Artist Donald Glover hosted Saturday Night Live on May 5, and after impressing critics with his performances as both host and musical guest, he released a music video the same evening that has since gained over 132 million views. But a parody of his video made by a feminist YouTuber has sparked a ranking amongst those who feel disenfranchised in America.
The video of his song "This Is America" is performed under Glover's stage name, Childish Gambino, and has been both hailed for its deep messaging about black culture and decried as anti-gun propaganda in the United States. It has garnered more views than any other YouTube video this year, debuting as No. 1 on the site's song chart in 11 countries.
Subliminal references to the Jim Crow-era, racism, gun violence, and animosity toward police are intertwined in what The New York Times called "a true picture of America."
Viewers made correlations to minstrel shows, reparations, and death riding on a white horse interpreting Glover's moves and the happenings behind his dancing in a work that countless people said they watched again and again.
The lyrics to his song rally, "Get your money, black man." In response to a question from E! about his intentions with the messaging, he said, "I just wanted to make, you know, a good song. Something people could play on Fourth of July."
Following Childish Gambino's video acclaim, YouTube artist Nicole Arbour drew criticism for creating her own version of "This Is America" from a feminist lens, which sparked outrage from followers — but after receiving over 1.6 million views, the comments on her YouTube post were shut down.
Arbour was accused of stealing black art in her rendition, to which she responded via Twitter, "I'm so sick of people mad at slavery. It's the past, we weren't there. We didn't do it. But what we CAN do is fix economic slavery. Focus on the now."
The tweet was deleted amid social media fury over her alleged artistic hijacking. But later, Arbour defended her comments and added, "Oh I mean this. It's misdirected energy. I can't fix the past, but issues now, we all have a chance at so let's refocus. I wanna see more movies with black women CEOs and normalizing excellence for the next generation to see, less black ppl in prison, and police restraining."
Responding via her YouTube page, Arbour added, "In retrospect, due to the sensitive nature of the original, I understand why some people are wrongly portraying this as white vs. black. However, this was not the intent or theme at all. We had a very diverse cast and creative team working on [the] project from start to finish, who signed on to honour the original while adding more truth from another perspective."
Both artist-activists are committed to their causes, in spite of criticism.
But Glover says he won't be able to make a dent in racism through his music, pointing to how his television show "Atlanta" is gauged toward Caucasian audiences.
"If 'Atlanta' was made for black people, it would be a very different show," he said. "But I can't even begin to tell you, because Blackness is always seen through a lens of whiteness, the lens of what white people can profit from at that moment."