‘Blindspotting’: Race, Black Lives Matter in a Rap-sical ✮✮✮✮

“Blindspotting” is a diversity dramedy which has some thematic and casting ties to “Hamilton.” Written by Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs and directed by Carlos López Estrada, this is about Oakland residents dealing with gentrifications in a Black Lives Matter world.

Some of the dialogue in “Blindspotting” including a key monologue at the end is delivered as rap (which is why I called it a rap-sical), and yet the movie isn’t played as a musical–there are no dance scenes, but plenty of choreographed violence. Think of it more like Shakespeare in a contemporary setting or the “Hamilton” effect.

Born in Oakland, Diggs originated the roles of Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical “Hamilton,” winning both a Tony and a Grammy. Diggs is also the vocalist for an experimental hip hop group called Clipping and he currently has a recurring role in “Black-ish.”

Casal created and produced as well as acted in the TV mini series “The Away Team” with Diggs. Casal and Diggs took almost a decade to write this movie and despite the angry tone that often permeates this film, there is also a feeling of hope.

The movie begins with a split screen that introduces us to two sides of Oakland until we see those two sides are just aspects of the same thing and that’s what “blindspotting” is.  Diggs plays Collin, a man who doesn’t find that orange is the new black. He’s being released after serving time for an incident that isn’t clearly delineated until much later. He’ll be on parole and living in men’s residence where he has a curfew and many rules to mind as well as cleaning duties.

 

Collin works for a moving company, teamed up with his best friend from childhood, Miles (Casal), who sports a grill and speaks black vernacular English because he’s grown up in the black community. While Miles visited Collin, Collin’s ex-girlfriend Val (Janina Gavankar) did not. Miles had a girlfriend Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones) and a child Sean (Ziggy Baitinger).

Like “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” we’re in a countdown toward the end of Collin’s parole and despite his friends, he tries to stay clean but early on he witnesses a black man, also a former felon, being chased by a white police officer and it doesn’t end well. Collin is haunted by the experience and his inability to do something about what he sees as injustice. But that’s just part of a systemic injustice. Cassal and Diggs’ script shrewdly questions the meaning of white privilege and how that warps identity and informs choices.

According to Diggs and Casal, the script changed and evolved, informed by the actors, particularly for the roles of Val and Ashley. If you’re an actor and always counting lines, then you’ll have to watch Ethan Embry’s Officer Molina–few lines but a lot of emoting in a key scenes. Diggs and Casal don’t present a black-and-white, right versus wrong scenario but provide a viewpoint shaded with grey and a hint of nostalgia for a neighborhood undergoing change.

This movie won the US Narrative Festival Director’s Award for Estrada at the Cinetopia Film Festival this year as well as the Directors to Watch award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. The film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

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