Childish-Gambino-This-Is-America-Donald-Glover

Think-piece 6504031 on This is America.  When you’re served a buffet you stuff yourself trying to savor everything on offer.

Take the symbolism as read: the background chaos lost to the dancing spectacle, the careful treatment of guns while bodies are ignored, the Jim Crow posing and minstrelsy.

Let’s go deeper.

Black Bodies, Black Roles

Dancing kids, dragged corpses, running mobs, swaying choirs.  There’s an emphasis on the physical presence of black bodies, as things that move and take up space.  And that don’t have a central, defining, function.

The prime focus, of course, is Donald Glover’s not-quite-dad-bod.  Pulsing with tension on the initial slow zoom, outrageously entertaining when dancing, exuding frightening violence holding a gun and magnetically poignant when pretending to hold a gun.

What are these bodies *doing*?

Glover’s face, on that initial turn toward the camera, goes through a series of grimaces and grins.  Trying to strike an appropriate tone, inhabit the right role.

These are bodies under a constant, frenetic, schizophrenic imperative to change.  Change dancing styles.  Change from background to foreground.  Change from alive to dead.  There is no one movement, there is no one performance, that can be sustained.

Including the final haunting image of Glover, previously under icy command of every muscle and tendon, flailing at the edge of his control in an effort to go as fast as possible.

What’s causing all this?

The White Eye of Sauron

Did you get a pervading sense of dread?  A lot of people did.  The juxtaposition of happy dancing children and chaos; the beat drop after the sudden violence; the violence threatening to fulfill the rule of threes.

Why does an artist depict this?  What audience is being forced to confront this?

Consider again Glover’s face constantly shifting in mood and expression, trying to find a role to inhabit.  The Jim Crow and overt minstrel imagery.  The sudden jarring shifts into uncomfortable violence.  Against a backdrop of dread.

This isn’t pain worked through in a cathartic way; this is pain depicted in a confrontational way.  Glover performs Jim Crow and minstrel imagery staring straight into the camera, trying to create a persona that would satisfy the audience.

That audience isn’t black.  It’s white.

Uh-Oh

The audience being performed for is white, and there’s an emphasis not only on collapsing the Black experience into physicality, but violently assaulting that Black physicality in a shocking way.

This could be forcing a white audience to confront the reality of American violence, but it’s also serving up that same violence for consumption.  The violence isn’t corrective or retributive, and doesn’t subvert unwritten rules for violence in entertainment.  (Consider the reaction if Glover’s victims were white.)

Why isn’t this an exploitation?  A diminution of the Black experience to a physical dimension and an exploitative performance of Black harm for shock’s sake?

Because

Go back to the emphasis on Black bodies and physicality.  Glover’s menagerie of facial expressions.  These are being *consciously* performed *for the white gaze*.  The Jim Crow imagery and minstrelsy are explicitly referencing performances that were consciously chosen to avoid violence in a white world.  (Notice that the dancers are not subject to the chaotic violence around them.)

The camera itself lingers on Glover’s body, keeps the corpses distant, doesn’t focus on the chaos in the background.

There is an indictment of the stand-point of the performed-for audience.

There’s a causal linking between the violent anti-humanistic mess on the screen and the position of the white audience viewing it. Consequently, the jarring shootings raise the stakes for the consequences of that position.  The white gaze isn’t as guilty if the shootings aren’t included.

 

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