Guava Island is a tropical tale from Childish Gambino


Back in the summer of 2018, there were rumors flying around that Donald Glover and Rhianna were filming a secret film project in Cuba; however, no other details about the small project were publicly released. A few weeks ago ads for a mysterious Gambino project started appearing on Spotify and on April 10th, Glover tweeted that he would premiere the first Childish Gambino film, Guava Island, which is directed by Glover’s frequent collaborator Hiro Murai and co-stars Rihanna, after his performance at Coachella. The film is now available to view for free with an Amazon Prime membership.

The taut 56-minute feature opens with gorgeously animated opening credit sequence serenaded with Gambino’s unreleased song “Die with You”. The animation continues as Rihanna’s character Kofi narrates about the mythological origins of Guava Island, a utopia untouched by man, bearing trees that contained beautiful blue silk. Just like Dr. Suess’ book The Lorax, ruthless, greedy people found the magical trees and proceeded to exploit the resources and the residents of Guava; creating a totalitarian society in what’s supposed to be paradise.

This is where Glover’s character Deni comes in; a musician who’s always late, who’s hustling from job to job, and wants nothing more than to write a song that unites the island for one day. Deni plans to unite the island with a big music festival, but the Red family, who rules over the island with an iron fist tries to stop Deni from having his festival.

Screenwriter Stephen Glover (Donald’s brother and frequent collaborator) and director Hiro Murai are able to tell so much story in so little time. The film’s brisk pace makes it feel like a vacation, and just like a vacation, I didn’t want the film to end. The grainy 16mm cinematography from Atlanta cinematographer Christian Sprenger and the killer soundtrack containing many of Gambino’s singles from 2018 including Feels Like Summer, Summertime Magic, and This is America. Many of these songs are reworked and reperformed to fit the film especially the This is America sequence that lacks the gut punch of the original music video, but still contains perfectly executed choreography and camera work. Mauri and Sprenger’s naturalistic camera work perfectly compliments the tropical setting of the story; the camera ebbs and flows around the gorgeous sets and locations giving the film a carefree and naturalistic vibe.

The characters who inhabit this gorgeous setting are well defined and entertaining to watch. Glover gives a great performance as he always does, and Deni is an endearing character. Rihanna’s Kofi gets very little screentime and some might feel the romance isn’t developed enough.

Glover has stated that his album after his 2016 release Awaken My Love would be his final album as Childish Gambino, wanting to focus on other projects. Is Guava Island a film about art and culture and is Glover reflecting on his time as a musician and the impact his music will have on society going forward? Are Glover and Murai channeling their inner F Scott Fitzgerald and taking down the American Dream a la The Great Gatsby? Is the film about oppression and freeing yourself from it? With Glover and Murai, almost all of these things could be true and can be found in the subtle details. I highly recommend checking out Guava Island on Amazon Prime.