“Guava Island” is a unique narrative by Childish Gambino that seems like a mix between legend, fairytale, movie and musical. It centers around a couple and their struggle to survive and thrive. The film starts with an origin story in which seven Gods created what they termed as the ‘dueling truths’ love and war. They then chose to shelter humans from these forces on an island in the center of the world called Guava. The island was a paradise until man’s greed and distrust spread across it.
It is from there that the story picks up with Rihanna’s character of Kofi going into the details of her relationship with Gambino’s character Deni. They knew each other as children and flourished into adulthood as a couple. Kofi explains how she always wanted to leave the island but Deni wanted to stay and write a song that would unite the people and remind them of the magic Guava possessed. To reach his goals Deni works as a musician, continually coming up with tunes and songs and becoming well known on the island for his talents.
There is, of course, the Gambino brand of eccentricity that both intrigues and makes you slightly uncomfortable all the while. He is able to incorporate his songs into the narrative in a unique and original way that doesn’t seem to detract from the action. I greatly appreciated this, since most musicals tend to have characters break into song on contrived and unrealistic terms.
At one point Gambino’s character of Deni reprimands one of his coworkers who has high hopes of going to America. He corrects his thinking that America offers freedom by bringing to his attention that any freedom won by making someone else richer isn’t really freedom. Deni instead states that anywhere this dynamic is taking place can be considered America. Hence his reasoning for breaking into the song “This is America”.
There is a moment where Deni meets the antagonist of the story named Red but before he comes face to face with Red, Deni is forced to wear a name tag. This we come to realize is a form of labeling since we come to find that Red already knew Deni’s name. This highlights the concept that labels help give others power over you.
In the meeting with Red, Deni is threatened not to hold a festival he is planning for the people of the island. Red argues that such an event would detract from the work he wants the people to do. Deni holds the festival despite the warning which results in his death. But despite Red’s efforts to kill Deni to maintain control, the next morning he finds the opposite. The whole island has joined in defiance against Red with Deni’s funeral procession. So regardless of the festival being cut short, the work still didn’t get done.
There are several ideas in the film that give it meaning. One of the major ones seems to be the concept that one person can cause change. Music is more of a moving force than we tend to give it credit for. America is often romanticized as a place where dreams can come true but it is just as corrupted as other places. Throughout the tale, Kofi tells Deni that ‘practice is perfection.’ However, Deni ends up losing his instrument which he has practiced so much with but still manages to create the ‘perfect’ song for her. Thus perfection isn’t always what you think it may be or look like. Labels are a way for others to gain or maintain power over another. And finally, a united people are more powerful than the oppressive forces that may be at work.
All together “Guava Island” was a visually entertaining film. I applaud Childish Gambino for the unique delivery of his artistry. I would highly recommend giving it a watch/listen.