As Grammy winner Donald Glover was performing as Childish Gambino at Coachella, he gave attendees a festival within a festival via a 55-minute Amazon Original film he debuted last Thursday.
For one, the mystery project promised to be the capper to a terrific year for the multi-hyphenate star, who hit the Billboard No. 1 for “This Is America” in 2018, which then went on to become the first rap song to win both Song of the Year and Record of the Year at the 2019 Grammys.
The film, which is now streaming for Amazon Prime customers, begins with a lush animation that sets the stage for the drama to follow: The Guava Island of legend was once a paradise created by the gods, where everyone was free, and resources were abundant and shared.
After a violent coup, the island came to be ruled by a cruel factory owner who exploits the two greatest assets of the island, a worm that spins blue silk, and the island’s now indentured population. Glover plays Deni, a joyful musician who runs afoul of the factory owner named Red (played by Nonso Anonzie), as he plans to throw an unauthorized music festival for the island’s hard-working people. Rihanna is perfect as Deni’s skeptical girlfriend, and Letitia Wright plays her best friend in a supporting role.
The people spin blue. The oppressor is named Red. Get it?
For purists, the reviews have been mixed. The film is either a delightfully long music video or a too-short, imperfectly realized film – besides being light on plot and character development, Rihanna doesn’t sing and Letitia Wright doesn’t have much to do.
“Guava Island is a rom-com about the ravages of capitalism,” says The Ringer’s Rob Harvilla, who found the film wanting. “[I]t leaves its deceptively heavy themes underexplored, and its alluring characters (and actors) underserved.”
And yet the film is so beautiful, and the music so vital, that it’s hard to fault Glover and his team for creating a project that’s difficult to classify. It’s shot in the parts of Cuba most foreigners never get to see, and the filmmakers have included local talent of all ages, with a very deliberate nod to the island’s Afro-Caribbean heritage. That alone is a revelation.
And while the film is not a direct descendant of the “This is America” video, it offers a powerful dotted line.
The original version of the song was in part, an unflinching look at America’s troubled history with race and celebrity. “I think in a lot of ways what Glover is trying to do is really bring our focus and our attention to black violence, black entertainment [and] the way they’re juxtaposed in society,” says NPR’s hip-hop journalist Rodney Carmichael
Glover and ensemble launch into a shorter version of the song in the film. In the context of Guava Islandese, the song takes on the bigger themes of global colonialism and equity. It’s a show stopper.
The scene begins as a musical answer to the capitalist ambitions of a poor dock worker who dreams of escaping his dead-end life on the island to make his fortune in America. “This is America,” says Glover’s Deni, pointing to the earth. “Guava’s no different than any other country. America is a concept. Anywhere where, in order to get rich, you have to make someone else richer, is America.”
While it would be easy to dismiss Glover’s critique of colonialism and capitalism as naive, he’s adding his influential voice to that of other major brands expressing similar concerns.
Consider Patagonia, a clothing maker operating under a very different set of values than Guava’s Red.
The company recently decided to decline to make branded logowear for corporate customers who do not share their “Earth-friendly capitalist agenda.” Patagonia jackets and vests are so popular among tech companies, says The San Francisco Chronicle, “Patch on a corporate logo, and you’ve got what passes for a uniform in San Francisco’s tech sector.”
In a statement, Patagonia expressed “reluctance” to do business with companies involved with finance, oil and drilling, politics, and other industries that don’t match their bigger mission. Instead, they’ll prioritize other Certified B corporations, an official designation for organizations who promise to use their profits to do good in the world.
Glover’s Deni states his big mission fairly simply. “What’s wrong with me,” he says “is that we live in paradise but none of us have the time or the means to actually live here.”
