Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal collaborated on the screenplay of Blindspotting. The feature directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada opened as a “Festival Favorite” at SXSW Film Festival. Notably, this homage to Oakland where Casal and Diggs grew up honors the vibrant culture manifest in area graffiti, small shops, vital neighborhoods and street lifestyles. On the other hand, the storyline echoes warnings about race, class and social inequality that characterize yet move beyond Oakland, California.
The title of the film echoes one of its main themes. For example in psychology, a black-and-white drawing known as Rubin’s vase presents a conundrum. When one looks at the drawing, the onlooker sees either one of two pictures present, but not both. He/she may perceive an outline of a vase. Another onlooker notes two faces in profile. By electing to see one image, the onlooker ignores or blinds himself/herself to the other. Supposedly, the brain only may recognize one view at a time, not both.
However, the perception over time with guidance may change to allow the other view. With regard to classism, racism, discrimination, chauvinism, paternalism, indeed all the isms, which advocate superiority, one perspective dominates. But that does not have to be sustained. With guidance, with education, with even a minute of time, the other perspective clarifies. Diggs and Casal with care and sensitivity present a story which seeks to ask questions in the hope of presenting another way of perceiving what is present if one just changes one’s way of seeing. Stand in another’s shoes.
In the rapidly scaling gentrification of Oakland, California, the wealthy techies make their home. Nevertheless, in other vibrant cultural sections of Oakland, the social dynamic greatly differs. In poorer areas crimes scale up. And the police keep themselves busy, knowing where to go to apprehend criminals. Not in the wealthy areas.
The irony remains that in wealthy areas, economic/financial crimes most probably occur with far-reaching global impact. Such financial debacle creates income inequity that further oppresses the have-nots and creates despair and cyclical criminal recidivism. For there to be a wealthy class, the poor must also be. One cannot see/experience life from both perspectives concurrently. Blindspotting reveals the other perspective in a realistic confrontation for understanding.
Against the backdrop of the lower classes, we examine the lives of Collin and Miles. Life-long friends Collin (Diggs) and Miles (Casal) have made their zany way clowning around, living on the edge, catching each other’s backs. But their lifestyle sent Collin to prison. And as the story opens, he sweats three more days on parole before freedom. So Collin must adhere to the rules of curfew at his half-way house. Indeed, he must live his life in perfection as a parolee until his fourth day.
Sadly, in the opening scene, wigger, screw up Miles brings along unsuspecting Collin when he purchases a gun. The scene screams with hysterical laughter and tension. But from this moment on, we get Collin’s angst. Also, we get Miles’ excessiveness, immaturity, and patent selfishness. We’ve signed up for a fun ride with these two mind-blowing, hip-hopping, Oakland dudes. But something gnaws at our hearts about their friendship. Do friends lead their alcoholic friends who attempt sobriety to bars? If Miles wants a gun, must he drag along his unsuspecting friend when Collin has three days left on his parole? What if the police stop the car and find Miles and Collin with the gun? Does Collin need to be with such a friend?
Apparently, he does, until he doesn’t. Indeed, Collin’s viewpoint about Miles must shift or he will be jeopardized. He must learn to understand Miles’ self-destructive nature has a fallout on him. And surely, Miles must shift his perception about his self-destructiveness and his friendship with Collin whom he envies. The “blindspotting” theme kicks off in this opening scene subtly, cleverly. And from this point on the pressure and tension between Collin and Miles builds until the explosive climax.
Blindspotting echoes rich themes which timelessly apply. It examines the question. To belong do we allow others to influence us against our own benefit? The film’s salient twists rip our attention as we watch danger unfold. Made late for curfew by Miles, Collin witnesses a cop shooting a black man. However, he cowers and says nothing. Indeed, as a black man on parole in a police culture in Oakland, his position is precarious. To defend or be the whistleblower against this blatant act of brutality would be untenable. Surely, he must survive, though living a compromised life unable to stand up against injustice seems impossible to swallow. But swallow Collin must to get to the next day.
As Miles and Collin negotiate their work as movers together, the strain between them increases. Yet, mitigating forces for goodness keep them in check. Collin’s former partner who works with him at a moving company refuses to be with him until he evolves. Miles’ wife rules the roost. But when their son picks up the gun Miles purchased on the streets and plays with it? We and they cringe with fear. We root for her when she upbraids Miles and kicks him out. Indeed, enough is enough! Both men know their infantile Peter Pan days darken and wane. Accepting responsibility and defining themselves with their own self-determination becomes paramount to Collin. But Miles needs a great earthquake to change.
Indeed, Collin confronts Miles when he realizes that as a black man, his white friend will be protected if cops pick them up. Collin’s skin condemns him. Regardless of how much of a wigger Miles acts, his whiteness immunizes him. When Collin finally shifts his perception to recognize the truth of this, his world and friendship shatter. In a volcanic fight Collin “gets down” with Miles. And we understand Miles’ what has upset Miles. He feels unworthy of Collin’s generosity and friendship. Attempting to “be” black doesn’t make him cool. Cool is kindness, loyalty, maturity.
The wisdom comes to Collin after the veil lifts and he recognizes the fulcrum of their relationship. But what will Collin do with this revelation that has arrived with a ferocity of anger at Miles? Does Collin obtain his freedom? Or does he allow Miles to subvert his dignity once again? And why does Collin take Miles gun and walk the streets with it in his vulnerable position? You’ll just have to see the film.
Both Diggs and Casal relay fine performances with their logical, smoothly honed script. Also, they shine their expertise with spoken word rhymes at salient points in the film. The rap conveys heightened sentiment with appropriate fervor. Their rich rap mastery reinforces the themes of racism and classism and soulfully teases out adages about how cultural economics causes harm. The rhymes startle. Their seamless integration into the story and dialogue forges a unique stylistic trope.
Consequently, the tropes sear us, guide us, re-educate us. On one level the film appears as a “laugh out loud” buddy movie about a wigger screw-up and his uptight black friend on parole. On a deeper level, this profound movie about friendship, self-determination, race, and class nudges us to change our social perspectives. Empathy rests at the heart of Diggs’ and Casal’s efforts.
Those familiar with Casal’s and Diggs’ rhymes will appreciate how they’ve created a new form of emotional story-telling via film. First timers will enjoy the humor and excellent acting. Look for this must-see film to be released in July 2018.