Guava Island: Donald Glover and Rihanna's New Film With All the Good Feels
Donald Glover is a man of surprises. Guava Island, ( which is the secret film he’d snuck off to Cuba to film with Rihanna and Atlanta director Hiro Murai last year) put us in a romanticized haze that is undeniable.
Moreover, the massive rollout is the testament to Glover’s all-encompassing talent. Although different in tenor, Guava Island does garner the same attention and devotion that Glover’s previous projects have. Despite being a short film with a runtime of 54 minutes, Glover and Murai didn’t hesitate to assemble a magnetic cast who are quite thrilling to watch. The film follows Deni Maroon ( played by Glover), a charming and spirited musician (who happens to be seriously anti-capitalist) who wants to host a music festival for the hardworking people of Guava. His girlfriend, Kofi Novia, (played by Rihanna) is delightfully unimpressed with Deni’s songs but is very supportive nonetheless. Yara Love ( played by Letitia Wright of Black Panther )is Kofi’s friend, that doesn’t get enough screenplay. The three peas in the pod wander around a beautiful depiction of Havana, including bright colors, sunny views, and ocean waters.
The short film opens with a jaw-dropping animated sequence, which indicates that Guava Island is aesthetically ( which I’m totally here for !). Murai’s attention to detail in color and contrast is outstanding: The boldest reds, deep sea blues, golden yellows, and royal purples. The island of Guava was alive, prior to the film shifts to the live-action footage.
The animation is narrated by Rihanna’s Kofi, telling the story of how she and Deni met, and how the island fell under the rule of a heartless businessman named Red ( playedNonso Anozie). The screen is electrifying in these scenes; Kofi and Deni’s animations are lively. As Deni explains that he will continue to play Kofi music until he writes a song as beautiful as she is, her retort is peak Rihanna: “Fortunately no song is that beautiful.” For fans of the famously bemused singer, it’s adorable to see her lovingly brush off Glover’s character in this way.
In addition, films such as City of God and Purple Rain were some of the influences on Guava Island’s political conflict at its core. Deni is annoyed at Red’s fascist influence on the island’s impoverished working-class community and often uses music to express his disdain. The Guava Island premise is largely about money, and the island workers’ unfortunate economic position. In the somewhat anticlimactic ending, the film reminds me of Bob Marley’s 1976 Smile Jamaica concert. Yet, Guava Island is a fun warm-weather romp full of charming melodies and breezy interactions. Rihanna and Glover have innocence and curiosity to them that doesn’t quite translate to romantic love, but still a mutual care. The film is also accompanied by a cast of primarily black actors, which is an honorable depiction of Cuba’s large Afro-Latino population.
Overall, Glover has consistently honed his artistry for years, and Guava Island is a fascinating tale of how he applies his talents to the material with less emotional gravitas than Atlanta. Most importantly, Glover spends a lot of time on the screen dancing around town with Rihanna. Who could resist that!
Cover image via The New York Times