Director Alek Keshishian captures a “broken” pop star in Apple’s ‘My Mind & Me’.
Selena Gomez first found fame on the Disney channel, but over the past decade she has turned into a chart-topping pop star, a famous actress and a successful TV producer. In the powerful new documentary “Selena Gomez: Thoughts and Me,” we see how this often affects her mental health. The film is directed by Alek Keshishian, whose previous works include one of the most famous music documentaries of all time: “Madonna: Truth or Action”. Here, he shares what he learned about Gomez, following her through a key and ultimately transitional period of her life.
Alek Keshishian, director: “My sister works as Selena’s manager, and it turned out that she is a little obsessed with “Truth or Action.” In fact, she recently told me that she watched it seven times in a row. When I first met Selena in 2015, she wanted to be a cool strong woman, but she felt that she was not taken seriously because she was considered a Disney star. So when she saw this woman in Truth or Dare, who had such free will and strength—Madonna—I think she really reacted to it.
Anyway, Selena asked my sister if I would ever work with her. She was going to release her first album outside of Disney [2015 Revival], and although I wasn’t shooting music videos at the time, she convinced me to shoot her “Hands To Myself” video. So we became friends, and then when she was preparing for a tour with the album “Revival”, she asked if I would think about doing a tour document with her. I said: “I don’t think you really want me to do a tour document with you, because I don’t do tour documents that everyone has done in your life. I’m shooting cinéma vérité, and I’m spoiled because my first experience was with Madonna, who constantly gave me access to everything.”
Selena said, “No, no, I really want to give you this access,” so we did a little trial run. I brought my team and we shot for two weeks, then I cut it down to a five-minute [short] so she could see what kind of movie I would make. She’s like, “Wow, it’s beautiful, but could you show me how I cry? I don’t want my fans to see me break down like that.” And so I said I didn’t think now was the right time to make a documentary with her. We agreed to just postpone the footage.
Selena and I remained friends, but I never thought that these shots would see the light. But then, in 2019, she asked if I would chronicle her charity trip to Kenya for her website. I agreed because it was a good thing, but then on the first day of filming something happened very similar to what happened with “Truth or Action”, which was also never conceived as a film. I realized that there was a documentary here, and it was a story about a girl who had just come out of a psychiatric hospital. She is at the very beginning of her road to recovery, but she also feels the need to have a purpose and help others. So I thought: “It’s fascinating, please let me keep shooting.”
We continued shooting in Paris and London, and this interesting puzzle was solved. Selena is in some ways a very reluctant pop star, but she likes to communicate with people. As Raquel [Stevens, Selena’s longtime friend and assistant] says in the documentary, it’s her platform as a pop star that allows her to connect with people. But I think some of the tricks that accompany this work really piss her off — the film shows how she physically and emotionally pushes away from it.
“My Mind and I” is currently streaming on Apple TV+. PROVIDING: Apple
To be honest, I think she’s happier when she’s playing. At one point, she said that she didn’t like being a pop star because it was all about her, whereas when she played, it was all about the project. I think she’s embarrassed when all the attention is on her, but she loves music as a form of self-expression and really loves her fans. I also think humanitarian work will be a big part of her future. This and acting are two worlds in which she really lived.
Selena, who you see in 2019 [in the movie], doesn’t seem like she’s good enough to move the needle in any meaningful way. She still feels broken. But I think the film shows this journey, where she realizes that she can break down and still give a lot to the world. At the end of the movie, I think she’s much bigger at the moment. She really feels free to act on what she has to offer regarding mental health. Earlier this year, she even visited the White House to discuss her mental health.
Ultimately, I think Selena Gomez and Madonna are two very different women from very different times, but they’re both incredibly brave. When we were filming Truth or Action, Madonna was saying something important about sexual freedom, rights and respect for LGBTQ people. Now we live in a completely different time, but Selena is ready to do something that is actually very cool.useless. She’s willing to have these difficult conversations about mental health in the hope that it might help someone else.”
“Selena Gomez: Thoughts and Me” is already on Apple TV+