With ‘Guava Island,’ Donald Glover shows independence and free spirit

Pictured is a graphic art image of a film poster. The border is red and in the middle is a scene of two people on the beach. There is a woman kneeling down at the waters edge and a man in a tropical Hawaiian style shirt standing next to her. The beach is surrounded by palm trees and other foliage. In the top left of the poster are the words "Visit Guava Island" and in the bottom right are the words "Explore Paradise."
“Guava Island” stars Donald Glover and Rihanna. It debuted during the first weekend of Coachella and was later released on Amazon Prime Video. (Courtesy: Amazon Studios)

I’ve been a fan of Donald Glover for a long time. Growing up, I found a sense of comfort in his creativity. Like many, I discovered him through his debut album “Camp,” not even realizing I was laughing at his jokes in “30 Rock.”

The sophomore album of the artist creatively known as Childish Gambino, titled, “Because the Internet,” became one of the most influential albums of my life.

For me, BTI, released during the winter of my freshman year of high school, redefined what rap was and what it could be. Since its release, I’ve seen Glover continue to disrupt as an entertainer, while creating projects that highlight the vast range of his creativity.

Glover has always impressed and inspired me through his work. He has been an important figure to my adolescence and that of many others — when he makes a move, we watch in awe, wonder and appreciation.

The release of his most recent project, “Guava Island,” led me to question if the artist made a misstep, or if he accomplished a massive achievement in the realm of streaming content.

Ultimately, the musical film is a flex of the fluidity that Glover is allowed to have as an artist in the 21st century that, while unusual and possibly unprecedented, should be celebrated by all audiences.

“Guava Island” was first exhibited during the first weekend of Coachella two weeks ago, and was released on Amazon Prime Video following his set at the festival. At 56 minutes, it is technically considered a film.

The plot follows a musician named Deni (Glover), who uses music to combat the business tycoon, Red Cargo (Nonso Anozie), who essentially employs everyone on the film’s eponymous island. Rihanna also plays Deni’s love interest, Kofi.

The film features the three songs released by Glover in 2018 (“This is America,” “Feels Like Summer” and “Summertime Magic”), as well as some unreleased songs in different musical numbers. Rihanna does not sing.

Prior to the film’s release, there was a great deal of speculation amongst Gambino fans as to what “Guava Island” would be. Many thought it would be some sort of visual album, while others were hoping the singer/rapper/actor/writer would just release a full collection of new music.

Instead, we were given a strange hybrid of a creative project. My initial thoughts after having watched the film were dominated by ideas of what a “film” should be. Labeling “Guava Island” as a film limits how we interpret the project, when it should be regarded simply as a work of art.

The plot in it of itself is quite straightforward and fast-moving. However, Glover finds other ways to make the project meaningful and still worth watching. What the film lacks in plot is made up for by other forms of artistry.

One notable aspect of the film is its set’s beautiful location — Cuba. The fictional Guava Island remains breezy despite the oppressive force of Red Cargo. Supported by Cuba’s unique architecture and landscapes, viewers get an authentic image, rather than a studio-fabricated island.

It is also worth recognizing that every person in the film is black, from main characters to extras. We, the audience, see an island that is a community bound by the people, language and culture that it consists of.

The film begins with a brief history of Guava Island, narrated by Kofi. Other than that, we are immediately placed in this world that simply exists.

In this way, the island becomes a character whose culture and people are integrated into the project so well that nothing is explained; everything is taken as fact.

When I first watched “Guava Island,” I was disappointed; there was no full-length feature film, no new album and no vocals from Rihanna, who has not released much music since her 2016 album “Anti.”

I did not understand why the internet had given Glover so much hype for a project that did not even last an hour. I questioned why we consider him an artistic genius, when within the same week Beyoncé released a two-hour documentary film and live album.

However, it was not until later that I recognized Glover’s versatility and willingness to take risks with his art at the expense of merging different mediums.

Nothing Glover does with “Guava Island” is necessarily revolutionary; some have even called it his “Purple Rain.” Instead, he continues to dip his toes in the various forms of art, doing whatever he wants.

“Guava Island” is reflective of the freedom that talented individuals such as Glover have in the work they create, further pushing boundaries and inspiring the young audiences that have gravitated toward him.

Chris Agard CM ’21 is a guest L&S writer and TSL opinions writer. He is a philosophy, politics and economics major from Atlanta who does not believe in putting pineapple on pizza.

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