After about a year of secretive filming at various locations in Cuba, Donald Glover proves to the world, yet again, that he really can do anything. Directed by Hiro Murai (This is America, Atlanta) and with a screenplay by Stephen Glover (also of Atlanta fame), “Guava Island” combines a compelling story with beautifully-produced music into a 55-minute island thriller sure to delight longtime fans of Childish Gambino and casual moviegoers alike. This movie was released on April 13, 2019, after Donald Glover’s performance at Coachella, and is currently only available to Amazon Prime Video subscribers.
Kofi Novia, played by Rihanna, opens the movie with an animated folk tale reminiscent of movies like “The Emperor’s New Groove” and “Moana.” This glimpse of the backstory between the two protagonists sets up the fabulous and vibrant story to follow. She tells the legend and origin of the island, Guava, complete with mythological gods. The island has been looted by humans, completely voiding it of its natural foliage and fauna. The human inhabitants then find an elusive silkworm that spins valuable silk, and begin to make textiles out of it. A seamstress company is established as one of two main sources of income for the island, the other being Red’s Cargo; a freight ship company that exports silk products. Although played by Rihanna, her character features no singing despite the music-heavy soundtrack, much to many fans’ dismay. Rihanna’s character had potential for more of a dramatic deuteragonist, as there were plenty of spots in the movie where she wasn’t doing too terribly much.
Deni Maroon, played by Donald Glover, is the lover of Kofi. His initial goal is to write a song “that is as beautiful as is.” Later, his new goal is to throw a festival for the entire island and unite the people of Guava through song; however he wants everyone take a day off work to go to the festival. Deni tries to balance his guitar playing with working two jobs at Red’s Cargo and the Guava radio station. He insists on playing at the festival, much to his coworkers’ dismay. Glover’s character is beautifully developed in this movie, as it combines his whimsical personality with his fine singing chops to create this truly memorable character.
Supporting actors in “Guava Island” include Letitia Wright and Nonso Anozie, who play the roles of Yara Love and Red Cargo, respectively. Both of these actors, albeit with their relatively small roles, do a fine job with their parts and help move the story along nicely. Yara Love is a Kofi’s best friend who also works as a seamstress. Red Cargo, the main antagonist of the film, is the big business mogul on the island. He also acts as the island’s governor, because of his massive amount of money. Throughout the movie, Deni’s festival plans conflict with Cargo’s business interests. The opposing ideologies between the two characters create for an interesting dynamic of suspense that intermixes very well with the island’s atmosphere.
The music of “Guava Island” consists of fun and electrifying island-infused songs written by Donald Glover. Placed during key plot points in the movie, these musical selections help supplement the movie very well. The music, some released throughout the summer of 2018, is a perfect compliment to the lush island flavor. The soundtrack includes previously released songs off of the “Summer Pack”: “Feels Like Summer,” “Summertime Magic,” and the Grammy-winning “This is America,” released as a single in May after Glover’s “Saturday Night Live” performance. The track “Saturday,” originally performed by Glover for SNL, makes a reappearance in the soundtrack of the film, but with no public availability yet. Other musical selections include “Red’s Cargo,” a jingle that Deni wrote for his radio job, and “Die With You (Island Version),” the music that accompanies the opening titles. Overall, the soundtrack for this movie is very, very well-written and produced across the board.
Many fans of Donald Glover and his alter-ego Childish Gambino have linked the similarity between “Guava Island” and the short film “Clapping for the Wrong Reasons,” also directed by Hiro Murai. This project is considered the introduction to “Because the Internet,” Glover’s sophomore album. Fans speculate that “Guava Island” could potentially do the same, as Donald Glover will officially be retiring the “Gambino” persona after the release of his next album (with no name or release date yet). Glover could also be hinting at a collaboration with Rihanna on said album.
In short, “Guava Island” is yet another great work the minds of Hiro Murai and the Glover brothers. With a solid screenplay, memorable music, and a satisfactory cast, this movie is sure to satisfy and surprise. Critics and fans alike gave this movie a decent amount praise, sitting at a 74% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 7/10 on IMDb.