Amidst the pointless sequels and deafening blockbusters, this summer at the movies has brought with it a surprisingly astute dissection of race in America, with reflective films like Sorry to Bother You and BlacKkKlansman. Adding more gasoline onto the fire is Blindspotting, the gripping feature debut from music video director Carlos López Estrada. Based on the deeply personal script by co-stars and life-long friends Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, this seething dramedy is brimming with flair and wit, earning its place alongside the year’s most affecting films thus far.
While serving the last few days of his parole, Collin (Diggs) tries to keep a low profile while avoiding the cultural landmines of his old stomping grounds. However, his chance at a fresh start is jeopardized when he witnesses a brutal police shooting of an innocent black man in cold blood. As he wrestles with the emotional weight of his predicament, he also must be mindful of his hot-headed childhood best friend and coworker, Miles (Casal), who has a knack for causing trouble.
“…a fresh start is jeopardized when he witnesses a brutal police shooting...”
With his first feature, Carlos López Estrada pulls off quite the juggling act. Blindspotting runs the gamut, surprisingly funny even as it touches on thorny concepts associated with combative race relations, such as gentrification and code-switching. Even when the film tosses in unbelievably tense moments, the narrative doesn’t feel disjointed. If anything, the conflicting tones only work to build on top of one another. The film lulls its audience into a false sense of security with its subversive comedy, and that’s why the hard-hitting moments land as profitably as they do. The script doesn’t make light of serious issues, but it frames them within the lens of entertainment and makes them all the more easier to digest.
Visually ambitious, this stylized display is filled with inventive staging and colorful bursts of neon. However, it ultimately abandons the temptation of surrealism for a recognizable portrait of Oakland that many people must navigate every day. This isn’t racism in the abstract; this is a genuine portrait of familiar trauma. While other recent films have brought this discussion into the fantastical realm, Carlos López Estrada keeps it firmly planted in reality, while still imposing his potent visual flair. He has a clear appreciation for the importance of iconography, and he’s crafted a deeply textured world that will only benefit from the informed acquaintance of repeat viewings.
“This isn’t racism in the abstract; this is a genuine portrait of familiar trauma…”
Sure, Blindspotting can feel a bit rough around the edges. Diggs and Casal have so many ideas they want to explore, and they aren’t always able to articulate them in a concise, economical way. But even if they haven’t quite honed their craft as screenwriters yet, theirs is a story that desperately needs to be told and they continue to find compelling ways by which to convey its urgency. The result is a powerful film that the viewer will carry with them long after the credits roll, and a staunch reminder of how much conscious work we must all do to overcome the implicit bias of our surroundings.
Blindspotting (2018) Directed by Carlos López Estrada. Written By Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal. Starring Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Ethan Embry, Tisha Campbell-Martin, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Wayne Knight, Kevin Carroll, Lance Cameron Holloway.
8 out of 10