Blindspotting is an intense and challenging urban buddy comedy that shifts into
a disturbing drama in the second half. It courageously deals with many serious
social issues such as classism, police violence, and racism.
The film is an aesthetic triumph, but the subject matter and onscreen brutally
may turn some people off. When I saw it at Crestwood Theatre, only five people
were in the room and two of them left half way through.
The whole thing takes place in Oakland, and the film makes terrific use of its
setting. The attention getting opening split scene sequence (which is
reminiscent of many 70s films such as Medium Cool) depicts kids jumping rope, a
fight on a bus, and a Whole Foods store. The Whole Foods is important because it
introduces the theme of gentrification which becomes more important later in the
Although much of the cast is African American, the film is well directed by
Carlos López Estrada, a new Mexican-American film maker. This is his first
feature film but he honed his craft directing videos by many musical artists
such as the Goo Goo Dolls and passion pit (Michel Gondry and Sofia Coppola got
their start the same way.)
The film’s talented stars, Rafael Casal (known for his performance poetry) and
Daveed Diggs (known for his rapping) wrote the semi-autobiographical screenplay
over a period of nine years. Daveed and Rafael grew up in the same vicinity in
the San Francisco Bay Area, and they wrote the film as a corrective because they
felt most cinematic portrayals of Oakland did not get it right.
When the project started, all of the dialogue was originally going to be done in
spoken word. Although this aspect was mostly discarded, there are several key
scenes in which the characters spontaneously produce spoken word in rhyme which
describes the situation.
The film also depicts an art exhibit which ties to the film’s theme of
gentrification. In the photos in the exhibit the artist superimposes images of
trees into the scenes of where they used to exist which underscores the tragic
destruction of nature to produce more high rises and high ways.
The title of the film comes from the fact that someone can look straight at
something and not see an essential part of it. Perhaps the screenplay writers
felt that previous film makers were overlooking essential parts of Oakland when
they depicted the city it in their films.
Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal previously performed together in Hamilton. They
play two best buddies in the film but the relationship is not without friction.
Collin (played by Diggs) is an African American man who was convicted for losing
his temper and almost killing a contemptuous yuppie while he was working as a
bouncer. Despite this, he is the more sober, responsible and rational of the
two. He is trying to walk the straight and narrow so he can got past his parole
period without incident.
In contrast Miles (played by Casal) is a reckless, fiery tempered, and heavily
tattooed Caucasian who is always seconds away from a violent outburst. Although
Miles is usually the trouble maker, Collin is always afraid that he will get
blamed more because of his skin color.
Since the two men have been friends since childhood, and they have always had
each other’s backs, Collin feels a sense of responsibility to his friend even
though it may mean they he may be dragged down with him. Their relationship
reminded me of the interplay between DeNiro and Keitel characters in Scorsese’s
classic Mean Streets, which may have been an influence on this film.
While Collin is still on parole he is traumatized when he sees a police officer
shoot a young man to death, Collin is deeply disturbed by the event and there is
a danger that he will act out in anger just as he is finally getting his life
together. When Collin finally confronts the police officer it is one of the most
effective and well-handled cinematic moments of the year, but to tell you more
might ruin the film.
The film is remarkably well written, it has a strong emotional impact, and it is
anchored by the two superb lead performances. This type of edgy under the radar
drama is typically ignored by the Oscar voters (they even snubbed Do the Right
Thing, the best ever film about race in America in favor of the toothless
Driving Miss Daisy), but at the very least this film deserves an Oscar
nomination for best screenplay, and possibly best picture.