It’s not often that films can teeter on that fine line between comedy and drama perfectly. It’s a difficult balance, gaining the audiences' trust through humor and wit only to shift so swiftly to say something profound about life and the experiences of being human. Hamilton alum Daveed Diggs and his writing partner Rafael Casal manage to do this flawlessly, hitting the audience squarely in the gut with the intense and moving Blindspotting.
Helmed by the electrifying Carlos López Estrada in his feature film debut, Diggs and Casal star as an unlikely duo, best friends Collin and Miles respectively, who work together at a budget moving company and get into hilarious and dangerous shenanigans during their off time. Set in Oakland, California, the film’s whimsical open showcases the eccentric nuances of the city and the Bay Area where the men have lived their entire lives. And yet, the first few minutes of Blindspotting don’t even begin to prepare the audience for the film’s extraordinary commentary on race, police brutality, and manhood.
Collin played thoughtfully by Diggs is a seemingly mild-mannered ex-con with just three days left on his parole sentence. Desperate to get through his last few days unscathed, Collin tries to avoid trouble at all cost, only to be confronted with it at every turn. Miles, in contrast, is a hardened white boy with the gift of gab and a chip on his shoulder. Oakland born and bred, the grill-wearing hothead finds himself in a polarizing position as other white people, hipsters with their press juices and vegan “burgers,” begin moving in on his territory.
Beautifully filmed, Blindspotting grasps the colorful bits of Oakland built up from the generations who have always lived there, and the gentrification that is terrorizing the city. The rapidly changing neighborhoods are just a single thread in the film, it says so much more. Running late for curfew one evening, Collin witnesses a police officer gun down an unarmed Black man, an event that paralyzes him with fear.
From that moment forward, Collin is haunted by images of the man’s face and his bullet-riddled body lying in the street. With his freedom right around the corner, Collin begins to examine – perhaps for the first time, how he’s perceived as a large Black man with braids, his immaturity, and what it truly means to have a felony on his record. As he tries to grapple with what he’s lost, and ex-girlfriend that he’s still hopelessly in love with, he must also confront Miles and their friendship that has been fraying since the night that landed him in jail.
Estrada wields his lens with a tone of surrealism. Dream sequences are full of imagery but don’t feel cheap and tawdry. Instead, they enrapture the audience letting us dive deep into Collin's psyche. While confronting issues of toxic masculinity, race, and class. Neither the writers nor the director are afraid to let Collin or Miles be vulnerable, and perhaps that’s what’s most sensational and raw about Blindspotting.
Women aren’t just in the background of this film either. Miles’ girlfriend Ashley (Hamilton alum Jasmine Cephas Jones) who is also the mother of his young son is bold, bright, and demanding. Though loving and fun, she also realizes the privilege and task of raising a young Black boy in America, and she demands more of Miles. There’s also Collin's mother, a woman with her own life who offers him a temporary living situation, and his ex-girlfriend Val (Janina Gavankar) who hasn’t been able to view him in the same light since his imprisonment.
Its dialogue is what’s most brilliant about Blindspotting. Casal and Diggs use raps and rhymes interspersed with traditional discourse. It’s not a straightforward story about present-day race relations, toxic masculinity, and immaturity by any means. Instead, what’s so refreshing about this film is that Diggs and Casal along with Lopez have taken the time to say something real.
Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival, Jan. 19, 2018.
Aramide A Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her Master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami