Selena Gomez rose to prominence on the Disney Channel, but she has since evolved into a chart-topping pop star, acclaimed actress, and successful TV producer.

We see the toll this has frequently taken on her mental health in the powerful new documentary film ‘Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me.’ Alek Keshishian, whose previous credits include one of the most acclaimed music documentaries of all time, directed the film. He discusses what he learned about Gomez while shadowing her during a pivotal and ultimately transformative period in her life.

“My sister happens to be Selena’s manager, and it turns out she’s a little bit obsessed with Truth or Dare,” says director Alek Keshishian. She recently told me she had watched it seven times in a row. When I first met Selena in 2015, she aspired to be a badass strong woman, but she felt unappreciated because she was perceived as a Disney star. So when she saw this woman in Truth or Dare with such agency and strength – Madonna – I believe she was moved.

In any case, Selena asked my sister if I would ever work with her. She was about to release her first album outside of Disney [2015’s ‘Revival,’] and she persuaded me to direct her ‘Hands To Myself’ video, despite the fact that I wasn’t really into music videos at the time.

So we became friends, and when she was preparing to tour the ‘Revival’ album, she asked if I would consider doing a tour documentary with her. ‘I don’t think you really want me to do a tour documentary with you, because I don’t make the kind of tour documentaries that everyone else has been doing in your lifetime,’ I said. I shoot cinéma vérité, and I’m spoiled because my first experience was with Madonna, who gave me unrestricted access to everything.’

‘No, no, I really want to give you that access,’ Selena said, so we did a little test run. I brought in my crew and we shot for two weeks before cutting it down to a five-minute [short] so she could see the type of film I would make. ‘Wow, it’s beautiful, but could you not show me crying?’ she exclaimed. I don’t want my fans to see me in such a state.’ So I told her it wasn’t the right time for me to make a documentary with her. We agreed to simply store the footage.

Selena and I remained friends, but I never imagined that footage would be released. But in 2019, she asked me to document her charity trip to Kenya for her website. I agreed because it was for a good cause, but then something happened on the first day of filming that reminded me of what happened with Truth or Dare, which was never intended to be a movie either.

I realized there was a documentary here, and it was about a girl who had recently been released from a mental health facility. She’s just starting her recovery journey, but she also wants to have a purpose and help others. ‘This is fascinating, please let me keep shooting,’ I thought.

We continued shooting in Paris and London, and this intriguing conundrum emerged. In some ways, Selena is a reluctant pop star, but she enjoys connecting with people. In the documentary, Raquelle [Stevens, Selena’s longtime friend and assistant] says that her platform as a pop star allows her to connect with people. But I believe that some of the artifice that comes with the job drains her – the film shows how she physically and emotionally recoils from it.

To be honest, I believe she is happier when she is acting. She stated at one point that she dislikes being a pop star because it is all about her, whereas when she acts, it is all about the project. I believe she is embarrassed when all eyes are on her, but she enjoys music as a form of expression and adores her fans. I also believe that humanitarian work will play an important role in her future. That, and acting, are two worlds I can see her truly inhabiting.

“Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me” Courtesy of Apple TV+

The Selena you see in the film in 2019 doesn’t feel like she’s good enough to make a difference. She is still somewhat broken. However, I believe the film depicts this journey in which she realizes she can be broken and still contribute significantly to the world. At the end of the film, I believe she is much more present. She has a strong sense of agency over what she can bring to the table in terms of mental health. She even paid a visit to the White House earlier this year to discuss her mental health journey.

Finally, I believe Selena Gomez and Madonna are two very different women from very different eras, but they are both extremely courageous. Madonna was saying something important about sexual freedom, LGBTQ rights, and respect when we made Truth or Dare. We live in a very different era now, but Selena is willing to do something that is actually quite innocent. She’s willing to have difficult conversations about mental health in the hopes of helping someone else.”

‘Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me’ is now available on Apple TV+.