"When the movie comes out, I'm not going to know where to put myself, that's for sure," comments Selena Gomez about the documentary “My Mind and Me”.
In the first few minutes of Selena Gomez’s new documentary “My Mind and Me” available since November 4th on Apple TV+, the star confides to several people gathered in her dressing room: "My body looks very young." The outfit she wears gives her, according to her, the figure of "a 12-year-old boy," to use her own expression. In these words, one of the tensions at the heart of her career and the film is apparent: the pressure she puts on herself due to the attention others place on her. Will her fans see only a shadow of the Disney star she once was? Or the singer she is today? How do her clothes, her attitude, and her performances contribute to the idea that her fans, as well as her detractors, have of her by relentlessly scrutinizing her every move?
A 6-year dive into the heart of Selena Gomez's life
It may seem strange that someone so aware of this attention would choose to look at her mental health problems in a documentary, especially with such a director. Alek Keshishian first collaborated with Selena Gomez on the “Hands to Myself” music video, but the man is best known for “Truth or Dare”, a very intimate backstage documentary filmed during a Madonna tour in 1991, which was a huge hit at the time. "I like to have access to everything," Alek Keshishian explained to me during the Zoom we did with Selena Gomez and him on the eve of the film's release. At times, the star confessed, she felt like bursting into tears at the result, not because she felt exposed, but because she felt again the unease and insecurity that the film captures with incredible accuracy.
In a way, “My Mind and Me” is nothing more than a chronological account of the last six years of Selena Gomez's life: the touring, the physical and mental health crises that accelerated over those years, the cancellation of her Revival tour, her two years without concerts, her trip to Kenya for charity, the pandemic, and a visit to the White House to discuss mental health programs in elementary schools. The documentary also offers unprecedented insight into how these events were affected by what was playing in the star's head and body, culminating in 2019 with an officially diagnosed depression and bipolar disorder. The film reveals, in a poignant scene, the precise moment when the singer decided to go public with her problem. She didn't hesitate to be completely transparent, driven by the instinct that her sincerity could help destigmatize as many people as possible.
Unlike “Framing Britney Spears” or other documentaries that have taken on the relentless pressure of young female celebrities, “My Mind and Me” is not an indictment of the media. It is nonetheless damning in the catalog established of questions or games, all equally repetitive and inane, that Selena Gomez must continually answer or play. "What a waste of time," you can hear her sigh after one of these interviews.
Determined not to waste their time, we spoke with Selena Gomez and Alek Keshishian about the many years of making this film together and what they want from it.
Vogue: Can you tell us how the idea for the film came about?
Alek Keshishian: "Selena and I had already worked together in 2015 on “Hands to Myself”. When she went on tour in 2016, she contacted me about making a documentary. After a few weeks, we decided by mutual agreement that maybe the timing wasn't right. I'm pretty intrusive in the way I do things because I like to have access to everything. Selena wasn't afraid of that, she gave me the green light. But after a few weeks, I had the feeling that it was a very complicated time for her, and that the presence of cameras was too much. We remained friends, of course. I completely fell under her spell. Her trip to Kenya [in 2019 with the WE Foundation] gave us a new opportunity. I proposed that we start filming a few days before her departure. I didn't really know if the project would take off. I think we were pretty candid about it. But we got closer, and we had a common vision, we both thought that maybe this story could help other people. That's what motivated us throughout the shoot."
Alek, you are very well known for the documentary about Madonna, a very intimate portrait of an extremely famous person. Selena, were you excited to experience such exposure? Or were you nervous?
Selena Gomez: "There were times when I was very excited. But there were also times when I felt more nervous. You feel very vulnerable. To be honest, some scenes still make me uncomfortable when I watch them today. But when Alek was there, and only him, I felt comfortable. Like when my lupus woke up. He filmed it, a little bit, but mostly, right after, he helped me, he was there for me."
Is it more difficult to be filmed transparently or to write a very intimate song?
Selena Gomez: "When the movie comes out, I'm not going to know where to put myself, that's for sure. I had to kind of detach myself from it and understand that the movie was going to be able to represent something important to others. It's a form of sacrifice in a way. You know, I love my work, but at the end of the day, I want to have an impact, to be of use. And if that means revealing a part of myself that isn't necessarily nice to look at, neat, I accept that. I hope that people see the film and that it can help them realize if they're experiencing these kinds of episodes, that they're not alone and that they can get help too."
One of the moments that really struck me in the film is when you talk about saying difficult things to people you love, like your parents. Do you have any advice for friends and family members of people with mental health issues?
Selena Gomez: "I don't like being made to feel like I'm a patient. I don't like that feeling at all. The advice I would give to these people would be to be there as a friend. Sometimes you don't want to be listened to by parents, you want to be listened to by friends. You just need a friend. To be listened to and loved unconditionally."
