Guava Island (2019)
55 min | Comedy, Music, Thriller
A young musician seeks to hold a festival to liberate the oppressed people of Guava Island, even if only for a day.
Guava Island, the secret film starring Donald Glover and Rihanna and directed by Hiro Murai, was released in conjunction with Childish Gambino’s Coachella performance this past Friday. Its 55-minute runtime is brief, but what it accomplishes over those 55 minutes is anything but small.
The short film is set and named after an imaginary island, one that mimics Caribbean traditions. It opens with an animated history lesson of sorts: the island is home to a silkworm that spins beautiful blue threads and, at some point, this beautiful resource was seized and monopolized by the Red family, who rules over the productivity of the native Guava residents with red hats and cocked guns.
Deni, who is played by Donald Glover, is a free-spirited musician; his entire lifestyle defies the vigilant greed that defines the world around him. Deni is perpetually late, a peccadillo which generally grinds the world of capitalistic greed to a halt. Deni’s defiance of the Red family, and his desire to create moments through song that unites the entire island, leads to his death and gives him immortality through music.
For one moment in the film, everything comes into focus. Through the hum of sewing machines and images of women hard at work in a factory, Deni’s voice comes through loud and clear: “Hey, this is Deni Maroon, telling you Red Cargo is the best cargo.”
A stripped-down version of Childish Gambino’s “Feels Like Summer” is performed over the lone radio in the sweatshop. A woman leans over, instinctively, and turns the volume up above the factory buzz. The scene rapidly changes and the song is mixed with ocean waves as someone fishes with their radio sitting steadfastly by their side. After a few seconds, the scene shifts again and now Gambino’s acoustic sound turns into splashing water as three women do their laundry in a river. Gambino’s stilling vocals then lace the conversation of four men in an office. In the most powerful shot to not feature Rihanna’s character Kofi on screen, two men share silence over cigarettes as the music fills the air before static replaces the guitar and the dial is adjusted. At the same moment the signal returns, Gambino’s hum replaces the abrasive sound of static, and a vision of music that is lived in and crosses physical separation comes into clear view.
The magic of this moment—community—is a feeling we’ve lost in 2019. We get our music on demand; everything is a click away. But on Guava Island, the radio allows everyone, even if for only two minutes, to share in the same experience.