How Childish Gambino's 'Guava Island' movie was made and what it means

  • Childish Gambino produced and starred in a short music film, “Guava Island,” and the film aired at this year’s Coachella.
  • The production team said they asked Rihanna to star in the film through an Instagram message.
  • The film takes place in Cuba, uses several of Gambino’s previous songs, and features a remake of his “This is America” music video.

Following is a full transcript of this video:

Alana: One of the biggest Coachella moments this year wasn’t a live performance. “Guava Island,” a short film produced by Donald Glover and starring Rihanna, aired at the festival, and the full movie hit Amazon Video a few days later. Now, there was talk of this Rih and Glover collab a while back when pictures of the two in Cuba surfaced last year, but no one knew exactly what it was for. “Guava Island” is a musical that features several of Glover’s songs and brings to life a folktale of how music helped unite an oppressed and overworked island. The standout scene: Glover completely remade his iconic “This Is America” video specifically for the movie. Here’s how the movie was made and how the movie’s meaning relates to the original “This Is America” video. Warning, major spoilers ahead. “Guava Island” was actually filmed in Havana, Cuba. The team behind the movie made sure that all the locals who were cast were Afro-Cuban, something rarely seen in mainstream media. But for how they got Rihanna, the highly underestimated DM approach.

Ibra: We left a comment on her Instagram. “Movie? U in? Cuba…” And then the rest is history, baby.

Stephen: So shout out to Rihanna.

Ibra: Yeah, for stopping her billion-dollar empire to d— around for a few seconds.

Alana: In addition to the people, the songs, energy, and instruments all feature traditional Cuban and Afro-Caribbean sounds.

Ibra: The casting, a lot of it was local, and we found an incredible local talent. We were just like, “Wow, this is a great way to amplify the voices of the local community.”

Alana: For the “This Is America” scene, which took two days to film, the crew used factory machinery to take the song from the US into the Caribbean.

Ibra: The dance number was probably really hard. Donald was very meticulous, and I think it was like one of the few scenes where we went overtime because he wanted to get the takes right. I think even [the choreographer] Cheri was like, “I think it’s pretty good,” but he still wanted to just go harder ’cause it was like, it’s Donald, and he’s a perfectionist.

Alana: The overall meaning of this film expanded on Glover’s “This Is America” video.

Alana: In the film, the “This Is America” scene was used to foreshadow Deni’s murder. The reasons why he was murdered echoed Glover’s original music video. In the “This Is America” video, Glover starts to truly awaken to the injustice around him and runs away in complete fear of his life. It’s the same for Deni in his last moments in the film. As soon as Deni was using his talent for something other than making money for the island’s shipping company, he was deemed as a threat to the system. He played with the idea that you live in a society where your only purpose is to make money for the powers above, the idea of freedom is just that: a far-off idea.

Jamal: Aspects of the American dream, just how here, you know, we sell the idea of everybody can be rich essentially, but for one person to be rich, truly, somebody else has to suffer.

Ibra: But breaking it down, almost to like a fun, kid’s level and, like, not making it, you know…

Jamal: And just like the duality of, like, playing with dark themes like that, but Ibra is saying, also making it super fun.

Alana: It’s the reason why Red Cargo didn’t just shut down the festival in the first place but rather threatened Deni to do it. It’s also the same reason why Red didn’t tell Rihanna’s character, Kofi, that he planned on killing Deni if he didn’t cancel the festival. Red wanted to maintain the facade of free will and choice to prevent an uprising, but Deni’s defiance lifted the veil, and in the end, freedom and unity prevailed.

Stephen: Capitalism is something that we like to talk about, like, a lot as a group. Especially how it affects black people, you know, for better or for worse, and so that’s kind of an idea. We went to Brazil, and then being around, like, São Paulo, it just kind of, I guess like made us think about certain things. But at the same time, like the people there, even though there’s very rich and very poor people, there’s still a sense of community in the poor neighbourhoods and, you know, a sense of culture there. So that kind of interested us.

Alana: Overall, the movie’s plot and theme isn’t new for black and brown communities. In fact, many on Twitter compared “Guava Island”‘s plot to the death of rapper and community leader Nipsey Hussle. And Glover’s team agrees.

Stephen: Black people are so used to seeing that tragedy, and as you see, it’s a part of real life, too, it’s not…

Ibra: It’s like systemic also. Yeah.

Jamal: It’s also a reason why it happens, which is also why the film resonated.

Stephen: I think we all know that sometimes doing the right thing, or doing something for your people, or the greater good, leads to consequences for you. But, that’s what integrity is, you know.

Alana: “Guava Island” isn’t the only movie we can expect from Glover. He’s releasing more short films starring comedian Mo’Nique to promote his new sneaker collection with Adidas. So what did you think of Guava Island? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to subscribe.

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