Gentrification, police brutality, gun violence and cultural appropriation have become political buzzwords. We hear them often now in the midst of some “political” conversation, often times these phrases are being used as carelessly as the action itself. While these things touch different cultures and people in different ways, there is a long history of the black community being gutted by them. Even with this history and its presence in some conversations, all of these things still seemed overlooked. Director Carlos Lopez Estrada’s new film, Blindspotting, aims to shed a light on all of those things. The film follows ex-felon, Collin (played brilliantly by Daveed Diggs), as he tries to make it through the final three days of his probation.
When we meet Collin, we see a guy that is dead set on obeying his probation and completing his sentence. We also see a guy who is not in an ideal situation to succeed. One of the larger plotlines of the film is in regards to his friendship with his best friend, Miles (Rafael Casal). This friendship has lasted since they were young kids and is still going strong, but we immediately question if this is good for Collin. Miles doesn’t seem all that concerned with Collin’s situation since he is buying a gun out from an Uber and waving it around. This is an incredibly funny scene but it also contains some angst because you are waiting for something bad to happen. It also has a large amount of foreshadowing because their friendship is tested later in the film when Miles acts even more carelessly and puts Collin’s freedom in jeopardy. This relationship is rich with metaphor and meaning. It works as a reflection of toxic friendships and how your friends can prevent you from bettering yourself. It also works as a “crabs in a bucket” metaphor in relation to getting out of the hood, but it also works as reflection on loyalty and the value of it. That’s why Blindspotting is so incredible; it is rich with fantastic thematic elements.
The driving theme in the film is police brutality and we watch as Collin is witness to a police officer gunning down an unarmed black man. It is one of the most chilling scenes in film this year and serves as the weight throughout the rest of the film. Witnessing that changes Collin and affects everything he does from then on. The care in which this is handled is clear but it’s also incredibly bold. That boldness pays off in the way in which it’s presented; Collin is essentially an audience surrogate because we experience it through him. We end up taking on his reaction and in the same way it never leaves him it never leaves us. This is brilliant! They were able to create a way in which we can experience what that is like. The helplessness that Collin feels is heavy and impossible to ignore. The fear that transforms into rage is understandable. The experience is life changing and Blindspotting brings that to life in a very real way that is smart and valuable. The commentary on police brutality alone is worth the price of admission.
A theme as heavy as police brutality is hard enough to take on alone, but Blindspotting also touches some other major issues in the black community today (and historically), cultural appropriation and gentrification. The latter seems to be used as humor to cut the tension throughout the film. While it may seem that way, some very poignant points were being made about it. It is funny to see Miles get outraged that their favorite fast food spot serves vegan burgers and caters. However, this takes on so much more weight when Collin and Miles show up to clean out an abandoned house. That house was once home to a family from Oakland but is being sold to someone not from Oakland but simply wants to move to the new trendy spot. That is what guts you, watching two guys that grew up in Oakland lose their home to people that don’t care about it.
As it often does in life, gentrification meshes perfectly with the cultural appropriation in the film. The people moving into Oakland are moving there in part to get a taste of the hood without actually being there. This is perfectly captured in the party scene. It takes place in a house that was clearly built by someone not from Oakland and is filled with the trendy white people that would eat vegan burgers, call you “homie” and tell you how great Obama is. The cringyness in this scene made me uncomfortable because I’ve been to that party. I’ve felt like I was there to provide validity to a group of people far too interested in 2 Chainz and Boyz in the Hood. This scene goes from uncomfortable to profound in the blink of an eye. One of the black guys at the party runs into Miles and everything you originally thought about Miles changes.
We meet Miles at the beginning of the film, with a grill, tons of tattoos and he’s buying guns. Oh and he’s white. That last part didn’t bother me all that much because I know a Miles, I actually know a few. Most black people do. There’s always a white guy that just grew up in the culture and we accept that. Because of that Miles didn’t bother me, up until this party scene. In this scene we see Miles the way someone who doesn’t know him would see him and that is the epitome of cultural appropriation. In a party full of it, he stands out even more and becomes offensive. This is another area where Blindspotting goes from good to great. This is addressed. Most films don’t bother, but this one did and they dug even deeper. Miles gets to tell his story and what it is like for him, which is also deep and provides a lot of insight. Miles, as a character, feels like a grey area and this film goes to that area and forces us to think about it and deal with it. Cultural appropriation isn’t as cut and dry as we would like it to be. There are some obvious examples and some less obvious ones, but that messiness shouldn’t be something we shy away from. We should embrace and deal with it, Blindspotting does that in a very interesting and creative way.
The film (and Urban Dictionary) defines the term “blindspotting”, as an image that can be interpreted in two different ways, but can only be seen one interpretation at a time. This definition can explain most of what is going on in the film and the beauty of the film is that you are given opportunities to see both interpretations. Blindspotting is an absolutely beautiful film in every way that a film can be. All of the filmmaking elements work. There is some great cinematography throughout the film. Daveed Diggs gives an Oscar worthy performance, alongside a stellar performance from Rafael Casal (Miles) who is relatively unknown. The writing is out of this world and the direction was great. This film is perfect and the filmmaking isn’t even the best part. Blindspotting is a must watch film for everybody because it allows you to experience what it feels like to be a black person in 2018. It doesn’t preach at you, it just shows you. In a time when there seems to be no tolerance for someone else’s point of view and no empathy, this film demands it.
5 out of 5 stars
Director: Carlos Lopez Estrada Writers: Rafael Casal & Daveed Diggs Starring: Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar, Jasmine Cephas Jones & Ethan Embry Release Date: July 27th Rated: R Runtime: 1 hour and 35 minutes Image Credit: Imdb