedules are in line," Ake said."That's happening right now and we're working rapidly to just get as much out as we can. Especially this last run, to really make a big bang, because this is Donald's last album."
You can check out the full interview here.