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Film review: ‘Blindspotting’ puts a spotlight on Oakland life

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
Film review: ‘Blindspotting’ puts a spotlight on Oakland life
Rafael Casal (left) and Daveed Diggs star in “Blindspotting.” Photo by Robby Baumgartner.

Set in Oakland, California, the film “Blindspotting,” which made its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this past January, is about a day in the life of two best friends, Collin and Miles, who go about their daily routine as movers. However, what starts out as a simple day is anything but.

Collin, an ex-con who has 72 hours left on his probation, is trying to make sure that he doesn’t get into any trouble before he’s set free. Unfortunately, he witnesses a white police officer shooting an unarmed black man and his world is turned upside down. The event sets him on a collision course with his childhood friend Miles. Their friendship is tested as they grapple with the issue of identity and their changed realities in the rapidly-gentrifying neighborhood they grew up in.

Starring Daveed Diggs (“Hamilton,” “Black-ish”) as Collin and Rafael Casal (HBO’s “Def Poetry”) as Miles, the comedy/drama touches upon issues of race and class — but it was never Diggs’ or Casal’s objective to talk about these hot-button issues. “That wasn’t the point,” said Diggs in an interview with the Banner the day after the film screened as part of the International Film Festival of Boston in April.

The point of the film, Diggs said, “was just to tell a story about Oakland and to use verse. That was really it.” He continued, “And it was going to star us, so then we figured out these characters … and then just started putting them in situations.” He describes the movie as “a buddy comedy in a world that won’t let it be one.”

Blindspotting” opens in Boston on Friday. Co-written and co-produced by Diggs and Casal, who’ve been friends since their teens, the film took nine years to go from the written page to the screen.

“It’s interesting doing a ton of press and talking about the issues that the film brings up, because we never talked about that, really, in the writing process,” said Diggs. “We talked about what each of the characters was going through. It’s very personal. I think that’s one of the reasons the film succeeds in being a catalyst at talking about things. [The characters] are not particularly politically aware, not more so than anybody else. They’re not aspiring to start a movement. They’re just trying to live.”

Helmed by Carlos López Estrada, who makes his directorial debut with the film, “Blindspotting” is imbued with the spirit of rap, hip-hop and spoken word. It’s everything that Diggs (a rapper and singer) and Casal (a poet) were exposed to growing up in Oakland and Berkeley. They both come from a place where language was valued and revered in both an academic and nonacademic setting.

Collaboration

Now, after having written and starred in their first feature film, Casal and Diggs aren’t slowing down. The longtime friends and collaborators have been writing, producing and shooting for 15 years, according to Casal. “If you go down the YouTube rabbit hole and go to the obscure, the ninth page of search results, you’ll find the most random web series that we did 10 years ago. We’ve been at it for so long. This [film project] felt like a grand version of a similar exercise.”

After the success of the groundbreaking musical “Hamilton,” Diggs has had many new opportunities. “[The musical] was an experience that was unexpected, that nobody was really prepared for and that people couldn’t box me in. What it allowed for me was a freedom, where people were like, … ‘What do you want to do next?’” He’s pleased on his friend’s behalf, too, adding, “I’m happy that “Blindspotting” is proving to be it for Rafael, particularly as an actor, because it shows off so many things that he can do.”

The two creatives aren’t taking anything for granted. Just as the doors to Hollywood have been opened for them, they’re working on opening the door for others. Casal said that their next main project is “picking the next couple of people like us that we know … another couple of voices that we might have enough clout to prop up.”

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