Never in my lifetime have I seen a film that was so accurate in its depiction of reality but wasn’t a documentary. A film where racism, race identity, police brutality, and gentrification were covered in the course of 95 minutes. I’ve watched townhalls that discussed race over three hours and didn’t cover as much ground as this film did in half that time. What’s more impressive is that it was fresh blood that pulled off such a feat. A pair of lifelong friends tackled the topics that most of this country shy away from and were able to touch all the emotions (laughter, sadness, love, etc).
Blindspotting comes from the minds of Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, both of whom were on hand for their films’ screening at the Opening Night of the Atlanta Film Festival (ATLFF). Once they arrived on the red carpet, I asked how gentrification has affected them personally (if at all). “Yeah well… Neither of my parents lives in Oakland anymore so… They got priced out,” said a lightly sarcastic Daveed Diggs. “It affects everybody and I think it affects us as artists who leave to pursue careers and come back. Every time we come back something in the city is different. Things are being lost and things are being replaced. It’s always a constant sort of push and pull.”
“Gentrification is violent,” said a passionate Rafael Casal. “It doesn’t just move people out of an area, it forces families into economic crises and completely displaces entire communities. Yeah it happened in Berkeley and it continues to happen in Oakland, every couple of days there’s another horror story. Like… People are moving to Concord now (22 miles northeast of Oakland).”
What could be more appropriate for a film that tackles gentrification and police brutality than to screen it on Friday the 13th? But before we could experience the horrors of real life, Daveed Diggs was presented the first-ever ATLFF Innovator Award. He humbly accepted the award and received a roaring applause after his encouragement: “As creatives, you’re creating because you have to, right? If you could afford the crane shot then you’d do it, but you can’t. So instead you’re outside standing on mothaf****n vans to get your shot. Keep standing on vans!”
As a Bay Area transplant, I had my radar up for East Bay authenticity (you know, just to make sure it wasn’t too Hollywood). But all of my doubts were cast aside once I saw clips from a ‘sideshow’ in the opening credits and The Plaza Theatre was consumed with the sound of Mac Dre’s “Feelin’ Myself.”
Collin (Daveed Diggs) is coming down the homestretch of his probation but finds that the final three days would present him with some tough, life-altering situations. Along with his childhood friend Miles (Rafael Casal) the two work as movers who watch their neighborhood slowly fall into the grips of gentrification.
Soon after we’re introduced to Collin, he goes out on his usual routine driving the moving truck. While stuck at a red light, a man runs in front of him just as he’s about to pull off. The man runs around the truck and flees for his life. Just seconds after, a policeman shows up in front of Collin’s truck and guns down the man he was chasing. He shot him not once, but multiple times, from behind, while he was running (and when he dropped he was probably 40-yards away). The cop slowly turns his head and locks eyes with Collin and he eventually drives away as backup approaches. This image replays in his mind throughout the movie.
Miles is Collin’s best friend who doesn’t make the best decisions. On the outside Miles is white, but having grown up in Oakland that’s about the only thing caucasian about him. The way he carries himself and the way he speaks is a bit over the top but for his environment, it fits. Everyone in the neighborhood knows that’s just the way he is. His hilarious dialogue throughout the movie brings a certain comfort when they attack the hot-button topics in the film.
Slowly but surely, the friends start feeling uncomfortable in their own locality. The police presence in the area gradually increases as newer homes start sprawling up. Miles begins to feel uncomfortable as trendy retailers and eco-friendly cars start affecting his daily routines. Their daily trips to the corner store have been interrupted by new residents blocking their truck to take out their groceries (in trendy reusable bags of course).
Now this far into the review you should be able to really feel the gentrification aspect. Remember my quote from Rafael: “Gentrification is violent. It doesn’t just move people out of an area, it forces families into economic crises and completely displaces entire communities.” In the film they’re movers… They’re helping people relocate because they’re being priced out their neighborhood.
Now the topic that’s extremely hard for America to grasp is police brutality. Not only is it real, not only is it a problem, it’s a widespread problem that has been an infection in this country since the beginning. It’s very fitting that they chose Oakland as the backdrop of this film as their police department has a long reputation for brutality and corruption. The perception of police in this country is ‘slanted’ to be kind. “Everyone makes mistakes” is a quote that’s existed longer than all of us yet doesn’t apply to all of us. Take women for example. Women have periods, men don’t. So just because I don’t experience that as a man means that women are lying? So them voicing their discomfort and pain goes out the window because it didn’t happen to me? Do you see how ignorant that sounds? So if you know anyone that actually believes “just do what they say and you won’t get shot” or “maybe if you treated the officers with respect you wouldn’t get arrested,” kindly let them know black people have been complaining about police brutality for hundreds of years and “obedience and respect” clearly doesn’t work.
Miles has his own battle of racial identity after an argument with Collin. After Miles makes a myriad of poor decisions, Collin tells him straight up, “Ni**a! Just say it. Say it!” It totally knocks the wind out of Miles that Collin would demand such a thing and finds himself speechless. But there’s a reason for that, because “stereotypically” they are the antithesis of what you’d expect. Miles has a style that’s more urban and rugged (like his grill for example) while Collin is more simple, wears chucks, and speaks properly. So you can imagine the silence from Miles when Collin tells him “Why won’t you say ni**a but you act like one? You’re the ni**a!”
Daveed Diggs’ musical background gets put on display as his raps begin to crescendo. Tossing out rhymes here and there, it all culminates in a beautiful display towards the end (a talent reminiscent of his magic in Hamilton). To describe Casal’s character in the movie think of Tommy from Power mixed with the comedy of Bill Burr. He really does an incredible job.
In the film and throughout life, you will face situations or images that can be interpreted in two different ways… but some of you will only see one of the interpretations. That’s because you have a blindspot to the second interpretation (dig deep on that for a moment).
The film was picked up at Sundance for a reason and I’m happy to say they made the right decision. Powerful, hilarious, and boldly executed, I believe a 9 out of 10 is appropriate for their inaugural project. Other notable faces you’ll see are Tisha Campbell-Martin (Martin), Utkarsh Ambudkar (Pitch Perfect, Ride Along 2), Wayne Knight (Seinfeld), and Kevin Carroll (HBO’s The Leftovers). I’m confident this will do well after its summer release and trust me when I say our two lifelong friends plus director Carlos López Estrada are names to remember. The only thing more beautiful than the film is the delivery of its message.