Selena Gomez: My Mind and Me, Apple TV+’s new documentary premiering November 4, features an early scene wherein Selena enters her dressing room and confesses, “My body is very young.” She’s discussing how a particular outfit accentuates or diminishes her figure, as a specific attire might make her resemble, as she puts it, “a 12-year-old boy.” But this analysis goes more profound; it also speaks to one of the central tensions of this film and her career: self-awareness of other people’s awareness can put immense pressure on anyone’s psyche, leading to questions such as will her fans see her as just another Disney figure or will they recognize a powerful singer in her own right? How will her clothing, behavior, and performance–every move she makes–contribute to creating narratives from fans and detractors alike?
One might find it surprising that someone so attuned to public scrutiny would choose to document their mental health struggles through filmmaking, particularly with such an experienced director as her director. Alek Keshishian made his first collaboration with Gomez on the music video for “Can’t Keep My Hands to Myself,” but is best known for directing Madonna’s groundbreaking and intimate backstage documentary Truth or Dare (1991), which was at one point the highest grossing documentary before Bowling for Columbine eclipsed it. “I like having access to everything,” Gomez and I discuss on Zoom before the film’s premiere. As she watched the film’s final cut, there were moments she wanted to cry, not because of how exposed or vulnerable it made her feel, but rather because of how well it captured that discomfort or insecurity she experienced herself.
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There is nothing quite so comforting than coming home to find your bed is being taken over by something other than what was expected! So many times have we witnessed people moving house only for something to go wrong as soon as the realization hit that their property had been sold or they’d moved!?! My Mind and Me provides a chronological recounting of Gomez’s past six years, from touring, physical and mental health crises that worsened, cancellation of her Revival tour, two-year hiatus from touring, travel to Kenya for charity work and pandemic outbreak, to visiting the White House to discuss mental health curricula in grade schools. The documentary provides unparalleled insight into how Gomez’s mind and body were affected by what was happening within her, most dramatically in 2019, when she had a breakdown and was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder. We can witness Gomez making her diagnosis public without hesitation or regret, driven by her instinct that greater openness may result in greater destigmatization.
My Mind and Me isn’t meant as an indictment of the media like Framing Britney Spears or other documentaries has done; instead, it acts as an eye-opener: chronicling all of the repetitive questions or games Gomez must answer in interviews for various publications or entertainment companies. While most may consider such discussions pointless – “Such a waste of time!” she laments in one interview – in reality, every moment is exploited for some greater good, and it is hard not to agree.
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With an eye towards efficiency and ensuring she didn’t waste her time, we met with Gomez and Keshishian to talk about their years spent producing this film and its goals for success.
Alek Keshishian: When Selena went on tour in 2016, she approached me about making a documentary of it all, but after several weeks we both agreed it wasn’t quite right; my filmmaking is quite intrusive and likes having access to everything; she graciously gave it to me anyway, though after some weeks it just felt wrong; we remained friends though I fell deeply in love with Selena!
Her Kenya trip [in 2019 with the WE Foundation] provided another opportunity. So I said, “Let’s film a few days beforehand.” We weren’t sure whether there would be a more extensive documentary; at first, it seemed pretty innocent, but over time, we developed a closeness and realized this story might help others – this became our motivator while shooting more footage.
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Alek, you’re known for your documentary on Madonna; that was an intimate portrayal of such an influential individual. Were you excited or nervous about having this type of exposure to Selena?
Selena Gomez: There were times I felt confident. At other times, however, it can be nerve-wracking to watch some of what has been recorded of you; but when Alek was there alone as my witness, I felt at ease – such as when my Lupus flared up. Alek would film some parts and then be there when needed for support – such as when my Lupus flared up; Alek made sure all was documented but then was there when required to give advice and support me when needed – much like when my Lupus flared up by filming some but mostly being there for me was all.
Is it harder to be on film and expose yourself or write songs with some form of intimacy?
Gomez: After this comes out, I plan on withdrawing into myself as much as possible. To understand what the movie meant to others and sacrifice myself as much as possible. While I love my job immensely, my ultimate goal is always to be impactful in some way, even if that means sharing parts of myself that may not look perfect or complete so others can see and think, ‘Oh, maybe this describes my feelings or didn’t know you could get this kind of help.’
One moment that struck me about your film was when you discussed approaching loved ones with complex topics, like your parents. Do you have advice for friends and family of people with mental illness issues?
Gomez: I do not appreciate being treated like a patient; that doesn’t sit right with me. Instead, my advice to those people would be that they act more as friends than parents; sometimes, you want someone there as someone to talk to, listen and love unconditionally.
