Graduate Thesis Project
Published May 2019
Awarded Distinguished Achievement in Creative Activity from California State University Long Beach, 2019

CITATION (Turabian)
Grogan, Bailey E. 2019. “This Is America: Symbolism and Imagery in the Musical Work of Childish Gambino.” Order No. 13861153, California State University, Long Beach, http://access.library.miami.edu/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/em-this-is-america-symbolism-imagery-musical-work/docview/2308216318/se-2. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global; Publicly Available Content Database.

Donald Glover has an impressive career that consists of musical success under the name “Childish Gambino.” Additionally, he is seasoned comedy writer for 30 Rock as well as the lead writer and creator of the prime-time Emmy Award Winning television show, Atlanta, actor on the television show, Community, and has appeared in the filmsMystery Team, The Lazarus Effect, Magic Mike XXL, Solo: A Star Wars Story, and most recently, The Lion King set to premiere in 2019. However, as an artist, Gambino has made waves in the past six months with a controversial music video that illustrates the violent past and present of African Americans in the United States. This daring, yet timely, video illustrates the modern-day travesty of police targeting African-American civilians in acts of unwarranted violence, in which Gambino delivers his message in layers of symbolism.

In this paper I will discuss how Childish Gambino’s 2018 release, “This is America” uses dense imagery, violent metaphoric references, and African-American music culture in order to protest police violence and discrimination towards African Americans in the United States. His scenes are coded and hard to decipher; the message can be easily missed. I wish not to translate what Gambino is saying but how he is choosing to say it. First, I am relating my research to prior scholarship in the views of authors who have researched musical protest of police brutality and discrimination of African Americans. Second, I will analyze Gambino’s use of stereotypes, modern African American dance, and sound. The last piece of my methodology is to illuminate how Gambino chose to protest versus the way his predecessors in the African American music industry chose to do so. I believe this comparison to historical African-American artists such as Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” and Max Roach’s “We Insist! Freedom Now!” will illustrate the impact of Gambino’s graphic, yet metaphorically based approach.

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Cover Image: Rachel Rodgers Photography

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