Directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada
Written by Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs
Starring Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Ethan Embry, Tisha Campell-Martin, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Wayne Knight
There is a certain rhythm inherent in a movie’s story. Whether it’s the beat the characters move to, the three-act script or the music, all the pieces converge on one focal point to form an underlying drama. Without that rhythm, nothing moves.
In Carlos Lopez Estrada’s inspiring film, “Blindspotting,” the film’s rhythm is very much that of Oakland, California. As it happens, I had a chance to visit the city for the first time last fall on my travels, and the film captures the essence and feel of the changing dynamic that affects everyone who lives, works or even visits, especially those whose roots are firmly planted in a city facing mass gentrification.
Featuring a script from rapper – actors Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, the story concerns itself with Collin’s (Diggs) desire to complete his community service following a prison sentence. Mr. Diggs’ performance is a tour de force in dramatic tension as his character witnesses a life-altering event that shakes him to the core of his being. His best friend, Miles (Casal) concerns himself with his image and is less to do with his responsibilities as a father and a husband. Mr. Casal’s performance speaks volumes to the swagger the character thinks he needs to carry to survive and thrive in an ever-changing environment.
The story uses Collin’s struggles to stay the straight and narrow because he knows that even as a black man in Oakland, the police will detain him. Mr. Diggs and Mr. Casal smartly use comedy, and more importantly, the buddy-comedy motif to break up the tension, allowing us to breathe.
Mr. Estrada uses sight and sound to bring us into the ever-changing world that is Oakland, bringing in visual cues and characters to surround our leads. Janna Gavankar plays Val. Val understands Collin and wants to see him find the best part of himself. There’s a quiet brooding approach to the way Jasmine Cephas Jones plays Ashley, Miles’ partner. Midway through the film, there is a scene between them where she gives Miles a piece of her mind; you could feel the audience reacting to this scene, it was palpable. To give the scene away here, would ruin a part of the film, but it is a theme that plays into all of our worst fears.
Music is a key ingredient to this film. First time director Mr. Estrada interweaves the rhythmic sounds that have emanated from the Bay Area for a long time. The film’s music supervisor, Jonathan McHugh attended the SXSW screening I was at and he mentioned that the production wanted music that was authentic to Oakland. Those choices drive home the “love-letter” aspect to the film’s message.
I would be remiss if I didn’t call out Mr. Diggs’ performance, specifically. I must acknowledge Mr. Estrada’s direction in setting up this scene, but towards the end of the film, Mr. Diggs, his eyes wide open, full of emotion, exhales in a percussive rap that expresses how we all feel about the current state of life. The scene allows us to exhale; to recognize that change is all about us, that we must deal with it in our own way, but we must also be willing to change to see the light.
The film opened Sundance in January and was subsequently picked up by Lionsgate for distribution. The film opened in LA and NYC last weekend, expands to Phoenix this weekend and will slowly expand in August. Audiences at SXSW were thunderous in their applause. The film is very much in the moment; it’s fears are laid out for us to explore. Mr. Estrada has been named as one of the directors to keep an eye on because he wrapped his head around what Mr. Daveed and Mr. Casal had to say. “Blindspotting” is beautiful, inspired, scary and timely, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
4 out of 4 stars