Childhood best friends Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal wrote the screenplay for Blindspotting during a nine-year period which started as an artistic expression to defend their beloved and misrepresented city of Oakland, California. Within the nine-year period, Diggs found stardom playing both Thomas Jefferson and Marquis de Lafayette in the Broadway smash hit Hamilton while Casal is best known for his appearances on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam. While their journey to bring Blindspotting from paper to screen was subjected to setbacks and changes, the film finally began its production in 2017 with the writing duo as its leads. The final product is a chilling classic that boldly tackles themes of gentrification and race privileges.
Blindspotting follows a black, mild-mannered convicted felon named Colin (Diggs) and his white, erratic childhood best friend and co-worker Miles (Casal) – both of whom work for a moving company – during the last three days of Colin’s year-long probation. Upon driving home to beat his eleven o’clock curfew Colin witnesses a white cop (Ethan Embry) fatally shooting a black civilian (Travis Parker). The incident has a grueling effect on Colin during the remaining days of his probation where he comes to the realization that a gentrified Oakland and the troublesome ways of Miles – which includes illegally buying a gun – may not only send him back to prison but could put his safety in jeopardy.
Being deemed as semi-autobiographical, Diggs – a Tony and Grammy Award Winner – perfectly balances Colin’s cheery outward persona with the internal stresses of being a black, convicted felon in Oakland. Casal is often hilarious and emotionally gripping as Miles, an Oakland native who has a great disdain – he even sports a “kill a hipster, save a neighbor” shirt – for the rapid changes to his neighborhood. While Miles’ partner Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones) is black and their young child is multi-racial (Ziggy Baitinger), it becomes clear that Miles is subjected to privileges that Colin is not. This is pointed out by Colin’s former flame Val (Janina Gavankar) who finds it difficult to forget about the incident that put Colin in prison. It should be noted that both Jones and Gavankar are stellar in their supporting roles and add necessary depth to the story. Diggs and Casal certainly show vast trust in one another as both actors are heavily dependent on the other in portraying their extremely compelling yin and yang dynamic. Their chemistry is highlighted during an explosive moment when that very dynamic is threatened when Colin addresses the potential consequences Miles’ short-temper can have on him.
Blindspotting joins director Boots Riley’s off-the-wall Sorry to Bother You as the second film in the summer of 2018 to be set in Oakland, California. While both films serve similar themes, Diggs and Casal bring forth a much more grounded approach. Not to say Blindspotting is without any creative merit as the film flawlessly blends freestyle rapping, music video-like sequences, and stunning visuals into the mix. While the film is very much the offspring of the childhood best friends, it should be noted that first-time director Carlos López Estrada is able to successfully capture the numerous ideas Diggs and Casal throw around in their screenplay.
Even when a film is able to bring forth a number of timely and thought-provoking messages, it all comes down to sticking the landing. Audiences may be divided on the film’s climax which may come off over-embellished or downright powerful. Personally, I felt the latter as Diggs delivers the film’s standout, tension-filled monologue. What makes this passion project such an outstanding piece of storytelling is how personal the film is to Diggs and Casal as the Oakland natives were able to provide heart and soul into their respective characters. Even with only a 95-minute runtime, audiences are provided a detailed look into the lives of childhood best friends in a hometown that is becoming more foreign by each day. Throughout the film, audiences will have shared numerous laughs, struggles and heartbreaking moments with Colin and Miles. By the end it is almost a shame that we have to leave them so soon, but mostly because we are truly rooting for the duo to overcome the difficult aspects of the ever-changing world around them. While Diggs and Casal may be relatively unknown in the realm of Hollywood, Blindspotting showcases that stories centered on communities like Oakland and the people who live in them have a place in cinema.