Donald Glover’s moment on television and on YouTube was anything but childish.
As Marvel’s “Avengers: Infinity War” easily crossed the $1 billion mark in merely 11 days, packing on another $112.4 million domestically, the biggest arguably cinematic news of the weekend was a music video attributed to an artist who goes by the name Childish Gambino.
Directed by “Atlanta” helmer Hiro Murai, and released simultaneously with Donald Glover’s appearance and musical performance on Saturday Night Live, the shocking music video has already amassed more than 20 million views on YouTube.
I watched it almost immediately after he performed the song on SNL. Rotating and curving his bare-chested body rhythmically on stage, Glover’s magical musical presentation instantly reminded me of Marvin Gaye. His awkward movements might also make people think of Joe Cocker, who once took the same stage many years ago.
Childish Gambino, the name adopted by the multi-talented Donald Glover, raps, dances, runs, and makes use of firearms in the video that is a stark reminder of America’s on-going difficulties with guns and race.
The 34-year-old writer, director, producer, singer/songwriter, and rap artist poked fun at his Renaissance Man persona on SNL by trying to do a little of everything, some of it not well. As he crashes a skateboard off camera, then reappears to inform the audience that he just performed some amazing skate trick, it is clear that he’s well in on the joke.
But what is also clear is that Glover actually does a number of things surprisingly very well, including rapping with his “This is America” likely to chart highly. The song should also gain a cult status as the title line gets woven into the “woke” millennial lexicon.
And when millennials laugh cynically as those of us approaching 50 study “This is America” hanging on every rapped nuance, consider the magic associated with Glover’s masterstroke. Quite intentionally, his artful provocation is perfectly calculated to create discussion with the hope of bringing people together—all races and political persuasions considering one stunning cultural moment.
And that moment made maximum use of a modern, multi-platform release. You see it live, you get the tweet, you watch the music video. And you watch it again, tweeting it gleefully, but, at the same time, recognizing that the message is something of a dark indictment of this country’s present disturbing condition.
As a documentary filmmaker and southerner, I often chronicle stories of racial injustice in films. I was fortunate enough to serve as director of photography and editor on Keith Dunnavant’s seminal documentary feature “Three Days at Foster.”
Recently, my home town hired me to produce a short documentary about the first public African American High School in our city. I called that film “The Power of Place,” and it was a semi-finalist at the Atlanta Docufest last year. Nothing is more rewarding than telling important stories of the place where I grew up.
Sadly, it was that place where the National Socialist Movement chose to stage their latest rally. And that rally that received national and international attention actually took place at the beautiful park located on the very street on which I live. Torn, I wasn’t sure if I should film the event, but reluctantly, I did collect some shots. Below is one clip carried by Time Magazine and other outlets. Newnan did not appreciate the appearance of neo-NAZIs, but this is, after all, America.