There was already plenty to dissect about the original music video for Childish Gambino’s fraught cultural critique, “This Is America.” But with Donald Glover, there’s always more to say. While headlining Coachella on Friday night, Glover simultaneously debuted a new film, Guava Island, co-starring Rihanna, on Amazon Prime. The film is part “tropical thriller,” part love letter to Rihanna, and part extended music video — the latter involving all new visuals for “This Is America” as well as last year’s “Summertime Magic.” While that second song comes in the film during a tender moment where Glover’s Deni Maroon serenades Rihanna’s Kofi on the waterfront, “This Is America” gets another high-concept visual interpretation that’s about as striking as the original.
Glover plays a musician on the fictional island of Guava, which exists under the dictatorship of a wealthy family who’s monopolized its greatest export, blue silk, and exploited everyone on the island for labor. Early on in the film, to make the point to another worker at the docks who dreams of finding self-employment in America that capitalism functions the same in any land, Glover’s Deni gives a speech. “This is America. Guava’s no different than any other country,” he says. “America is a concept. Anywhere where, in order to get rich, you have to make someone else richer, is America.” He then breaks into song and a new version of “This Is America” begins, with the machinery noises in the background of the scene used as production elements.
Choreography similar to that of the original video follows — here, Deni’s co-workers dance with him — but it all comes to a startling halt, twice, as the man Deni’s lecturing carries on with his mindless servitude. If you thought Glover was expressive the first time he made this video, watch him go full apeshit in the Guava Island version when the guy attempts to make a phone call (to tell on Deni, perhaps?). Producing almost inhuman sounds, with his eyes bugged out, shaking in a fit of rage, and yet somehow keeping his finger pointed firmly in the air, this is Donald Glover at his most captivating.