At its heart, Blindspotting is a film by and about friends. Longtime music collaborators and Oakland natives Daveed Diggs (best known for his Tony-award-winning dual role in Hamilton) and poet Rafael Casal spent nearly 10 years to write the screenplay. The result is a vibrant, energetic, rhythmic profile of a city in transition, where nonwhite residents and culture are being pushed out by gentrification. These lifelong friends, Collin (Diggs), who is black, and Miles (Casal), who is white, work for a moving company and have a front-row seat to watch the world around them change its identity whether it wants to or not.
Working with first-time feature director/longtime music video helmer Carlos Lopez Estrada, Diggs and Casal tell the story of Collin, an ex-con who has three days left on probation, trying desperately to stay out of trouble, while his slightly bent best friend seems to be an endless supply of bad decision (like buying a gun from his Uber driver). The company the two work for just happens to be managed by Collin’s ex-girlfriend Val (Janina Gavankar), who broke up with him over whatever it was that put him in jail (a story I won’t even attempt to tell because it’s told so beautifully in the context of the movie). Miles lives with his girlfriend Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones) and their young son, and they seem to have a fairly loving family that embraces Collin as one of their own.
One night when Collin is racing back to his apartment before curfew, he finds himself witnessing a white police officer (Ethan Embry) shoot a black man in the back as the man runs away from him. Collin is told to drive away, but the incident fills him with fear and rage (not to mention night terrors), and he begins to question exactly what is going on in his city. He even begins to take a closer look at those around him, wondering if they are the best people to help him move forward and stay out of trouble. Blindspotting is something of Hearts of Darkness-style journey for Collin and Miles as they move from job to job, each one representing a new phase is Oakland’s changing dynamic and the nature of their relationship. The end result is staggering, heartbreaking and ultimately uplifting.
As much as I might be painting the film as something of a downer, the truth is that, above all other things, Blindspotting is a comedy. But it’s the kind that subscribes to the belief that you have to laugh through some of the pain, because to cry all the time would be incapacitating. Diggs and Casal are such a perfect comedy team that I’m going to have to insist that they make a series of road movies together over the next 10 years or so.
Diggs is a proven presence, both on stage and on screen (his supporting role in Wonder feels far larger than his screen time might indicate), but Casal is the real discovery here, playing a man who is frequently criticized for “sounding black,” even though he grew up in the same neighborhood as his best friend. And that brings out discussions of identity and cultural appropriation that might not even be relevant to this situation, but they are damn sure going to be discussed in any event.
Aside from the almost non-stop soundtrack of mostly local artists, Blindspotting also features a couple uses of free-verse/rapping/spoken word monologue that serve to highlight the film’s most dramatic and revealing moments. In one of the film’s final sequences, Collin gets the opportunity to confront his greatest fear and has to choose whether to strike it down or overcome it in other ways.
In other hands, in other films, the moment shouldn’t work; but here it is such a forceful release valve of a moment that you’ll applaud and cry and feel a flood of emotions like you haven’t in a movie in years. Blindspotting is easily one of my favorite films of 2018; I’ve seen it three times and I can’t wait to see it again.
Editor’s Note: Read Steve’s interview with Diggs and Casal here.
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