Donald Glover’s ‘Guava Island’ Debuts After Coachella Set as Childish Gambino
“Guava Island,” a new 55-minute film starring Donald Glover and Rihanna, was released as a limited-time free stream on Amazon overnight Saturday, during Glover’s headlining set as Childish Gambino at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
The mysterious project, which has been teased for months, features Glover as Deni, a singer hoping to bring the mystical island of Guava together with a music festival, while Rihanna plays his girlfriend, Kofi, and provides voice-over during a fairy-tale-like animated introduction about the fictional location and its valuable blue silk. Nonso Anozie (“Game of Thrones”) and Letitia Wright (“Black Panther”) also appear.
With a plot involving exploited workers, the struggles of musicians and a society divided between red and blue, the film incorporates themes present in much of Glover’s recent work, from the hit FX series “Atlanta” to his viral, Grammy-winning song and video for “This Is America,” which is interpolated in “Guava Island.”
The film was written by Glover’s brother Stephen and directed by his longtime collaborator Hiro Murai, who was also behind the camera for much of “Atlanta” and “This Is America.” Following its premiere on the grounds of Coachella on Thursday, and the Childish Gambino show on Friday night, “Guava Island” was made available for anyone to watch on Amazon for 18 hours starting Saturday at 12:01 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time; it will then be available exclusively to Amazon Prime subscribers.
Shot in Cuba and inspired by the Brazilian crime epic “City of God” and Prince’s “Purple Rain,” “Guava Island” does not ultimately feature much new music from Childish Gambino — or any singing from Rihanna. The movie opens with a breezy unreleased number from Glover (“If the world ends/I think I wanna die with you”) and has elements of another song with the lyrics, “Maybe the sky will fall down on tomorrow/but one thing’s for certain baby/we’re running out of time.”
It also incorporates alternate versions of recent Childish Gambino singles like “Summertime Magic” and “Feels Like Summer,” along with “Saturday,” which Glover debuted on “Saturday Night Live” last year (“God, this 9 to 5 just keep on killing me,” he sings). In one scene set in a factory, another character tells Deni that he hopes to save enough money to make it to America. “It’s different there,” the man says. “I heard people are their own bosses.”
Deni responds: “This is America. Guava’s no different than any other country,” adding, “America is a concept. Anywhere where in order to make yourself rich, you have to make someone else richer is America.” He then leads a choreographed dance to the song that mirrors some of the music video.
At Coachella on Friday night, Glover — who has thrown his own festival, Pharos — did not make a show of plugging “Guava Island,” though he did incorporate tropical imagery and sounds into his set. For one unreleased song, he cleared a section in the crowd to scream over a cacophonous burst of complex drum rhythms, bathed in almost-apocalyptic red lights. He also performed the still-unreleased track “Human Sacrifice,” which debuted in a Google ad during the Grammy Awards in February.
Glover was overcome by emotion onstage while discussing the deaths of his father and the rappers Mac Miller and Nipsey Hussle. “What I’m starting to realize is all we really have is memories at the end of the day,” he told the crowd. “All we are really is like, data — you pass it on to your kids, you pass it on to your friends, your family.”
“While we’re here,” Glover added, “feel something and pass it on.”