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Posted under: News Culture

'This Is America' Creative Director Responds To Critics Who Say Video Makes Light Of Violence Against Black Bodies

"I can't stop being black because of trauma and discrimination. I still have to live life and forge on," Ibra Ake said.

The creative director for Childish Gambino's latest video "This Is America" has responded to critics who skewered the video for its heavy-handed displays of violence. 

In an interview with WNYC's "The Takeaway" on Tuesday, May 8, Ibra Ake, who is also a writer for Donald Glover’s hit FX series Atlanta, said the video was never intended to be "cerebral or calculated," and the pop sensation simply wanted "This Is America" to normalize the black experience.

“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.”

Since dropping after Glover's recent hosting stint on Saturday Night Live, the video has received praise from scores of adoring fans and criticism for seemingly making light of violence against black people.

Critics have pointed to the joyful dancing and carefree singing in the video juxtaposed to Gambino shooting a hooded black man along with a choir of joyful singers and chaos behind him as the bone of contention. Watching the graphic violence is reminiscent of watching viral police brutality videos for some. 

Host Tanzina Vega addressed the criticism by reading tweets to Ake from "The Nod" host Brittany Luse, who mentioned that she doesn't find the graphic scenes artful.

"I cant stop being black because of trauma and discrimination. I still have to live life and forge on,” Ake said.

“I definitely feel her,” he added. “I think that’s just the nature of where we are and we don’t control that. 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 that we did anything remarkable or different than daily life in any way.”

Ultimately, "This Is America" turns the debate for black joy amid black pain and suffering into a visual piece of pop art. Ake discussed South Africa’s Gwara Gwara dance featured in the video to drive his point.   

“Our goal is to normalize blackness, and I feel like we don’t really think of it in that editorial way. 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,” he said. “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.”

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Atlanta-based creative, dope photographer, journalist and lover of the wing ding.