‘This is America’ is provocative, deeply woven, relevant as well as masterfully directed and performed. Upon my first watch there are images that stood out but I didn’t know why. An unusual exaggerated facial expression, an awkward yet intentional pose, the velvet cloth that the guns were placed on all became mysteries that I had to unravel and after a number of watches (and a few google searches) I got a picture in my head, not THE picture but a picture. The video forced me to think, question, search and converse – the same effect that it has had on most people.
What I particularly love about this music video is that it doesn’t feel as if it’s pushing for shock value. Yes there is a man shot in the back of the head at point blank range and yes a gospel choir is mowed down in a matter of seconds with an assault rifle but it never feels gratuitous. The articulate application of these elements helps to make a statement without overpowering the video or becoming too much of a distraction.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
Was ‘Inception’ a dream at the end? Was ‘The Shining’ Stanley Kubrick’s admission to faking the moon landing? It’s in our nature to understand things, to make sense of things and ‘This is America’ acted as a catalyst for that need. We want to make sense of it, we need to understand it but how can we when the imagery is representative and our opinions are so subjective? Conversation! And in some cases – debate. Everyone has an opinion, everyone has a theory. Yes there are what appears to be direct references to racist caricature Jim Crow and also the Charleston Church shooting but there is so much to take in and be interpreted.
Professional film makers have weighed in like creator of ‘Dear White People’ Justin Simien as well as the casual individual who don’t usually watch music videos. It has us talking and that is a powerful thing. Even more powerful still; people are watching it two, three, five times, even more (I know I have) and with each watch you see something you didn’t notice before. Isn’t that what every film maker wants?
Hiro Murai is a modern day innovator, he his the director of some of my favourite music videos like ‘3005’ and one of my favourite TV series ‘Atlanta’. He combines both real and surreal with ease and cohesion, diverting our expectations with surreal elements while using the artist to ground the video. His work is inspired by pop culture, modern society and art. Check out this interview with Hiro from 2014, he is clearly coming from a unique and intelligent place.
In an interview with The New York Times Hiro had this to say: “Even from the start, our big mandate was just surprising people and trying to deliver something that people didn’t know they wanted to see.” In words – beautiful, in film – incredible. This is someone who’s very thinking at the conceptual stage is wider and deeper than most film makers.
In the same interview Hiro also said: “We’re just trying to be as honest as possible with our feelings through the work and hope that it connects with people.” An amazing statement and what’s more amazing is that he was able to communicate this idea through a visual medium.
You can read the full interview with The New York Times here