Directed by: Carlos López Estrada
Premise: An African American felon (Daveed Diggs) with days to go on his probation witnesses a police officer shooting an unarmed citizen. Meanwhile, he and his longtime friend (Rafael Casal) cope with the gentrification of Oakland, California.
What Works: Blindspotting is a complex drama about identity and perception. The story centers on Collin, played by Daveed Diggs, an African American felon who is coming off probation. All the components of Collin’s identity are chosen deliberately. The filmmakers seek to highlight and interrogate our presumptions about felons and especially offenders who are African American. Collin is not a hardened criminal but a man who made a mistake under duress, has been incarcerated for it, and is now transitioning back to civilian life. The movie is in part about blackness and what that means individually and culturally. Blindspotting is prismatic about this; blackness is more complicated than skin color. Collin’s close friend and coworker Miles, played by Rafael Casal, is white but speaks with an urban dialect that reflects the location in which the two of them grew up. And yet, Collin and Miles experience the world differently because of their race. Their friendship is the foundation for Blindspotting’s complex portrait of personal identity and that exploration plays out against the setting of Oakland, California. The location is a key element of Blindspotting and the film portrays a city in transition. Another of the story’s themes is gentrification; many of Oakland’s historically black urban neighborhoods are being transformed into suburbs that cater to white middle class transplants. That has the effect of displacing the established residents but also challenging the identity of the town and the people who live there. The film ties together location, race, and socio-economic status in a way that is very complicated and Blindspotting offers a lot to think about. The actors deliver on that complexity with performances that are nuanced and alternate between drama and moments of levity. Daveed Diggs is outstanding as Collin. Diggs has a few big dramatic moments but he conveys a lot through the subtle details of his performance. The paranoia of a parolee and Collin’s fear of law enforcement are vivid and the picture keeps the audience on edge. The filmmakers do an effective job of teasing and misdirecting the viewer; we’re set up to expect something obvious and then the filmmakers send the story in unexpected directions. This keeps our attention while highlighting issues like prejudice and police violence without belaboring the point.
What Doesn’t: Throughout most of this picture the filmmakers of Blindspotting maintain a fine balance of dramatizing political topics of the day without getting didactic. This falls apart in the ending. The conclusion of Blindspotting resorts to an unbelievable coincidence to shoehorn in a final confrontation with the film’s political themes. Here the filmmakers drop any pretense of subtext and spell out the message for the audience. This is an unfortunate choice. Although the movie’s penultimate scene is done well, Blindspotting doesn’t need it and this sequence oversimplifies the issues. The finale is also remarkably un-self-aware. The title of Blindspotting refers to the way in which our preconceptions keep us from seeing other possibilities and unconsciously shape our interpretation of reality. This is a metaphor of the way the culture judges African American men but the filmmakers never apply the concept to the police shooting and we never discover the context of events that led up to it.
Bottom Line: Blindspotting is a movie for the Black Lives Matter era but audiences shouldn’t be scared off by its political themes. Blindspotting presents a challenging portrait of race and class issues through stories and characters that are engaging and entertaining.
Episode: #711 (August 8, 2018)