Keshishian: Witnessing Selena and her mom interact, forgiveness is evident, and healing begins when there’s peace between the two parties involved. No one’s perfect, nor should we expect perfection in family relationships. Yet, I saw how Selena found forgiveness with both parties involved–something many may overlook when navigating their path to health and healing.
Alek, I saw your Instagram post listing Raquelle Stevens as Selena’s costar for your film project about Selena and Raquelle Stevens’ friendship. What role do companies play in supporting individuals going through difficult circumstances?
Keshishian: Raquelle was such an enjoyable character to work with. At times I thought they reminded me of Laverne and Shirley in terms of their comedy together, yet when push came to shove, she’d say things that hit home, like Yoda from Star Wars! Yet their friendship never wavered; in fact, it grew more robust over time because of how deeply and unconditionally Raquelle loved those she worked with – ultimately, what attracted me most was how Raquelle treated people around her with such deep affection and care – that made me love Raquelle even more!
Gomez: She was one of my friends that joined on this trip to Kenya by chance. I wanted someone I’d known for 10 years who could hold up as an example and hold me accountable when needed.
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And how did you initially meet?
Gomez: We first met at a New Year’s Eve party. At that point in my life, I was going through a complicated relationship and wasn’t feeling my best, but she was so sweet. She just asked how I was and had such an endearing presence that we talked for nearly two hours that night!
When did you both determine that the film had reached completion?
Keshishian: When she went to the White House [for a conversation on mental health with President Biden], it fulfilled a dream that had sometimes suffered due to a lack of confidence, and she needed to realize, “I can do this.” As a filmmaker, I thought this momentous event made for a compelling ending; though honestly, I could’ve shot much longer without her consent, but the actual conclusion lies where we see her today – already so different from where this film ends.
Where is the effort to introduce mental health curriculum into schools that you discussed with Vice President Biden?
Gomez: I am working towards this through the Rare Impact Fund. We have been engaging with several schools and forming relationships to assist us. When I visited the White House, the Surgeon General mentioned this was also a top priority there; and now we are texting (which can feel awkward at first!) but cool because he is highly forward-thinking, wants change created urgently, and sees it as necessary a moment in history due to COVID as many who never experienced anxiety before may suddenly start experiencing panic attacks – making this very relevant.
As you discussed your critical moment, I thought you were discussing its effects on social media use and mental health. Could you provide more detail?
Gomez: For four or five years now, I haven’t logged on to Instagram; I no longer know the password. It wasn’t an addiction; instead, it was to avoid having a weak moment while discovering things I didn’t want to find out and seeing awful content; I found Instagram dehumanizing and disheartening; while on TikTok [laughs], people can have more fun; although even though TikTok can be disorienting at times; sometimes taking days and weeks off when engaging with specific platforms can still come back in.
What steps have you taken lately to maintain your health and wellbeing?
Gomez: To slow down, I wake up early now; if I have an appointment or photo shoot planned, I may wake up two hours earlier than necessary. Most mornings, I rise with the sun and take some deep breaths before walking around for some physical movement and listening to some music – dreaming and writing are also options; in addition to workouts such as Barry’s Bootcamp, physical health is strongly linked with mental wellbeing; even just taking a simple walk helps improve mental wellbeing; therapy helps as does surrounding yourself with others who understand; therapy sessions help immensely as do surrounding yourself with people who understand your issues so when moments arise or even just having a conversation can make all the difference when necessary; that helps my mental wellbeing!
Were there times when there was disagreement on your desired outcomes for the film
Gomez: No such moment occurred. However, if there were, I would feel comfortable telling Alek, “This doesn’t feel right to me. Please clarify.”
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Keshishian: She knew I cared for her; just watching her watch my film would show me where to make adjustments; often sharing her opinion, we never disagreed about anything – my goal was to create something we could both stand behind together.
Are there any takeaways from the film you hope viewers will take away on an additional or deeper level?
Gomez: There were moments in the film where I felt terrible about how I had supposed; for instance, in the beginning, when discussing my body, I found myself crying because it is such a natural emotion for me – although now, thankfully, that mentality no longer exists – watching that part broke my heart.
Keshishian: We set out to make a film with various topics. Everyone experiences challenges and darkness at different points in their life – whether that means grieving over the loss of a job, illness, or illness itself – so hopefully, our film gives people hope that even during these difficult times, there are still things they can do with life to brighten the darkness up with some positive change.