Donald Glover is not ready to speak about the meaning of his breakout “This Is America” music video, but that’s not the case with creative director Ibra Ake. Glover and Ake have been collaborators for several years now, with Ake even serving as a writer on Glover’s FX series “Atlanta,” and the creative director told WNYC’s “The Takeaway” that the intention with the music video wasn’t too “cerebral or calculated.” Glover simply wanted to capture the black experience in its purest form.
“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. “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.”
The video has received criticism from some publications and fans for depicting graphic violence (Glover is seen murdering unarmed black people with an automatic weapon in two separate scenes), but Ake defended the choice. The creative director admitted these images are not meant to be easy to watch but that they represent the nature of where America is in 2018.
“I think that’s just the nature of where we are and we don’t control that,” Ake said. “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.”
“Our goal is to normalize blackness,” he continued. “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. 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.”
Since debuting on the evening of May 5, “This Is America” has earned over 60 million views and counting. The video, directed by Hiro Murai, is Glover’s biggest debut under his rap persona Childish Gambino. Both the song and the video have earned rave reviews from fans and artists such as Trent Reznor. “Dear White People” creator Justin Simien even shared a lengthy analysis of the video to his social media pages.