Last summer, Donald Glover snuck off to Cuba to create something – a feature film collaboration, or so it had, based on scant information other than a photo of Glover and Rihanna posed up during production of their mysterious "Guava Island "Project.
Creation is what Glover does best, constantly redefining audiences" ideas of what he is capable of expressing himself: From his roots as a sketch artist (the Derrick Comedy troupe) and comedy writer (serving as a story editor on “30 Rock”) to an already wide-ranging acting career (which took off with “Community,” and enabled his work as a creator, showrunner, and star of the FX series “Atlanta”), Glover is constantly stepping aside when the momentum seems greatest to his hand at some fresh challenge.
That could explain the otherwise bewildering claims announcing the retirement of his most popular invention yet, childish Gambino, falsetto-voiced hip-hop alter ego. . Now, after eight months of speculation about this hush-hush movie brewing in the background of Childish Gambino's final tour, the secret is out. Earlier this week, Glover finally unveiled "Guava Island" at Coachella, letting it serve as a dramatic lead-in to his headlining show Friday at the music party. A few hours after Childish Gambino took the internship, Amazon got on what was shaping up to be a cultural event, streaming the movie free for 1
No matter what Glover's fans had in mind, "Guava Island" can't possibly be what they expected. At just 55 minutes, the film serves as a shorter, "Purple Rain," a self-mythologizing story from the artist known as Childish Gambino, reintroduced here as Deni Maroon. A scrappy reggaeton Romeo, Deni is determined to impress childhood sweetheart Kofi Novia (Rihanna) via the perfect song. This is the great Jimmy Cliff classic, "The Harder They Come," positioning Deni as a similar kind of rebel hero, risking his life to throw a feel good music festival on an island where a thug named Red Cargo (Nonso Anozie, who plays his villain as vicious charm) forces everyone to work seven days a week in his sweatshops.
Co-conceived and directed by "Atlanta" collaborator Hiro Murai, “Guava Island” features less than one might expect, but opens and closes with a new song, kicking off a five-minute animated prologue with the upbeat Caribbean-infused ballad “The With You.” The accompanying visuals are pop art bright and picture-book nostalgic, presented in a nearly-square aspect ratio, as an old television set, against which Rihanna narrates the history of Guava Island (whose shape resembles that of Hispaniola, and which is similarly divided down he center) and her own character's lifelong wish to leave this fallen paradise.
Acting has never been Rihanna's strong suit, and when the movie cuts to it, it's impossible to ignore one of "Guava Island's" fundamental limitations: that she really ought to be singing, rather than reduced to playing Deni's love interest. Perhaps at one point that was the plan. Certainly, there are places in the movie where Rihanna songs might have gone, including an awkward cut midway through his "Summertime Magic" when she should have answered Deni back, potentially transforming the catchy but familiar mid-2018 single into a more robust duet . Letitia Wright (19659002) Like everyone else on the island, Deni is obliged to slave away for Red Cargo, who permits the shirtless young to play his songs on the radio twice a day because he likes the propagandistic happy worker anthem deni wrote in tribute. Audiences who know and have tried to unpack Glover's endlessly rich music video (restored here with updated choreography from zombie-like black adults in crude red coveralls) will recognize the irony: "Red Cargo" represents the child of sell- out gesture the singer previously critiqued, even as his signature hinged-scarecrow shuffle and exaggerated minstrel scowl – challenges to the fraught tradition of black entertainment in the US – Pepper may not have anticipated how Jordan Peele would take those same crimson jumpsuits and render them diabolical in his movie "Us," nor could he have imagined that "Guava Island Would drop on the same day as slain LA Nipsey Hussle's funeral rapper. And yet, those coincidences lend an honor to the project, which plugs squarely into the zeitgeist, claiming conflict with a call for love. With all that talk of retirement, does this movie mark the end of Childish Gambino? When this elaborate coachella stunt lands at the zenith of his success. If anything, he is reborn here in yet another persona, and just as swiftly martyred. As an artist, Glover may be committed to reinvention, but characters like Childish Gambino and Deni Maroon can't be so easily done. "Guava Island" shows that beautifully, not only laying out the challenges that creative personalities face in this culture, but also showing how their legacies live on.