Daveed Diggs as Collin
Directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada
An Oakland story through the perspective of childhood best friends Miles and Collin, navigating the spaces of their hometown as they brush up against the different set of rules they live by and their city’s transformation which threatens its rich culture but still conceals the prejudices kept just out of sight.
Chances are if you live on the coast you’ve been asked: Where are you from? And for many transplants the experience is connecting with others who have also recently moved to the coast to make it in the entertainment or start-up tech field, etc. But when the answer is I’m from here, what generally follows is a reaction of mythical proportions. No, really. When I say I’m an LA native, I’ve been called a unicorn. It’s really fascinating to be likened to something people don’t believe exists until they meet it. It presents a strange phenomenon in perception.
Somehow the folks who have always been there aren’t there until their communities are talked about on the nightly new and Blindspotting peels away the news frame.
Directed by Carlos López Estrada and written by leads: Daveed Diggs (Hamilton, Wonder) and Rafael Casal (HBO’s Def Poetry) the film shows you a hometown’s present told by their own. Through Estrada’s lens, the lives of Collin (Diggs) and Miles (Casal) springs from the screen. Here are living, breathing characters planting themselves firmly for the future of their culture, identities, and experience against the lingering prejudices of the past & the silicon current. What’s incredibly unique is how both the perspectives of Collin and Miles are balanced on the longtime friendship the duo shares even as they both move through spaces under different sets of rules placed on them. Whether it’s the conscious and unconscious biases for or against them, Diggs and Casal go to very real places living their words truthfully.
You get to see the experience of Collin as a black man trying to get out of the systematic nature of incarceration and the tightrope walk of once you’re out to not get back in. The film creates high tension from the jump when Collin sees a police officer gun down another black man on the streets and has to make challenging choices to not go back to jail or suffer the same fate. López Estrada’s shots in that scene place the action in the rear view of Collin’s moving truck and that image is searing. It powerfully shows what’s constantly just over Collin’s shoulder and on his mind as he treads life with trepidation as he gets closer and closer to ending his probation. Whenever a cop car rolls through the streets Collin isn’t doing anything but simply existing, it’s anxiety-inducing for any person of color and hopefully for viewers who have never understood that. Every micro-aggression is felt deeply in Diggs’ honest reactions and coping mechanisms to the world around him.
On the flip side of the relationship is Miles, played with infectious bravado by Casal, who tries to bolster Collin out of the funk he can’t see his friend is in. Miles is caught up in the changes happening in his city, the start-up elite making the rent more expensive, putting green juices in marts and rebranding city staples. There’s a great bit at the beginning where Miles waxes philosophical about creating unnecessary change to a reopened Kwik Way, bemoaning the nasty burger he was eating and getting potato wedges instead of fries. He could be wrong as Collin points out that the wedges aren’t that bad but he could be right because getting a vegan burger accidentally is a crime (unless it’s an impossible burger that you eat with your vegan friend consciously in the name of solidarity). That scene also has a blink or you’ll miss it cameo by fellow Oakland native and performer Watsky.
Through Collin and Miles’ relationship, we get a personal story about friendship and co-existing together in a world that places various expectations on you based on the color of your skin. You see the real day-to-day of two dudes just trying to get by but also examines how they view one another’s existence. Collin repeatedly gets told by his ex Val (a very underused, Janina Gavankar) that he needs to drop Miles because his white privilege helps him get away with things that would land Collin in jail again. And Miles comes to terms with that very privilege as he sees what happens when he violently gets to wield it and how it impacts his mixed child.
Casal also shares a necessary scene with Jasmine Cephas-Jones (also underused), who plays the mother of his child, that speaks to equality not just being a birthright passed on by one parent and the need to create a safer future for children to not end up on the news. Cephas-Jones steals the scene with a moving performance. It’s the most chemistry you get between the two. Frankly, Diggs and Casal have great chemistry with each other that outshined their relationships with their supporting lady leads. That’s my only gripe with the film, there seemed to be no room for a little more nuance and depth to the women around that core friendship.
For a breakout debut, the movie isn’t perfect but injects modern cinema with what it needs and I’m excited to see the creative evolution of the team behind it. There are so many narratives the film touches upon and deep themes that get elevated by moments of unabashed art in the form of spoken-word, down to the very cathartic last act. No, they don’t just burst into it a musical number, but it’s built upon the stakes that get raised for the characters and is so satisfying to watch. It’s believable because it’s real, coming from voices of folks that demand a narrative to be understood. Movies like Vertigo (Nor Cal), La La Land and the upcoming Under the Silverlake (both So Cal) have for so long stifled so many in favor of one gaze that it makes people forget others exist in idealized versions of cities.
Blindspotting is the Bay.
And it’s any city fighting for their streets, their neighbors and friends in stories told by voices like theirs. It challenges the notion of making places better by just building over it by bringing into focus how that’s a lie building over the lives lived, lost or pushed out. With empathy at its core, it’s one of the most essential films of the year. It’s call to action for connection with the world around you, practice broadening your view in order to include every member of your community to build something hopefully better than the world as it is now.