Director Hiro Murai Explains "'Looney Tunes' Logic" of Childish Gambino's "This Is America"
"Even the violence, though it's harrowing, there's a part of it that also feels cartoony"
Published May 11, 2018The creative partnership between Donald Glover and Hiro Murai began with 2013 short film Clapping for the Wrong Reasons. From there, Murai became Glover's go-to director when it came to music videos as Childish Gambino and his acclaimed FX show Atlanta.
Murai directed seven of 11 episodes of Atlanta's second season, and as he told the New York Times, the video Gambino's "This Is America" was created in tandem alongside the show.
"We probably shot ['This Is America'] a week-and-a-half or two weeks ago," Murai told the publication. "It came together really fast, right on the heels of editing Atlanta. It certainly added to the chaos, but it was a fun kind of chaos."
Glover's provocative video, which has been viewed over 76 million times since its May 5 arrival, confronts America's gun control problem, in addition to its history of race and violence.
"That video is a really crazy confluence of tone changes — that's the premise of the whole video and the song, in a way," Murai explained. "Even the violence, though it's harrowing, there's a part of it that also feels cartoony. There's Looney Tunes logic in there somewhere. Obviously we're dealing with very provocative images, so it's a total tightrope walk."
Of the reaction to the video, Murai said, "It certainly caught me off-guard and by surprise. But I can also see why it's resonated with people. We're just trying to be as honest as possible with our feelings through the work and hope that it connects with people."
Find more of Murai's musings on the overlap of Atlanta and "This Is America," as well as the meaning behind the video, down below, and read his full interview with the New York Times here.
On the prominent use of depth of field:
It's something that I've always been attracted to, that idea of letting everything happen in a single frame. I think the writing of the show is really similar, where none of it is very flowery. It's very to the point and matter-of-fact. What I like about staging things in a single frame is that it has this same cadence visually.
How he approached shooting more action sequences:
I was fortunate to work on a few episodes of Barry right before we shot Atlanta. That was where I got my training wheels for action coverage. I kind of learned on the job. But directing action scenes is really just pure visual storytelling that just makes sense to me pretty intuitively.
On the depiction of violence in "This Is America" compared to Atlanta:
Yeah, that video is a really crazy confluence of tone changes — that's the premise of the whole video and the song, in a way. Even the violence, though it's harrowing, there's a part of it that also feels cartoony. There's Looney Tunes logic in there somewhere. Obviously we're dealing with very provocative images, so it's a total tightrope walk.
On Glover's love of "screeching tone changes" in his work:
Even from the start, our big mandate was just surprising people and trying to deliver something that people don't know that they want to see. People are all so media savvy now that when you see a story, you pick up on the cadence really fast. You can tell where the story is going really easily if you're at all media savvy. We really just wanted to see how far we could go into taking that apart and making you feel that anything could happen at any moment.
On whether or not he keeps up with online fan theories:
I'm a casual observer from a safe distance. I kind of love it, to be honest. Those fan theories are in line with what I like about the show. There's more to this world than you're seeing. So that gives me a lot of reassurance that that feeling is getting communicated.
Childish Gambino's album Awaken, My Love! is available through Umusic on standard vinyl, CD or in a VR vinyl box set.