Directed by Carlos López Estrada
Starring: Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar
Rated R for language throughout, some brutal violence, sexual references and drug use
1 hr., 35 min.
If you’re a black filmmaker, this is your summer to go for the gold. First Sorry to Bother You. Now Blindspotting. Both with Oakland as the backdrop.
But this time around, the audience gets to dig into some real Oakland. Not just the hood part, but the cultural melting pot part, the gentrification part, the newcomers versus old-school part and, most of all, the tension between the community and its police force part.
Filmmakers Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal are natives of the East Bay who believe that Oakland has gotten an unfair shake in the film industry. What they seek is the real Oakland: its cultural changes, its long and strong black history and a few of the reasons why it’s known for its violence. Yes, Oakland is that other city across the bay that usually gets frowned on when someone mentions it. But from Diggs and Casal’s perspective, it’s also a city with a lot of great stories to tell.
Collin (Daveed Diggs) is a convicted felon who has three days before his probation is up. He’s trying to stay on the straight and narrow. Unfortunately, his best friend, Miles (Rafael Casal), is a party animal with a penchant for drugs and a hairpin temper. He also happens to be quite funny.
Collin is black, Miles is white, but in heart and soul, they are brothers inseparable.
One night, as Collin drives home from work, he witnesses a white Oakland cop shoot a young black man in the back. While the story on the news blames the black victim, Collin is haunted by the killing and feels helpless to do anything about it.
But Miles is not his only problem. Collin must also show up at work every day at Commander Moving, the business managed by his ex-girlfriend, Val (Janina Gavankar), who is studying for a degree in psychology. She left him hanging after he was convicted and thrown in jail. She’s also the woman who doesn’t want to risk her future on his recklessness. And the question haunts Collin: Does he even have a future to offer her?
Director Carlos López Estrada is the eye behind the camera, the man in the background who must carry out the vision of Diggs and Casal with a deft touch. We see this most clearly in Collin’s dream sequences, where his guilt seems to manifest itself. There’s a dark courtroom with Miles rapping about Collin’s life. In another, he dreams of a graveyard filled with black shooting victims. The face of the young man whose death Collin witnessed also appears.
The film plays fast and loose between comedy and tragedy, sometimes taking sharp turns with a little too much velocity. At times the film is slack, as if it’s being made up on the fly. Still, the comedy is genuine, and the drama grows more compelling as we learn Collin’s backstory.
Casal and Diggs play with hip-hop and rap to kill time, but the ending waxes poetic, filled with the agony of a community that must always fear street violence and police retaliation. In a final confrontation between Officer Molina (Ethan Embry) and Diggs, the singer’s casual rap turns into a rhythmic scream.
Blindspotting is rough, profane, yet packed with soul. It’s a struggle for survival, especially after having been judged by a court and jury. Where is redemption when you know you’re at fault? What chance at forgiveness is given once the sentence has been pronounced? In the end, there are plenty of excuses and people to blame, but to find the new path that Collin seeks, to even get through the day, he must first be able to turn and look at himself directly in the mirror.