Guava Island, Childish Gambino's long-awaited new project, has finally arrived. Hot off a headlining Coachella performance Friday night, Guava Island is the proverbial cherry on top of Donald Glover's wildly successful year as a rapper, following his first Billboard No. 1 with "This Is America" in 2018 and that song's wins for Song of the Year and Record of the Year at the Grammy awards earlier this year — the first rap song to ever win both those prizes.
Anticipation for Guava Island was first stoked months in advance with a single photo of Glover and Rihanna on set in Cuba, spurring grandiose speculation as to what the project would entail — especially since it's tied to Glover's retirement of the Childish Gambino project. Longtime collaborator Hiro Murai directed (Murai is also the director of the "This Is America" video and many episodes of Glover's TV series Atlanta) and the screenplay was written by Stephen Glover, Donald's brother and a writer on Atlanta.
Almost as if to curtail the expectations, the film itself is a modestly stunning — and at times unnerving — extended music video, shot in 4:3 aspect ratio, about music's power to unite in the face of tyranny and greed. It features three new songs, "Die With You," "Time" and the flamenco-tinged "Saturday," as well as renditions of the previously released "Summertime Magic," "Feels Like Summer" and notably, a sequence showcasing "This Is America" that recalls Murai's music video from last year.
A quick summary of the plot: Glover stars as Deni Maroon, a Purple Rain-esque folk hero and local celebrity on the island — exploited for its natural splendor and transformed into a factory spinning silk run by a single despot, played by Nonso Anozie. Rihanna plays his partner, Kofi Novia. The pair meets in a gorgeous animated backstory at the start of the film. Deni's set on uniting the island with a music festival, but it comes at a cost. Black Panther's Letitia Wright also plays a role.
Guava Island is streaming on Amazon for free today until 9 p.m. EST. After that time, it'll be available only to Amazon Prime members. It will also stream once on YouTube's Coachella live stream, starting at 8 p.m ET / 5 p.m. PT.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Every now and again, we like to tell you about new releases that we think are going to spark conversation, so now we want to tell you about a new movie that dropped online at midnight. It's called "Guava Island." It's the creation of Donald Glover, the multitalented actor behind the hit show "Atlanta." You might also know him as the singer Childish Gambino. Anyway, the new movie stars him and Rihanna. And listen to this - the 54-minute film is only available on Amazon Prime until 9 p.m. tonight, Eastern Time, so we're going to tell you what you need to know about it in case you miss your window, and we're going to try to avoid spoilers. Sidney Madden from NPR Music is here to tell us more about it.
SIDNEY MADDEN, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.
MARTIN: So quickly tell us what this is about.
MADDEN: So the whole film is set on Guava. It's this...
MARTIN: It's a fictional island.
MARTIN: A fictional place. OK.
MADDEN: Fictional place, beautiful island paradise, bountiful, vibrant. And the people are happy, but they have to find happiness wherever they can because they're forced to work seven days a week.
MARTIN: OK. And Donald Glover plays who?
MADDEN: Donald Glover plays Deni, the main character, who's this guitar-toting musical scamp. He's planning to put on a music festival for his island so that they can finally have a day off and celebrate. But Red, the kingpin on the island - he doesn't like this idea, obviously, so he's deterring him by any means necessary.
MARTIN: OK. So you're going to play a clip. What's - what are we going to hear in this clip?
MADDEN: So this is one of the opening scenes in the movie. Deni is coming in late for work, and his co-workers are talking about how they're trying to save up money to leave the island because they think that's the solution - where you can be your own boss. But Deni's, like, it doesn't work that way.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GUAVA ISLAND")
DONALD GLOVER: (As Deni) This is America. Life is no different than any other country.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) I don't know about that, Deni.
GLOVER: (As Deni) America is a concept. Anywhere where in order to get rich you got to make someone else richer is America.
MARTIN: Now, you know, many people might remember that Childish Gambino - or Donald Glover performing as Childish Gambino - got a lot of attention for a song and a music video "This Is America." It had a very pointed social critique in it. Is this film similar to that?
MADDEN: I would say it is similar. But the way "This Is America" the music video last year had so many layers of symbolism, this narrative is much more streamlined.
MARTIN: So is this a - like, an extended music video in the way many people might remember that when Beyonce dropped "Lemonade," it was like a - it was a long, kind of feature length-piece, but it was kind of a - it was a showcase for her music videos. Or is this more of a movie with music in it?
MADDEN: That's a great question. And I could see how many would draw comparisons to "Lemonade." But this is more a movie with music in it because in traditional musicals or in something like "Lemonade," the music helps to drive the narrative, and that isn't really the case here. This is more music as an aside and an additional social commentary.
MARTIN: And what's the logic of releasing it, like, only for a limited number of hours on Amazon, right? What is the - what was the point of that? Just to frustrate us? Or what's the logic here?
MADDEN: A little bit because I'm sure a lot of fans are probably frustrated. But I think the logic is that this is a primer for something much bigger. The movie in and of itself is a great undertaking and a beautiful production. But I think because it doesn't feature any new music other than the opening track, which is a very poppy, boppy little bit of a dance track summertime anthem - which points to the fact or the speculation that we're going to hear more music from him this year, possibly a full album.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIE WITH YOU")
GLOVER: (Singing) If the world ends, I think I want to die with you, na na na na. If the world ends...
MARTIN: That is NPR Music's Sidney Madden.
Sidney, thank you so much.
MADDEN: Thank you, Michel.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIE WITH YOU")
GLOVER: (Singing) Oh, if it were to end, I think I wanna die with you, na na na na. When the world ends... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.