In 1991, the film "Madonna: Truth or Dare" became the highest-grossing documentary of all time (later dethroned by "Bowling for Columbine"). The director of the Madonna film, Alek Keshishian, was tapped by musician and actor Selena Gomez to helm her own tour documentary. At least, it was supposed to be a concert film. But in 2016, with the cameras rolling, Gomez's "Revival" tour ended up being cut short due to health issues.
Gomez goes into detail about those issues in the film that emerged, "Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me." Streaming now on Apple TV+, the documentary is raw, candid and lacking a ton of concert footage. The performing scenes that are included feature more behind-the-scenes glimpses than glamorous shots before sold-out crowds. Intimate views of Gomez interacting with family, friends, fans and spending time in her hometown of Grand Prairie, Texas are what make this documentary so special. In those interactions, in voiceover and in handwritten journal entries, Gomez tells her truth. Here are some of the most striking revelations from the documentary.
Gomez is open about body insecurities, particularly with the enormous spotlight placed upon her. The documentary begins with her trying on costumes shortly before her "Revival" tour launches, and she expresses frustration at looking young, trying to shed her old image as a "Disney kid" and be seen as a grown woman. She also acknowledges the double standards of the music industry, that she has to wear one tight, sparkly revealing costume after another while a man could just go onstage in jeans, a T-shirt and a beanie and call it a day. "It's just hard being a f---ing girl," she says at one point.
Feelings of self-harm
Gomez is also honest about her past feelings of self-harm and suicide ideation. When, on a philanthropy trip, a young woman opens up to her about past thoughts of suicide, Gomez says she knows what that's like. She comforts another young woman who discusses her self-harm of several years ago, after Gomez gives a speech to a mental health charity.
Haunted by the past
"I want nothing more than to not be my past, and it comes back," Gomez says in the film, alluding both to her early start as a child actor who rose to stardom on Disney, as well as to her past romantic relationships, particularly with Justin Bieber. She questions when she will be "good enough by myself" after a record executive praises her song with him. The documentary includes multiple scenes of Gomez being besieged by paparazzi, who shout at her asking where Justin is and "where's the alcohol?" Gomez says she feels "haunted by a past relationship that no one wanted to let go of" and identifies thinking about the past as one of the triggers that can lead to depression for her.
When a young nursing student tells Gomez she believes in God, Gomez says she does too, to the surprise of the student. The film nods to Gomez's faith several times. She prays with her cast and crew before a show and tells a beloved neighbor, an important ally from her childhood, who has MS, that the woman is in her prayers. The camera also lingers on a cross on a wall in Gomez's home.
Isolation as a child
Despite her future stardom, Gomez, who calls herself "shy," had a childhood marked by isolation at school, where she says she only had a couple friends and would sit by herself at lunch. Her cousin and close friend was the cheerleader captain and would protect her from bullies. Gomez only attended school until 8th grade; after which, she had to finish her 9-12th grade schooling on set. "To be homeschooled by a computer, it's not real," she tells students in the documentary, "[but] it worked."
Lupus exacerbates her anxiety
In 2011, Gomez was diagnosed with lupus, and later had a life-saving kidney transplant. She manages her lupus in scenes throughout the film, including monitoring her blood pressure and having an infusion of medicine, but Gomez admits lupus makes her anxiety worse. A common issue for those with an autoimmune disease like lupus is an increased risk of mental health issues, and for Gomez, they sometimes occur at the same time, including feeling "despondent" in 2018 because of a complication of her illness, a low white blood cell count. In the documentary, Gomez speaks openly about both physical and mental health, including her later diagnosis of bipolar disorder. She also deals with an issue familiar to anyone managing a chronic illness: she worries she complains too much and is accused by a friend of complaining about her life.
The main source of her happiness comes outside of performing
Gomez found stardom as a child. She says she loved performing because it allowed her to escape, but what makes her more happy now is "connecting." She spends time with people in her hometown, people dealing with illness both physical and mental and goes to visit the students of schools she helped build through charitable work in Kenya. In one scene, a comment made to a journalist in which Gomez says she wants to "devote" her life to philanthropy is not received well, but she puts her money and platform to use. Having formed a foundation called Rare Impact Fund, Gomez is devoted to increased access to mental health resources in schools. "My ultimate dream is that I am able to save people's lives, through something," Gomez says, whether it's performing, volunteering, or speaking out about her own struggles. "I'm still here to use whatever I have to help someone else."
"Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me" is now streaming on Apple TV+. Watch a trailer via YouTube below:
Alison Stine is a former staff writer at Salon. She is the author of the novels "Trashlands" and "Road Out of Winter," winner of the 2021 Philip K. Dick Award. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, and others.