Watching Nas watch himself in a 2,600-person theater, complete with incredible immersive sound and sweeping, extended footage of the mega-famous 24-year-old singer’s first-ever tour in 2022, was all part of the experience. The Toronto moviegoers weren’t doused in as much glitter as Nas’s fans are at his concerts, but plenty of people showed up in denim chaps or silk robes hand-painted with horses, and clapped and sang along with joy. (That is, once the movie started after being delayed by a bomb threat; the festival says it was not directed at the singer.)
When filmmakers Zac Manuel and Carlos López Estrada first approached him, Nas explained in a Q&A, he didn’t want to cooperate. “I’m going to be honest. I was like, ‘I don’t want to do this at all. This is a terrible idea.’ But then I was like, ‘F— it, let’s do it anyway.’ I hate people knowing about my life because I can’t keep my funny persona. Now people know I’m all serious.”
Today, though, he said, “I’m happy I did it.” He also can imagine looking back at it ten years from now, unable to recognize the person on-screen after who-knows-how-many-more hit songs. “Maybe I’ll be married with kids, a dog. [Or] two dogs! I already have two cats, [so maybe] two dogs and two cats.”
The documentary, which doesn’t have a distributor yet, centers on Nas as an entertaining and very funny narrator of his own rapid ascent to cultural relevance: Upending the country charts as a young Black artist who teamed up with Billy Ray Cyrus. Coming out as gay while their song “Old Town Road” was on a record-breaking 19-week streak atop the Billboard Top 100. Dropping the staggeringly bold, overtly queer video for “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” which depicts him sliding down a stripper pole to hell and humping the devil. It only got him more of a following.
The film, of course, features big onstage moments in pink Louis XIV wigs or bursting out of a cocoon, and backstage visits from the likes of Madonna. But it’s also filled with intimacy, as Nas, a primo confessor of the Tik Tok generation, gives interviews while in a towel, or while lying on the ground, with existential one-liners just pouring out of him.
“Am I going to freeze up and go back inside my dad’s [testicles]?” he asks before stepping onstage for the first show in Detroit.
Before another show, he declares, “I want to hopefully get a chance to poop,” with a long, very funny explanation of why that bodily function is so crucial. (When he vomits before a show, nothing is left to the imagination.)
What kept fans talking in the lobby, though, were Nas’s confessionals about coming out. How it felt like a necessity to him and that he didn’t feel like he could progress if he didn’t, but also how afraid he was about how his family would react.
“I think every gay Black man should see this movie,” said Duane Gholston, 32, a community activist from Detroit who saw four of Nas’s shows from the front row. “For him to admit on camera that his dad said to him, ‘Maybe you’re being tempted by the devil,’ that was like, ‘Wow.’” (Nas’s dad came around; he’s pictured outside a concert, proudly telling fans, “Thanks all of y’all for being here because I didn’t use a condom!”)
Winston Godwin, 33, was most moved by a scene where Nas expresses how nervous he is to wear a plaid schoolgirl’s skirt and a gay pride T-shirt in front of his family, because it was so relatable. Godwin explained that people don’t often talk about being gay and Black, that community can be hard to find, but that seeing Nas still processing his identity could make people feel less isolated. “It’s so simple, but just buying a skirt is telling because it’s like he’s going through the same kind of things that anybody would,” he said.
Both fans were also struck by Nas openly talking about how his newfound fame and riches had affected his family dynamics. At one point, he says that his goal in five years is for everyone to have a house that he doesn’t pay for. “That was bold of him to say with his family in the audience,” said Gholson.
Gholston is one of the 30 or 40 fans Manuel and Estrada interviewed at shows. And his assessment of Nas is one of the best applause lines in the film: “He’s the only male celebrity I actually wanted to f— and be at the same time.”
During the Q&A, Nas named his favorite movie (“Back to the Future Part II”), said he’s working on folk music and Brazilian funk, and hinted he’ll be directing a feature (“Oh, there’s going to be something that’s going to happen”).
He also offered up life advice: “If you’re scared to do something, you probably should. Not jump off a building. Like, that’s stupid. But a lot of times when you feel stuck in life, do the thing that you’re most afraid to do but you have this inner knowing inside of you that you need to do that thing.” For him, that leap of faith was making music when he was under pressure to be the first person in his family to graduate college. And it was making that crazy “Montero” video that people said might destroy his career.
He drew the line, though, at a fan who asked in the Q&A if they could hang out. “You know, what?” he said, laughing. “Time is precious.”
Meanwhile, fans who’d come alone were leaving with a community. Gholston and Godwin took selfies with Nicoy Davis, 32, a nonbinary queer Black nonprofit administrator from Toronto, who wore towering heels and a dress. They’d all met that day.
Davis, too, related most to Nas talking about his awkward family dynamics. “It’s kind of like, ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ and ‘We love you and accept you, but only to an extent,’” Davis said. “But I’m super happy he found backup dancers and other queer people to usher him into our beautiful world.”