"Guava Island": A Love Letter to Storytelling & Pushing Limits
Imagine the 48 hour period surrounding Selena, Sam Cooke, Tupac or John Lennon’s untimely death. All of the aforementioned names are music legends tragically cut down in their prime. This is Guava Island in a nutshell. The 55 minute film quietly released on Amazon Prime may be consumed by some as a music video, musical, video album hybrid but there’s a lot more to it than those boxes.
The film starts with a bed time story about two childhood sweethearts. The boy grew up to be a talented singer named Deni Maroon (Donald Glover) who sought to win the girl, Kofi Novia (Rihanna), by singing a new song every night to her until he created the perfect song. While Deni works in the factory on the island, he is also a free spirited crooner who wants to fight for the people of Guava by providing the soundtrack to mental freedom through his music. He plans to put on a music festival to give the island’s working class a chance to unwind, but that would be bad business for the island’s big boss, Red Cargo (Nonso Anozie), because people wouldn’t show up for work the next day after partying all night.
There comes a point where the central conflict of the film comes to a head and a decision must be made. Due to the length of the Guava Island, we don’t get to see the consequences of the decision that a 90 minute running time would display. So in many ways the fallout is even heavier. What happens to people who do the right thing in the face of greedy, self-serving people? Is doing the right thing worth it if you have to pay the ultimate price? The story and the answers to those questions are cut short just like the running time. Which ultimately allows for the viewer to ruminate on those questions and ideas.
Guava Island is a love letter to the power of storytelling. Its use of the animated bed time story in the beginning, Demi’s live action story, and the ending animation all serve a point to how we consume information through oral and visual storytelling. It’s how we elevate human beings to the heroic and legendary status of a Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X. While simultaneously mythologizing his brother’s art, writer Stephen Glover (Donald’s brother) taps into a story that we’ve seen far too many times in history. It’s the story of a talented individual who gives themselves to his or her people and the entities that want to snuff their light out. While they may be gone in the physical, there’s no doubt that their energy lives on through the work that they created and spirit they emoted.
With Nipsey Hussle’s untimely death, a film like this hits home even more for those who were fans (it even dropped on the day of his funeral). Why do the good ones go too soon? Why do we as a society of flawed human beings, hate on or take out the people trying to make a positive difference in our communities? Perhaps the answer can be found in the remixed “This is America” song and dance within the film. With factory workers dressed in red jumpsuits (coincidentally similar to those in Jordan Peele’s Us) and moving like zombies, could it be that like so many TV shows and movies featuring zombie hordes moving together in unison, when they hear a sound of something different or smell live flesh, they attack it, kill it, and then we’re left to celebrate its greatness after?
Ultimately, what Glover and frequent collaborator, director Hiro Murai, have given us is art. Art allows us to fill in the blanks with our own thoughts and starts conversations. It’s refreshing to see that with so many ways to get their art into the world through streaming distributors, artists are taking advantage of it and taking risks to express themselves outside of the traditional boxed narrative for their careers. Glover doesn’t have to just be an actor in big blockbuster movies, tv shows, or just a singer. He can combine it all in the story he wants to tell. He doesn’t have to be pinned down to society’s wishes, and perhaps that’s the main point of Guava Island.