Before Selena Gomez’s 2020 album Rare came out, she didn’t get much attention. She didn’t do many interviews and turned off her social media accounts for a short time. The star’s relationship with the public changed with the release of the album, which was full of catchy, electro-pop songs about loving yourself.
Gomez wouldn’t have to think about her time at Disney or her rocky relationships anymore. She would tell the truth about her struggles with self-worth, depression, and anxiety, as well as with the autoimmune disease lupus. She was taking charge and changing how people saw her on her own terms. So, it’s not a surprise that a documentary came after the album.
Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me is the next step in the star’s search for real ways to express herself. It is a companion piece to Rare. The documentary, which kicks off this year’s AFI Film Festival on Wednesday, Nov. 2, is an up-close look at Gomez. It shows her dealing with health problems that cut short her Revival tour in 2016, keeping track of her time away from the public eye, and trying to figure out what comes next.
Gomez’s project is more raw and gritty than other music documentaries, which have become a popular way to change how celebrities are seen. It has a lot of texture because the star, who is 30, is still young and because she tries to communicate honestly instead of perfectly. The 20s feel uncomfortable, like a seat you can’t quite get comfortable in, even though they are not a defining decade. When you add public scrutiny and the intrusive eyes of paparazzi, the pressure to act stable, easy, and sure, to leave the too-small confines of childhood, and to face the uncertainty of the rest of your life, only grows.
The first few minutes of My Mind & Me show what Gomez’s life is like. Alek Keshishian, who directed the 1991 Madonna documentary Truth or Dare, is in charge of the documentary. It starts with a short clip of Gomez doing a press run, then tells the story of the pop star’s Revival tour quickly. In both of these montages, you can feel how tired Gomez is. She says she’s tired at one point and that she doesn’t know what she’s doing at another. These scenes, which are nervous, honest, and full of feelings, show what to expect from a documentary. This is a journey of watching the singer fall apart and then put herself back together.
After making the hard choice to end her tour, Gomez will have a hard few years. Fans of the star will already know about her struggle with lupus, her kidney transplant in 2017 and her bipolar disorder diagnosis, but My Mind & Me shows how these things affected her emotionally. Keshishian thinks it’s a privilege to be able to talk to the star all the time. He doesn’t hide her less attractive sides from us, but he also doesn’t push her too far. The star tells us enough to make the documentary stand out from other projects, but she is still kept at a distance by what she doesn’t say and what is left out.
We see Gomez crying in front of her tour crew as they try to comfort her. We see the young star drag herself out of bed every morning to go to work. We see her trying to deal with anxiety attacks and nerves caused by her job. We also see her make mistakes as she tries to take care of herself, leaning on her managers, her team, and her friends for help.
Still, My Mind & Me leaves questions unanswered that make you wonder what the point of celebrity documentaries that try to go beyond self-mythology is. Are they ways to get things off your chest, a light version of journalism, or gifts for fans? How much honesty is reasonable to ask for before it all feels too much? Because Gomez is known for being honest, there are times when you want her to say more.
She talks about her time at Disney in vaguely scary ways, but she doesn’t say exactly what gives her nightmares. She hints that her high-profile relationships make her feel boxed in and limited, but she doesn’t say more. She doesn’t talk about how she works as an actor. Maybe the fact that we want to know more shows how powerful My Mind & Me is. You forget that Gomez is not your friend, but a stranger.
The singer knows about this gap, and parts of My Mind & Me bring out the tension between Gomez’s simmering anger and her complete acceptance. Even though she is always around people, she longs for deeper relationships. The documentary doesn’t try to make people feel sorry for the people in it. Instead, it asks them to think about how fame can trap you.
Gomez, who was born in Texas, has a very different attitude when she goes back to her hometown. She feels at ease when she talks to her cousins, her old neighbours, and current students at the middle school she went to. Gomez escapes into a life that isn’t hers when she wanders and drives aimlessly through her suburban hometown.
As My Mind & Me goes on, we start to see that most of Gomez’s journey involves her learning to accept her real life and stop trying to escape it. During a trip to Kenya, when Gomez visits a charity for women’s education that she has given money to, she and her friend Raquelle Stevens have an honest talk about how the singer can make her real life easier to live in, so she doesn’t have to run away from it. Sincerity, awkwardness, and discomfort show that the documentary is trying to show that its subject is three-dimensional.
The visual language of My Mind & Me, which uses colour and black-and-white in a way that’s similar to Truth or Dare, also reflects this desire for complexity. Keshishian could read Gomez’s journal entries, which gives the project a more private feel. These excerpts show a different side of the singer, one that is prone to self-flagellation and aware that she needs to treat her mental and physical health problems as friends instead of foes. Gomez reads her entries in a voiceover while clips of her dressed like it’s Day of the Dead play in the background.
There are times when all of the different parts of My Mind & Me clash in a way that is too much to handle. For example, we jump from heavy diary entries to frantic tour footage to serious press interviews to emotional conversations. It can feel like Gomez doesn’t have time to figure out what’s going on. By the end, we want the same thing as the singer: a moment to stop, stand still, and take a breath.
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Jessa Martin is the author of Nogmagazine, A professional in writing by day, and novelist by night, she received her bachelor of arts in film from Howard University and her master of arts in media studies from the New School. A Brooklyn native, she is a lover of naps, cookie dough, and beaches, currently residing in the borough she loves, most likely multitasking.