The easiest reading of Childish Gambino’s — Donald Glover’s — earth-shattering new video “This Is America” would be to say that Glover is at least mildly disappointed with hip-hop’s insistence on dancing while the world is going to hell around us.
But that’s the thing about this damn video. It defies easy readings — outright rejects them, in fact. It looks at your easy readings with a side-eye and a smirk, dismissing them out of hand because it’s got bigger things on its agenda than just being a searing indictment of “gun culture” or a head-shaking admonishment of pop culture.
Those things are in there, to be sure. How else to read Glover’s gunning down of an entire choir or his execution of a hooded figure at the beginning of the video than as a pointed rebuke of this country’s fascination with weapons of war and its various abuses of the “right” to bear arms?
But to reduce this video to just a complicated visual equivalent of a “guns are bad” PSA is to do a disservice to all of the other things this video says. Calling the dancing in the foreground a “distraction” from the violence going on around Gambino and his “childish” companions belies the necessity of finding moments of joy in today’s desolate times. There are at least two ways to read every symbol, every reference, every moment of shock or visual choice throughout the video. “This Is America” is, all at once, protest, satire, and high art. It’s challenging as great art should be — it invites both commentary and debate, and it has a lot to say about culture, society, art, politics, current events, but refuses to provide easy answers for any of the problems it evokes.