Black creatives have been showing up and showing out in the film industry. From the beautiful color palettes of Moonlight to the surrealist themes of Sorry to Bother You, telling stories about the Black experience is no longer limited to the traditional barriers of a bland reality. Blindspotting, the new experimental film that was written and produced by Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs — the latter came to fame for his Tony award-winning role in the Broadway phenomenon Hamilton — is the latest film to get a little weird. It’s one part buddy comedy and one part social commentary, seasoned with musical interventions straight from the land of Hamilton and an interesting subplot that deserved more attention. But despite what feels like some actual blind spots in addressing racism on a systemic and interpersonal level, Blindspotting is important. It’s wildly entertaining, and in a moment where Black Lives Matter has been occasionally overcooked in pop culture, the movie still feels timely and extremely relevant.
With only three days left on his post-prison, year-long probation, Collin (Diggs) struggles to rebuild his life as a convicted felon. He has no housing prospects and has only locked down a gig at a moving company thanks to his ex-girlfriend Val (Janina Gavankar). His list of problems grows longer when he witnesses the police shooting of an unarmed Black man while waiting for a red light, an experience that causes him to exhibit signs of PTSD in the form of flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, and violence that bubble to the surface in one of the film's final scenes. Running alongside these heavy motifs, and the protagonist himself, is Miles (Casal). Collin’s best friend is a fast-talking hustler, a short-tempered shit-starter, and white. As Collin remains laser-focused on operating within limits of the law during his last few days of probation, Miles is just as reckless as ever, creating trouble for both himself and Collin. As a commentary on race, Miles’ relationship with the community of color that he grew up in runs parallel to the meta dialogue about the institutional discrimination in the criminal justice system.
One of the film’s shortcomings is the failure to really dig deep into either tension point, instead presenting them to viewers and just kind of leaving them there. I left my screening of the film wishing that the script had been used to focus on one problem — the interrogation of Miles’ whiteness, the authenticity of his “hood” aesthetic, and his failure to be an ally to Collin — or the other: the constant re-criminalization and victimization of Black people by the American criminal justice system. Blindspotting ends on a supposedly happy note, with Miles and Collin just as chummy as they’ve been since childhood, despite the fact that the former is the reason the latter was in jail and was extremely careless with the limited freedom Collin has. It is also left unclear what Collin’s fate will be having just witnessed an unjustified murder at the hands of a police force that has already been exonerated for said killing. How safe is he in his own community following this incident?
Blindspotting rests on a kind of racial ambiguity that is hard to reconcile if you’re not from the Bay Area. For example, we never find out the exact race of Val. She’s a woman of color. But, in one of the most intimate scenes between the pair, she braids Collin's hair as he sits between her legs, not into cornrows, but frizzy individual braids. It’s so close to being a beautiful image of Black love, but Val isn’t Black. A similar fluidity exists in the casting of Miles’ son with Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones). The child is ambiguous, but manages not to look like either of his parents in any way. In other words, with the exception of Collin's own set of problems, Blindspotting fails to nail down Blackness itself and the burden that often comes with it.
My own personal gripes with hip-hop musicals aside (seriously, it’s the reason I couldn’t get into Empire), Blindspotting is still worth your time. Comedy is a strong suit for both Diggs and Casal — I loudly cackled in the theater several times. Diggs gives an amazing performance that really illustrates the psychological implications of over policing and brutality. Blindspotting does not turn away from the emotional havoc that violent, militarized police wreak on Black bodies and communities every day. I am not exaggerating when I say that I am unnerved at the sight of police officers in my day-to-day life. Calling 911 is absolutely a last resort for me, even when someone close to me — or I myself— is in danger. Engaging with the police on any level feels like a dangerous risk, as I am nervous not only about possible violence against my body, but also knowing that my freedom can be taken away unlawfully. It felt good to have those fears validated.
Perhaps Blindspotting served up a version of racial oppression that wasn’t tuned just right for my ears. But it hit its target as an appeal to my emotions. The musical breaks are weird, sure, but the message is super familiar.