Spike Lee had New York City, and, to be more specific, Brooklyn. Now, the writing team of Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs, along with up and coming director Carlos Lopez Estrada, have Oakland. I don’t know if this triumvirate is native to Oakland, but the movie is without a doubt an ode to the Bay Area—in all its good, bad, and poppin’, hip-hoppin’ vernacular.
Yet there is one key difference between Lee and these new filmmakers: whereas Lee, in my opinion, is ultimately pessimistic about race relations and progress, Blindspotting gives us hope. Lee’s extracurricular racial rhetoric does not help to soothe the image of him and his films, and I have no idea what opinions the makers of Blindspotting might have about race and America, but the landscape that Lee so deplored and which still seems to form his consciousness, is belied by this movie.
Backing up a step, I don’t mean to say there aren’t racial problems in the United States today and Blindspotting is naive. Quite the opposite, and, as the title suggests, we’ve still got a blind spot in this country when it comes to these issues. What we think we see is a matter of perspective, and, in the worst cases, still there though we choose to ignore it.
Having said that, Blindspotting does not seek to wallow in the negatives. It presents them but asks us to rise above and see the progress we have made. The movie uses Oakland as its setting, a city where white, black, Asian, poor, yuppie, tech, street thug, artist, and homeless comingle more closely than ever before in a major urban area.
Blindspotting follows the release from jail of Collin, a seemingly mild-mannered guy who has three days left on his probation. Avoid trouble and he is truly a free and redeemed man. This is of course easier said than done as his best friend, Miles, is a powder keg waiting to blow and could jeopardize Collin’s status. In addition, Collin witnesses a police shooting when he is out after curfew. Does he mention it and potentially have his jail sentence re-instated or keep mum and let a guilty cop go free?
Weaving in and out of these story lines is the real heart of the movie: its purposeful celebration and repudiation of diversity and progress. Collin is black. His best friend is white and married to a black woman. His mother has remarried an Asian man. His girlfriend and some of the other characters that appear throughout are of unidentified racial backgrounds, but the message is clear while being paradoxical. There is no more black and white, but yes there is because police still shoot black men and white yuppies have parties inviting token blacks to make themselves feel good.
In Blindspotting, there’s a simultaneous nostalgia for the past and the old neighborhood—before gentrification—when it was solidly African-American. But there’s also an acknowledgment that maybe we have reached a better place now that race and class lines are more blurred.
The film’s style is lyrical (literally) at times, with a humor and a poetry that is one part Barbershop and another part 25th Hour.
If Spike Lee were beginning his career today, I’d like to think this is the film he would make, one of optimism despite lingering and justifiable anger. I’d like to think Lee would see Blindspotting and recognize that, though there are still a multitude of challenges yet to overcome, we are moving away from a sinful past.
It’s not by chance that Miles and Collin work for a moving company, and as the film concludes we are left with the impression we (and they) are rolling toward a hopeful future. In a political day and age, where the demos is more often encouraged to act on its anger and fear, Blindspotting asks us to take those raw emotions into consideration but ultimately choose a more conciliatory journey.
Genre: Dramatic Comedy
Running Time: 95 minutes
Cast: Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Ethan Embry, Tisha Campbell-Martin, Utkarsh Ambudkar, and Wayne Knight
Directed by: Carlos López Estrada
Written by: Rafael Casal & Daveed Diggs
Blast Rating: 4 out of 4 stars