It would be easy enough to describe Blindspotting as the movie du jour, the current dope film to see based on its sharp social analysis of gentrification and cultural appropriation.
Yet the stars and writers of the film, Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, both lifetime friends, have been trying to get this film made for years.
Blindspotting takes place in modern day Oakland. Collin (Diggs), on the last week of his parole, lives in a halfway house with a serious curfew. One night he’s late after witnessing police shoot an unarmed man in the back while driving home.
Carlos López Estrada directs with subtle visual images mixed with suspenseful editing to make many of the scenes dense with the anticipation of something about to go down.
For instance, the shooting sequence has the man eluding the police running in front of Collin’s truck, forcing him to stop. As the suspect runs around the side of the truck, the camera stays stationary and allows the audience to see him running away via the side view mirror. Then a policeman (Ethan Embry) comes into the frame and fires on the running man who we see fall down (in the mirror). It’s all in the same frame from Collin’s point-of-view.
Not only has Collin seen something he shouldn’t have seen, the audience now has seen something that will continue to add anxiety to the rest of the film.
It’s not so much a question of whether Collin will keep quiet about the incident so as not to jeopardize his parole, but if he can keep from getting into trouble from hanging out with his childhood friend Miles.
“People ask us how we write together and I reply, ‘Depends on what year,’” says Casal, who plays Miles. “We’ve been writing over the course of a decade, and there are so many ways we’ve navigated the writing process.”
Miles and Collin work at a moving company where Collin’s pre-prison girlfriend handles the dispatch. Miles wears a façade that includes a gold grill, Hip hop dialogue and plenty of attitude. Miles carries a gun he bought from a drug dealing Uber driver. Meanwhile, Collin has to stay within the county borders of Oakland per the terms of his parole.
The movie title is revealed by one of the characters who’s studying for a degree in psychology. Blindspotting occurs when one person looks at an image and sees a human profile while another person looks at the same picture and sees a vase.
Years ago, the first version of Blindspotting involved Casal and Diggs handing a laptop back and forth and working out the basics of the concept. Years later, when the film finally got a greenlight, Casal recalls: “We realized we hadn’t touched it in a couple of years and it needed a page-one rewrite.”
Diggs was on a couple of television shows and doing press for said shows and had precious little time.
Casal moved to Los Angeles for a month. “I would write all day, and when Daveed got home we would do a rundown of what I’d written. That would get thrown into the mixer of ideas we’d come up with. We were working with broad strokes on lines that we’d meticulously said only one way for years,” he says. “What we gained from that was Diggs reading big chunks at a time rather than building line for line. So we changed the dynamic at the end for me being very micro and Diggs being very macro. We wanted to tie in the characters lives with what we were also saying about Oakland.”
Various sequences progress the tale with the most effective plotline revolving around Miles’ gun. At one point ,his baby finds it and is crawling around with the loaded rod. Even with Collin trying to live the straight and narrow, he gets into trouble due to a misplaced allegiance with Miles.
A section of Oakland with abandoned houses next to brand new townhomes becomes the setting for a brawl after Colin and Miles crash an upscale party. Miles gets in a fight, and kind of loses but not before brandishing his piece and shooting a couple of rounds into the sky.
Regarding the location, Casal remarks: “You can’t make that shit up, even in the script we had a much blunter view of how this house fit into the neighborhood.”
Collin takes the gun away from Miles as they both flee from the now-terrified guests. The pretentious party sequence pales to the realization that if Collin gets busted with the gun his parole is revoked.
Throughout the entire ordeal, we haven’t forgotten the cop Collin saw shooting the running man. One day, Collin and Miles show up for a moving job and the house is owned by the very same policeman.
Even as we’ve come to view Collin as Blindspotting’s good guy, a third-act flashback to the crime that earned him time has you on the fence in regards to everything you previously felt about him.
“We have a long history of working with each other just as artists,” says Casal. The pair worked on skits and produced a series of Youtube videos under the moniker The Away Team. Diggs most famously won an Emmy and a Tony for his portrayal of Thomas Jefferson in the 2015 musical Hamilton.
“Hamilton interrupted when we were about to make Blindspotting three years ago. There’s a world where I didn’t do Hamilton because I was shooting Blindspotting, but it didn’t happen in that order,” says Diggs. “I don’t know if the play made it easier to eventually get the film made. But man, it sure has made it easy to get the film seen.”
Diggs and Casal had met director Estrada previously on a music video. “We knew he was great, particularly skilled with verse,” says Diggs.
Some of Blindspotting’s best scenes have Miles and Collin spontaneously breaking from normal speech patterns into free form slang rhyming Hip hop dialogue. The effect melds a theatrical beat at the core of Blindspotting, with the greater subtext embedded into the oft-time brilliant script.
“He can do this thing that when the character starts to converse in that way it doesn’t feel outside of the context, outside the confines of the world we had created,” says Diggs.
Blindspotting opens at several area theaters this weekend.