Alek Keshishian: "Having witnessed it, I think there's a lot to be said for forgiveness. Forgiveness has to go both ways. None of us are perfect. None of us are perfect in our relationships with others, especially family. But when you see Selena and her mother, the forgiveness is there. And getting back to that fundamental love is the way to healing."
Speaking of friendship, Alek, on Instagram you referred to Selena's friend Raquelle Stevens as the other star of the film. What role do you think friendship can play in supporting people going through these kinds of crises?
Alek Keshishian: "Raquelle is such a radiant presence, she's very funny. Sometimes I'd think, 'Oh my God, these two, they're a comedy duo, they're irresistible when they're together. And yet, when things go wrong, she's kind of like a little Yoda. She says things that hit home, that can hurt. But their friendship survives everything because they really love each other. And that friendship, that way of surviving everything, that was really powerful to me. I learned to appreciate Raquelle because of the way she treats the people around her, which comes from deep, unconditional love."
Selena Gomez: "It was a coincidence because she was one of my friends who accompanied me to Kenya. I just wanted my friend to come with me, we've known each other for 10 years and she knows how to help me look at things head on, hold up a mirror when I'm going off the rails."
How did you two meet?
Selena Gomez: "We actually met at a New Year's party. I was going through a breakup, not having a great New Year's Eve, and she was super nice. She just asked me how I was doing, her presence was very sweet. And we ended up talking for two hours that night."
When did you decide that the film was finally over?
Alek Keshishian: "By going to the White House [for a conversation with President Biden about mental health], she was fulfilling a dream, which at times was abused, probably because of a lack of confidence. She had to be able to say to herself, 'I can do this. To me, as a filmmaker, that seemed like a good ending. Honestly, I find her fascinating. I could have gone on forever, but she wouldn't have liked that. In fact, the real ending of the film is now, it's her as you see her today. She's already so different than she was at the end of the movie."
What is the status of the mental health in schools program you discussed with Biden?
Selena Gomez: "I'm working on it through the Rare Impact Fund. We're working with schools and trying to develop relationships with people who can help us. When I went to the White House, I spoke with the Public Health Administrator, and he assured me that this was a priority for them as well. Now we text each other, which is kind of weird [laughs] but cool. Like, really cool. He's a progressive, he really wants things to change, he feels like it's urgent and we're at a critical time. With Covid, a lot of people who had never experienced anxiety before can suddenly have anxiety attacks. So it's more relevant than ever."
Can you talk a little bit about the impact of social media on your mental health?
Selena Gomez: "I haven't had access to my Instagram account in four or five years; I don't know my password. It wasn't necessarily an addiction, but I don't want to know what is going on there, because I want to avoid weak moments. I was seeing things there that I didn't want to see, horrible things. It was dehumanizing and disheartening. It's definitely not a safe space, and I have no problem talking about it. Well, I'm still on TikTok [laughs], but I feel like TikTok is a little bit cooler, that people are more there to have fun. I sometimes take a break for days, even weeks, very intentionally."
Other than that, how are you maintaining your health and well-being these days?
Selena Gomez: "I'm slowing down the pace. I wake up early now. If I have an appointment, photo shoot, or whatever, I get out of bed at least two hours before. I usually get up with the sun, take a few deep breaths and walk a few steps, to wake up my body, and listen to some music. I dream a lot, so I can try to get that down on paper. I drink coffee. It's either that or a workout: physical health and mental health are very much linked. It can be a simple walk, you don't have to run a marathon. Obviously, I'm in therapy, and I try to surround myself with people who have been through the same thing, so I know whom to call, share a moment with, or just talk with. It really helps me."
Were there times when you didn't agree on what you wanted from the film?
Selena Gomez: "No, not really. But if there had been, I would have definitely talked to Alek about it, I'm comfortable enough with him."
Alek Keshishian: "I think she trusted me because she knew that I understood her, that I shared her pain. I knew when to be subtle because I generally shared her opinion. It took a long time to find the right tone. But we never disagreed, because I wanted us both to be able to be proud of the film."
Is there anything you would really like viewers to take away from the film on a deeper level?
Selena Gomez: "Personally, when I watch certain scenes in the movie, I feel bad about how I felt at the time. In the beginning, for example, when I talk about my body, it makes me cry because I hate that I felt that way. And it's such a real feeling. I'm glad I don't have those thoughts anymore, but it broke my heart to see that."
Alek Keshishian: "We wanted to give the film thickness. Everyone, sometimes, faces challenges, faces darkness. It doesn't have to be a mental health issue. It could be the loss of a job, an illness, or a bereavement. I hope the film will give people hope, that they will realize that their lives are not over and that there can still be light coming out of those dark moments."