Donald Glover and Rihanna's 'Guava Island' tells a fascinating story about freedom, with a musical touch
In 'Glover Island', Rihanna and Glover live in a musical paradise suffering through conflicts of power, money and greed
'Guava Island' begins with Rihanna's Kofi Novia narrating the history of the island that was once a paradise. Now it stands devoured by greed and power by the Red family, which is now headed by Red Cargo (Nonso Anozie of 'King Lear' fame) who took over the island for its abundance in a peculiar kind of thread. Everything is owned by Red — it's like one of the characters in the film says, "Red owns the island, you just work on it."
Donald Glover plays the role of Deni Maroon, a Cuban musician, who sings on the radio and works on the docks, and is determined to throw a music festival for his community. Rihanna's Kofi is Deni's girlfriend and his musical inspiration.
Kofi and Deni meet as young kids and are immediately drawn to each other. Their love is warm, cozy and fluid — the kind of understated love that you'd want to be enveloped in. The movie's opening title is peppy, immediately casting a carefree spell on you.
Deni is loved, adored, blessed by his villagers. He is never without music — serenading Kofi with his tunes. Kofi is where Deni finds his musical inspiration; Kofi and Deni's dreams fuse seamlessly. He's the star of the village — everyone knows him, he knows everyone. Even when he's singing for a radio jingle on Red Cargo, the music is melodious enough to mask the lyrics.
Deni is always running — hustling. He wants to put together a musical concert for his community — an all-night long festival that Red is opposing. Anozie's Red is the kind of villain who will call you to his quarters to threaten you, obviously not before telling you that he admires your work. Red is synonymous to power — the kind that gets to your head and disillusions you, the kind that makes you underestimate the potential of those who you put down.
'Guava Island' is a musical beauty. It is a short story woven around Glover's songs such as 'This is America', 'Saturday', 'Summertime Magic', 'Feels Like Summer', 'Time' and 'Die With You'. 'This is America' is juxtaposed interestingly in 'Guava Island'. Addressing someone who says their dream is to escape the redundancy and suppression of the island and move to America to begin a business, Deni says, "Anywhere is America — America is a concept". He shows how the violence, power, struggle for survival, and ammunition that is ailing their island is the same problems ailing America — it is no different.
Then he's kidnapped by Red, with his guitar, who doesn't sugarcoat his warnings: "Taking Sunday off is not an option." The thing is, if the community goes to Deni's musical concert on Saturday, they won't turn up to work on Sunday. So he gives me $10,000 to "go wherever you want — $10,000 is even enough to bring somebody with you."
But the concert happens — and a marvelous one at that! Deni has the entire village dancing to his music despite the terror that Red thought he had instilled.
Deni is always running. Until his last moments. He is shot dead. But you always knew it. You knew it was due to happen. But he isn't the one who lost.
The next morning as Red goes on his Sunday visit, quietly musing at his victory over Deni, he is welcomed into an eerily silent factory. Astonished, he rushes to the docks to find it silent as well. No one showed to work. They're at Deni's funeral. He's left a musical legacy behind. His farewell is a musical celebration — he's not dead — it's a journey. And as Red affronts the (funeral) procession, no one stops in his face. It is not a melancholic funeral with Deni's music.
It is easy to lose hope towards the end of the film. But not before Kofi tells a different story about how dreams come true to her and Deni's daughter.
Glover shines throughout the film. Rihanna as Kofi is exceptional — given the fluidity with which Glover's Deni and her Kofi go. The film is streaming on Amazon Prime Video for free for the next 14 hours, after which you will need a subscription to watch it. Either way, 'Guava Island' is a comforting film you cannot miss.