Donald Glover premiered two new songs on Saturday Night Live this weekend, and while he was on stage, he also dropped a music video for one of the singles — “This Is America.”
The video, choreographed by Sherrie Silver and directed by Hiro Murai, has a lot jammed into it for a four-minute video. It’s an expertly packaged analysis of what’s really happening in the United States. Here’s what you might have missed:
1. That’s not Trayvon Martin’s dad
Some Twitter users initially believed the man playing guitar at the beginning of the video was Tracy Martin — father of Trayvon Martin, the young boy who was killed by George Zimmerman in 2012. Turns out it’s actually Calvin II, a musician based in Los Angeles. You can listen to more of his work @CalvinTheII.
2. The guns are treated with more respect than human lives
Soon after each gun is brandished in the video — it happens twice — Glover gently places the weapon on a red cloth held by well-dressed man. The shooting victim is then dragged off-screen by two similarly dressed men.
3. What the choir represents
One interpretation of this moment is that the choir could be seen as representing the folks who were gunned down while inside a church during the 2015 shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. Their ten faces are clear as day and jovial. Glover strolls in, shoots, and walks away nonchalantly and untouched. Sound familiar?
4. Pay attention to the background ….but also pay attention to the dances.
As the video progresses, the background activity intensifies. Riots are breaking out and cars are on fire — all while Glover and a group of kids dance. It’s a pretty clear metaphor — the dancing, or the cultural contributions of black entertainers, draw cheers from all corners of society while racial violence and injustice continues to be an everyday and oft-ignored aspect of life.
Incorporated throughout the video are various moves — everything from viral video moves to Blocboy JB’s shoot dance to the South African Gwara Gwara. These all have different origins but blend together to form something unique, that is very much a part of our American tradition.
As Forbes unpacked, these dance numbers have multiple interpretations: To some, these moments of joy, drawn from the latest viral dances or videos, provide a brief, enjoyable respite. To others, they might be a way to gain a quick buck or a few followers.
The “dancing” around things like police brutality and gun violence could be seen as a metaphor for how in this country — politicians often dance around these issues.
Additionally, the fact that the dancing is front-and-center provides another lens of interpretation: that this, and similar culture, is all America sees when they see black people. Glover often makes exaggerated facial expressions while dancing in the video, which can perhaps be seen as a subtle nod to the caricatures made during the Jim Crow era.
5. Phones are out and recording
In the video, a bunch of folks (that appear to be kids) are hanging from the balcony with phones out and face masks on, recording the action below.
Whether their phones are pointing to the dancers or the chaos beyond isn’t clear, but it’s a quick pan that lines up perfectly with Glover rapping the lyrics “This a celly / That’s a tool,” which references two things: the cell phone — not a tool — that Stephon Clark was holding before he was killed by police officers in his own backyard; and the many instances cell phones have been used as tools to broadcast police shooting, rioting against, or choking black people in this country.
6. The white horse
In the background of one scene, we see a hooded figure riding a white horse. Twitter user @courtneysalvin pointed out that this could be a nod to the Horseman of the Apocalypse, referenced in the “Book of Revelation” in the Bible. The first horse of the traditional four is white, as is the one riding in the video.
ALSO (continued): Could this be a Horseman of the Apocalypse running through the background? But also the fact that you could miss it because of the dancing in the foreground further emphasizes the distractions of pop culture/social media #ThisIsAmerica pic.twitter.com/TPP7XswfGJ
— Courtney Slavin (@courtneyslavin) May 6, 2018
7. SZA’s cameo
All eyes are on Glover, which means SZA’s appearance in “This Is America” is easy to miss. The singer is perched on a car, and doesn’t have any lines — but perhaps it’s a teaser for a future collaboration. It’s worth noting all the car models seem to be from the ’80s or ’90s (in 2016, Philando Castile was killed by a police officer in a 1997 Oldsmobile).
8. Is Glover running from…the Sunken Place?
At the end of the video, Glover is seen running from a tunnel of darkness being chased by a variety of what seems to be non-black people, all while Young Thug sings in the background. Many on Twitter have theorized that Glover is in fact running from the Sunken Place, a concept developed in Jordan Peele’s film Get Out.
It’s worth noting here: Get Out star Daniel Kaluuya introduced Glover’s performance of “This Is America” on Saturday Night Live.
One message of “This Is America” is relatively clear: We’ve cultivated a culture in which we emphasize the trivial, while pressing life-or-death issues are all around us, unaddressed. Our priorities are messed up, Glover seems to be saying.
Repeat views of this masterpiece will, no doubt, reveal more things to unpack and analyze. Watch, do your homework, then watch again — that’s just the joy that comes with Glover’s work.
UPDATED May 6, 2018, 5:13 p.m. EDTto reflect that Tracy Martin is not featured the music video.
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