Donald Glover’s “Guava Island,” co-starring Rihanna, hit Amazon last weekend after his headlining performance at the Coachella fest in California.
The 55-minute film takes place on a tropical island that is meant to be a paradise but instead serves as a land for the overworked where exports and capitalism trump joy. The protagonist Deni (Glover) tells his love, Kofi (Rihanna), that his mission is to make the perfect song to unite the people of the island. His plans are to play it at his festival so that, for one night, the island dwellers can forget about work and live life.
The musical, shot in Cuba, includes Glover’s recent music as Childish Gambino, including “This Is America,” “Feels Like Summer” and “Summertime Magic.” So far it’s been met with mixed reviews, most of which ask why Rihanna doesn’t sing. (The duo has made “some music together, but it didn’t necessarily make it into this movie,” according to writer Stephen Glover, Donald’s brother.)
But many viewers have pointed out the parallels to rapper Nipsey Hussle’s life and death. The film, which premiered just days after Hussle’s funeral, takes a turn when Deni is shot and killed after performing at his festival despite his boss’s orders. Attendees at Deni’s processional donned blue garb, honoring the fictional artist. Folks on social media compared the scene to Hussle’s 25 mile-long processional in Los Angeles, in which thousands of people celebrated the rapper’s life, many of them wearing blue.
Though Hussle’s life and works are unrelated to “Guava Island,” the timing is eerie. Stephen Glover told HuffPost that it’s “art imitating life.”
“I think that the topics that we like to focus on in Royalty, and when we like to do stories they all feel, we like to do things that are grounded in a sense of reality even if we get weirder from there,” he said, speaking about their creative collective. “And a sad reality is the tragedy of black leaders being killed before their prime, of people who want to help the people who are killed or are stopped from realizing that dream, I think that’s something that’s happened in history plenty of times, especially to black people. So it’s just one of those things where you can see the movie has this element in it but it’s like, yeah, there’s real-life instances and examples of that all the time, unfortunately.”
Jamal “Swank” Olori told HuffPost that Hussle’s death was “shocking for everyone” and that a similar thing happened with “This Is America.”
“Everybody respects him and cares about him, so it’s not like you plan for anything close like that to happen, but it’s almost like “This Is America” [with] the timing of that... but Donald’s been working on that song for like three, four years, essentially. Even before we knew all about the Trump stuff and everything like that so,” he said. “I mean it is something that’s like super eerie and coincidental ’cause even with all of the blues and all that stuff, we can’t control that. The universe just makes stuff like that happen.”
Before he was killed, Hussle was working to promote STEM education among youth, invest in real estate to reinvigorate his neighborhood, end violence in his community and generally uplift black people. He wasn’t just a rapper, he was a pillar who continuously fought for his community.
Stephen Glover didn’t say who he based the main character on but described Deni’s character and motivation.
“I think really with Deni it was taking this idea of a community that’s oppressed or overworked and finding somebody who can represent that feeling, that hopeful feeling that everybody wants, or that everybody in the community wanted to see, which is somebody who’s not depressed, who’s happy, who can relate to everybody, who brings a smile to people while at the same time he’s fighting for them to be able to live lives where they have fun and can do things that they want to do and dream. So I think the idea of Deni is really just looking at the major theme of capitalism and kind of the hero of that, the hero of a capitalist system. Somebody who values the soul over money.”
“Guava Island” is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.