Filmmaker Alek Keshishian Realized Selena Gomez Is ‘Much, Much More Than a Pop Star’ While Making ‘My Mind & Me‘ Doc

When filmmaker Alek Keshishian first met Selena Gomez, her management had asked him to direct the pop star’s 2015 “Hands to Myself” video, as she was a huge fan of his work on the 1991 Madonna documentary Truth or Dare.

Over the years, the two remained close, and even tried to film a documentary of Gomez’s 2016 Revival Tour — but the timing wasn’t right. “She was going through a lot of stuff, and it didn’t feel proper for me to have cameras constantly in her face,” Keshishian tells Billboard, adding that the two later met up in 2019 to film Gomez’s philanthropic trip to Kenya.

“I said, ‘Let me shoot a few days before we go to Kenya to see where you’re at now,'” the filmmaker recalls. “On that first day of filming, I realized that there was a bigger story, and I suggested that we just keep shooting more in LA before we went to Kenya. There was a story here about a girl just coming out of a mental health facility, recovering, but also keen to help others. There was an interesting tension there, between being a patient still in your own recovery, but wanting to also step up and try to bring healing to other people.”

Thus, the new Apple TV+ documentary Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me was born, documenting the star’s yearslong journey through the heights of fame and the lows of a very personal crisis and back again. It’s perhaps the most vulnerable fans have ever seen Gomez, and creating a safe space for the 30-year-old to be herself was of the utmost importance to Keshishian.

“I’m a really empathetic person and I really become invested in my subject,” he explains. “I’m living their life with them, in a sense, and I do tend to become very close to my subject matter. [Selena] really became like a sister to me, and someone I felt protective over.”

Keshishian noted that he was “delicate” in his filming style, making sure Gomez was completely comfortable along the way. Notably, in one poignant scene in the film, the Only Murders in the Building star is visibly suffering from lupus. “I was like, ‘Are you sure I can film this?’ And she was like, ‘Yes, you can film it,'” he says. “By that point, we were so aligned in what we were trying to do that I think she felt invested in sharing those really unguarded moments. If she doesn’t feel that [empathy] from me, she’s not going to be OK with being filmed.”

And while, at this point, Keshishian has known Gomez for nearly seven years, there were still things that surprised him about the star while filming. “I just learned that this is a really special soul,” he explains. “I do think she’s on Earth to help others. When I first started working with her, I was like, ‘She’s a young pop star,'” he recalled with a shrug. “But during the course of the six, seven years now that I’ve worked with her, I realized she’s much, much more than a pop star. This girl is a humanitarian in the deepest definition of the word, and I think that will be her legacy.”

His affection for and connection to Gomez is exactly why he wanted to create something special with My Mind & Me — not only for her fans, but also for anyone going through mental health troubles. “I tried to tell this story that is very specific, but there’s also kind of a larger, almost mythological [story] in terms of the hero’s journey,” he says. “You get that sense that she’s just this young girl from Texas from the poor side of the tracks who is, on one level, on this meteoric rise to stardom, but on an internal personal level, faces some deeper existential quandaries in her life like, ‘What is this for? What am I doing?'”

He continues, “On that level, I think it’s universal and, hopefully, it’s also inspiring to remember that you can be broken and still change the world. We all have our darkest moments, but it’s a question of what we do with them. I suffer from depression and anxiety as well, so I think that that connection was big for me and Selena.”

Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me is out on Apple TV+ starting Friday (Nov. 4).

Rania Aniftos