That’s also what’s wrong with millions of people around the globe. While the workers of Guava Island would be prevented from wearing a Red-branded Patagonia vest, for a brief moment, they got something better: Revolution as joyful noise.
|Facebook nominates Peggy Alford to its board|
|Peggy Alford, a member of PayPal’s senior executive team and former CFO of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, will be the first African American woman and second black executive to join the Facebook board. Facebook has been under fire for its lack of diversity among its leadership and board ranks. USA Today’s Jessica Guynn points out some progress in representation for black women on corporate boards (see below), but not in Silicon Valley. “Black women in particular face significant roadblocks — insular networks, negative stereotypes, overlapping discrimination based on gender and race,” she writes. “At Facebook, you can almost count on one hand the number of black women — six — who work as senior managers or executives in the U.S., accounting for less than 1% of those 769 jobs.”|
|Welcome back, Tiger|
|By any measure, it is quite a comeback. Tiger Woods won his first Masters tournament since 2005 on Sunday, ending a period marked by some extraordinary problems including an infidelity scandal, divorce, issues with addiction and a series of potentially career-ending surgeries. It was his first major tournament since 2008. Nike, his sponsor since 1996, celebrated the win with a touching video tribute for the man who has been “chasing the same dream” for 40 years. Woods, one of the most recognizable names in golf, dropped out of the official ranking of the world’s top 1,000 golfers in 2017.|
|Morehouse College to admit transgender students|
|It’s a big deal. Morehouse College is the largest liberal arts college for men, and their new Gender Identity Admissions and Matriculation Policy will allow all individuals who self-identify as men to be considered for admission starting next year. The college still does not admit women, and Morehouse will continue to use masculine pronouns. According to The Root, the plan was fifteen months in the making and run by a task force that accepted input from staff, students and alumni.|
|Trump administration fails to nominate anyone to serve on the U.N. committee on racism|
|It will be the first time in years that the U.S. will not have a representative on the 18-member U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Last week, the White House abruptly stepped in to block the expected re-nomination of human rights lawyer Gay McDougall, who had served on the committee since 2015. One official said the White House may have simply run out of time to put forth another candidate. The same official told Politico “it cements the narrative that the Americans just don’t care about these kinds of things anymore.”|
|Slow but meaningful progress in diversity on public company boards|
|The latest report from the Alliance for Board Diversity, in collaboration with Deloitte, shows that the number of Fortune 500 companies with 40 percent diversity (defined by race, ethnicity, and gender) has doubled since 2012. African American/Black women and Asian/Pacific Islander women outpaced all other groups and made the largest percentage increase in board seats gained in both the Fortune 100 and Fortune 500. American/Black women saw an increase in seats of 26.2 percent in 2018, while Asian/Pacific Islander women saw an increase of 38.6 percent. The report is quick to point out while the percentages are impressive, the actual numbers are still small. But the rate of change is encouraging: There was more progress between 2016 and 2018, than in the years between 2012 and 2016.|
|The descendants of formerly enslaved people live in Mexico|
|Eighty-six year old Lucia Vazquez Valdez is part of the Mascogo tribe in Northern Mexico. Her people fled slavery in the mid-nineteenth century, across a barely remarkable border. While she speaks almost entirely Spanish, she still sings hymns in English, a remnant of an earlier time. The Washington Post has put together an enormously moving portrait of Valdez and the little village that holds a key to our own troubled past: Nacimentos de los Negros, or Birth of the Blacks. She is the oldest member of her tribe, and the youngest among them, fully Mexican now, migrate back across the border to find agricultural work.|
|Kwibuka means remember: It’s been 25 years since genocide began against the Tutsi population in Rwanda|
|Since that time, remarkable work has been done to heal and reconcile the past. That said, the 100-day period after the Hutu-led government ordered citizens to kill the Tutsi population remains one of the most horrific atrocities of the modern era. Nearly a million people were killed, one-tenth of the population. The Thompson Reuters Foundation has put together a thread on how it unfolded, and The New Yorker has a piece asking important questions about the hazy rules around parole and early release for those incarcerated for genocide-related crimes. Below you’ll find some wrenching images of the genocide, part of a long-term project called Hate Thy Brother from Gilles Peress, Professor of Human Rights and Photography at Bard College, NY and Senior Research Fellow at the Human Rights Center, UC Berkeley.|