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Blindspotting

“To be a negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”

[James Baldwin]

Through the lenses of Black America and the role played by the 5-0 comes the newest installment of the profound depth of psychological underpinnings that drive the protests of Black Lives Matter.

Sidney Poitier invited us to dinner.

Spike Lee admonished us to “do the right thing.” 

Ava DuVernay taught us how to march.

And, Denzel Washington showed us how to live beyond fences.

Where Steve McQueen brought us the bare-bones antebellum state of existence for Black America, Steve Coogler carried the torch into the mainstream public eye through the death (Frutivale Station) and the resurrection (Black Panther) of black pride. And now, with the fitting supplement to James Baldwin’s I Am Not Your Negro comes a Carlos López Estrada installment with the lighted projection of the inner workings of fear and the drive for redemption when the barriers of circumstances seem to constantly overwhelm.

Blindspotting tells the story of the last days of Daveed Diggs’ (Lafayette and Jefferson in Hamilton) probation after he was sent to prison on felony charges (“technicality”) involving a hipster doofus and an overpriced flaming cocktail. He strives to survive his circumstances by following the court prescribed curfews and waking up early to exhaust his history by running through a cemetery of those with no future left to write. He goes to work where he and his childhood friend, Rafael Casal, move boxes in another fitting analogy of moving forward and leaving the baggage behind. When Diggs witnesses a police shoot-out that leaves a black man dead, he becomes haunted by the psychological uncertainty regarding his own safety—sensing in harrowing imagery the spectre of his old life and a community the seems desperate to leave him without the requisite place for “living together.” As far as his buddy goes, Casal  too represents the dual life that Diggs is wrestling between. One, tethered to the life of crime and tough guy rhetoric, juxtaposed with a second life of soft-spoken lyricism of a family man. And when those two worlds collide, you can only hold your breathe in anticipation that things will work out for the best.

The screenplay of Casal & Diggs played well to draw the complicated nuances that is all too often missed in these films. Drawing on the importance of family, Blindspotting taught the fundamental values of education and hard-work at the expense of haphazard “tough guy” existence, illicit activity, and hate in perpetuity. The film shows the consequences of immaturity and the blind spot perspectives that becomes the defining lenses through which we see others (and some see themselves). Besides its messaging, the film is rife with jovial moments celebrating the lifestyle and culture of Oakland and the unique forms of communicaiton that I haven’t seen since The Wire or Rian Johnson’s Brick.

While the film only begins to scratch the surface of the dynamics of Oakland and the inundation of the “white tech-industry workers arriving in hipster swarms, driving up rents and displacing residents of color,” it does present an important continuing look into the state of existence that so many viewers simply have no way of understanding. Casal was the only truly complete character, finding himself at the center of a developing new dynamic when his best friendhaunted by fevered visionsseeks to overcome the racial stereotypes of his community and live a life with future value. Eric Kohn (IndieWire) gets this exactly right:

the ultimate success of “Blindspotting” comes down to the intensity of emotion percolating beneath each scene, with Diggs’ face exuding fury for an unjust world that has no use for his goodwill

One line from Casal perhaps captures among the most important inclusions of text in what appeared to be an exonerating moment – “Are You Sure?” 

The female characters were somehwhat underdeveloped although the relationship between Casal and Janina Gavankar had an interesting comparison of values in relationship to the type of human person it produced. One keeps her head down and studies her notes, while the other goes around buying firearms and only sees her though the lense of self-rightenousness. These two could have used a few more scenes together to unravel this fricition. Diggs’ transformation is honorable although his character remains fairly one-dimensional and in what I consider a failed bit of writing at the end where his state of volatility makes him a prime candidate for recidivism.

As I did with The TaleI sought to listen to the critiques of those within the relevant community and found the available content from black critics on Rotten Tomatoes wanting.

I did find Travis Hopson (Punch Drunk Critics), who writes:

Here’s hoping that people don’t look at Blindspotting and see just another urban comedy with a message. There’s more; there’s the pure straight-up emotional potency Daveed Diggs brings, and it demands to be seen.

And, Aramide A Tinubu (Shadow & Act), who writes:

It’s not a straightforward story about present-day race relations, toxic masculinity, and immaturity by any means. Instead, what’s so refreshing about this film is that Diggs and Casal along with Lopez have taken the time to say something real.

With the prominence of Diggs in Hamilton from an educational stand-point and the spoken-word subject matter of Casal on the objectification of women, Blindspotting shows the potential voice to counter-balance the negative influences pervasive within the black community. I look forward to their next collaboration.

 RATING: B-

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