Published Jul 24, 2018Collin (Daveed Diggs) has three days left on his parole when an officer shoots and kills a black man in front of him. It is past his parole curfew, so he returns home immediately, traumatized by what he witnessed. It's just one indication of how much Carlos López Estrada's feature directorial debut, Blindspotting, has on its mind.
Set against the backdrop of a gentrifying Oakland, considerations of power and privilege are at the forefront, as white hipsters moving into the neighbourhood worry more about preserving the oak trees than the black residents they are displacing. Collin and Miles (Rafael Casal), friends since childhood, work for a moving company.
Casal and Diggs, who both grew up in Oakland, co-wrote the film, with Diggs living only a couple of blocks away from the Fruitvale station shooting of Oscar Grant at the time that it happened.
In the days following the on-screen shooting, Collin is visibly disturbed, but the city continues relatively unchanged. The media shows the killed man in an orange prison jumpsuit, portraying him as a criminal, and there is a clear parallel to Collin's own situation as he pushes up against his new identity as a "felon," and the way that others perceive him.
As Collin faces his last days on parole, the film highlights how little it would take to extend his parole or send him back to prison. From small things like not cleaning the bathroom, to his employer trying to send him outside of the designated parole boundaries, prison is more about being in the wrong place at the wrong time, than any tangible wrongdoing.
Collin's friendship with Miles also puts him at risk. Miles is white, wears a ridiculous grill, and has an uncontrollable temper. And even though carrying a gun violates Collin's parole, Miles continues to do so. Collin's internal struggle between his love and compassion for his best friend, and realizing his friend's privilege can and has had devastating consequences is a powerful tension, brilliantly portrayed by Diggs.
The pairing of comedy and drama in the film feels oddly natural, with the comedy operating as more a coping mechanism; however, the violence is often brutal and jarring. While the film does not necessarily centre white audiences, it is clearly making an appeal to them.
From experimental visuals and dream sequences to incorporating rap and hip-hop throughout, Blindspotting takes risks with style and content, to varying success. The subtle normalization of racism, like an instructional pamphlet on speaking to children about police violence, speaks the most loudly, and Diggs's nuanced performance grounds the film.