In Donald Glover’s (Aka Childish Gambino) new film Guava Island, he takes viewers on a journey to Cuba that reveals music’s power to influence social change. With Rihanna co-starring as his girlfriend Kofi Novia, Donald Glover plays Deni Maroon, a beloved local musician who gives people a sense that they’re worth more than the hard labor jobs their government pushes.
Guava Island is a fictional place “in the very center of the world,” we’re told, but borrowing Cuba’s backdrop, as well as key scenes featuring traditional afro-Cuban drumming, allows Cuba’s own history with artistic repression to ground Glover’s parallel story.
Deni’s music helps the Black people of the island feel in touch with their freedom and ancestral spirituality—so much so that the local government sees him as a threat to their oppressive labor system and they hunt him down. In Cuba, enslaved Africans brought to the country and forced to convert to Catholicism developed what eventually became Santeria, which preserves Yoruba traditions through music and storytelling.
Santeria’s enduring importance is a testament to the people’s will. Guava Island’s more generalized story doesn’t spell this connection out explicitly in the film, but it weaves subtle references to Santeria throughout. Finish reading.