Khalid‘s sophomore album, Free Spirit, out today (April 5), comes with a treat – a short film of the same name helmed by esteemed music video director Emil Nava. The movie premiered in select theaters on April 3 for one day only, starring veteran actors Jahking Guillory (On My Block and Kicks) and Edi Gathegi (X-Men: First Class), models Estefania Preciado and Judah Lang, as well as artists Dizzy Fae and Khalid himself. The singer was busy filming the movie and penning it, too. He’s credited as a co-writer along with Nava. It’s a tale of traveling youths that grows complicated over the course of its runtime.
Nava met with Khalid on Christmas Eve after having talked about wanting to shoot a video together, the director told MTV News over the phone. Nava, who’s worked with artists such as Post Malone, Ed Sheeran, and Bebe Rexha, paired with Khalid to shoot “Talk,” the album’s first single. But that wasn’t all that the singer wanted. “What amazed me about Khalid was that he really wanted to make a film, not a visual album or just music videos,” Nava said. “I shot my first full-length film last year, so this was an especially exciting project because it has everything that I love in it – both music and cinema.”
After deciding to get the ball rolling on the film, the pair worked to decide how to round out the cast. “It was built out of his friends and unique actors because we were looking for people with names along with fresh, exciting new talent,” Nava said. Once that was settled, then came creating the film itself, which actually didn’t take that long: “We shot for 10 days out in the desert outskirts of Los Angeles. The main thing that we wanted to create was the feeling of a road trip where they are really on this journey. We also wanted the cast to have a good time and feel like themselves.”
It’s evident in opening shots of the trailer that recreation is one of the film’s biggest themes. “The movie is about escapism and the youth of today,” Nava said. “It’s about a group of youths that are living in the depths of America and they want to get out. So one day, they steal a van and all want to go on a road trip together, and essentially, what unfolds is a modern-day, complicated love story.” Later in the trailer, the group of youths are led by a young woman named Ladybug who appears to command the attention of all the guys in her vicinity. “She’s really who the film is focused about,” he said. “She’s a young product of today’s world – amazingly powerful and strong-minded. At the end of the trailer, she appears in the arms of each of the guys while one solemnly remarks to the camera, “Everybody loves Ladybug, though. Literally everybody.” There’s a quick cut of Khalid looking at the camera, mystified. Then, black.
Nava believes that while Ladybug is a central part of the film’s narrative, the importance of freedom is just as pertinent. He sees himself in nearly all the characters. “Growing up, I definitely had a feeling of wanting to escape my hometown too,” he said. “Today, 15 years later, I’m still exploring the idea of escapism. Because of this, I see myself in a lot of them. I want to funnel that into creating cinema that is for the youth.”
When I ask Nava what being a free spirit means to him, he gets specific: “Being able to be free in your own mind. It’s about not caring what people’s opinions are.” He pauses for a second before continuing. “The way that the world is today, we’re seeing so much through social media and were able to be watched, judge, and commented on by people that don’t even known us. I think that it can be very hard to grow up and a hard world to live in. I think being a free spirit is being yourself and being happy and being able to be yourself.”