Review: Donald Glover and Rihanna’s Guava Island

Childish Gambino’s mystery project ‘Guava Island’ has finally reached Amazon Prime, and was made available for free streaming for 24 hours. Directed by Childish Gambino/Donald Glover regular Hiro Murai from a script written by Donald Glover’s brother Stephen Glover, ‘Guava Island’ centres on the Cuban musician Deni, played by Donald Glover’s musical alter ego, Childish Gambino. Deni works for the radio station in the fictional island of Guava. Billed as ‘a Childish Gambino film,’ ‘Guava Island’ is a parable about capitalism, art, music, and freedom. Deni plays feel-good songs on his daily radio show and a darling among the islanders. The rhythm of life on the island is controlled by the tycoon Red, played by Nonso Anozie. Everyone on the island works for him, and he does not believe in a day’s off! Deni’s sweetheart, Cofi, played by Rihanna, and her best friend Yara, played by Black Panther actress Letitia Wright, work in Red’s garment factory.

Every corner of the Caribbean island is marked with the letters, ‘Red sees You.’ When Deni promises the listeners an all-night concert on the coming Saturday, everyone on the island is in a buzz, except the only rich man, Red! On the day of the concert, Deni is abducted by Red’s men and the above-mentioned confrontation ensues. In a pretentious but mild tone, Red warns him of the consequences of an all-night concert. He explains why the show must not happen as it drains out the energy of his staff the next day. People will be too weak to work on a Sunday, and Red doesn’t believe in holidays. He brokes Deni’s guitar and sends the singer back with a threat. But on his daily evening show, Deni announces on the radio, ”See you at the concert tonight!”

Meanwhile, a subplot is running parallel to the tensed main pot, with Kofi eagerly awaiting Deni to share special news about them. For Deni, she is the love of his life and muse. He sings all the songs for her or, all the songs he sings are about her! ‘Guava’ Island features some of the moving numbers from Childish Gambino like ‘Summertime Magic,’ ‘Feels Like Summer,’ ‘This Is America,’ and ‘Saturday.’ While Deni is determined to throw an all-night concert for everyone to enjoy, Red tries to prevent him at any cost, and Kofi wants to save her man’s life and music for the baby they are going to have soon. The movie paces towards the suspenseful climactic showdown — Deni’s concert.

In one of the important sequences of the movie, musician Deni can be seen sitting uncomfortably on a sofa in the cabin of the shady tycoon of Guava Island, Red. Taking Deni’s guitar in his hands, Red says, ”I always wanted to. But my fingers weren’t quick enough, I think”, he plucks a couple of notes on the guitar and continues, ‘I realize there was an easier way to enjoy life. You see, with art, you never know what people gonna feel about it. It can be hard.’ Deni replies with a chuckle, ‘Yeah, well, life is hard.” As the tensed confrontation between the two men progresses, Red rudely asks Deni, ‘What would you consider a full life? Music? Marriage?’ And he claims, ‘I have to do what’s best for everyone.’ Deni asks Red, ‘Yeah, but how do you know what’s best for everyone?’

‘Guava Island’ oscillates between one genre to another during its 54 minutes of running time. The movie is a musical when Deni sings ‘Summertime Magic’ and dances around Kofi; it’s a political satire when Deni dances to ”This is America”, at the docks and melodrama when he sings ”Can’t I take a Break” at the night concert. Apart from the thin plot and scarce characters, ‘Guava Island’ is a parable of capitalism’s impact on art, artistry and an artist’s freedom. Donald Glover’s Deni and Nonso Anozie’s Red represent the two sides of the problematic relationship between art and capitalism. Glover elevates the entire discourse as a cultural moment with Childish Gambino’s songs and spreads a political message through the fictional Island of ‘Guava.’

Earlier, writer Stephen Glover revealed that ‘City of God’ and ‘Purple Rain’ are the inspirations behind ‘Guava Island.’ The movie’s opening sequence and BGM take us back into the opening sequence of ‘City of God.’ Being a frequent collaborator of Donald Glover, Murai finds the balancing point between entertainment and raising a serious question. He has achieved the feat whenever joined hands with Glover, as we have seen in the Emmy-winning series ‘Atlanta’ and the music video ‘This Is America.’ Murai’ called the project ”a crazy fever dream of a production” in a previous interview.

‘Guava Island’ was shot primarily in Cuba under strict norms of secrecy. Glover first unveiled the movie to a small group on Thursday night at Coachella as a curtain raiser for his headlining the festival as Childish Gambino on Friday. ‘Guava Island’ will continue to show throughout the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. The movie hit Amazon Prime Video a night later where it will be available for free streaming for the next 18 hours. Viewers can watch ‘Guava Island’ afterwards with a Prime membership. The movie will also play on Coachella’s YouTube live stream at 5:00 p.m. Pacific/8:00 p.m. Eastern.

‘Guava Island’ is a fable told in music. The storytelling format sets the atmosphere at the very beginning which is followed by a short animated intro scene. We return to the same storytelling sequence at the end, with the voices of Kofi and her baby. ‘Guava Island’ ends with a mind-blowing sequence which is an emotional note and a rebellious political statement at the same time. The Islanders move as a single column in Deni’s funeral procession, dancing hysterically to the tunes of his music. Everyone on the island is in the procession and Red’s factory and docks are abandoned like ghost villages. A visibly shaken Red comes to face-to-face Kofi in the midst of the procession. Kofi, who is in a blue gown and veil of a bride, (or a widow?) stares straight into the eyes of Red. Before taking her eyes back and turning away from him, she says, ”we got our day!”

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