Dark comedy, musical, violent drama, empathetic characters, insightful compassion?
In last week’s film review, Jerry Holsopple praises and highly recommends Spike Lee’s new film, BlacKkKlansman. I agree completely, but this summer saw the release of what I think is an even better independent film featuring an African-American writer and protagonist: Blindspotting.
Unlike BlacKkKlansman, Blindspotting has received very little attention and has not been widely distributed. In Winnipeg, Blindspotting played for one week in late August, in a cinema at the edge of town, and I was the only person in the theatre when I watched this profound and insightful film. The theatre next door, meanwhile, was full for what I can only assume is a vastly inferior film, The Meg, which I will never watch. This is, unfortunately, the state of the film industry today. The good news is that Blindspotting may still be coming to a cinema near you, or it may soon be available for home viewing.
The story behind Blindspotting is a fascinating one. The screenplay was written by Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal over a period of nine years. Diggs and Casal are lifelong friends who grew up in a part of Oakland that is rapidly being gentrified and serves as the setting for Blindspotting. This would be enough to give this semi-autobiographical film an air of authenticity, but add to that the fact that Diggs and Casal themselves play the two protagonists, Colin and Miles, and they do so very well, with the kind of natural performances you might expect given the above. Another important note is that Diggs is a well-known rapper whose performance in the hit musical Hamilton won him both a Grammy and a Tony award. Finally, the film’s director is Carlos López Estrada, a young filmmaker who grew up in Mexico. This is his first feature film, which is an incredible achievement.
Blindspotting focuses on three days in the life of Colin Hoskins: the final three days of a year-long probation. As we see in the opening scene, which involves a lot of guns (in a funny but scary way), Colin has not had an easy time sticking to the rules of his probation and it will clearly be a major challenge for him to survive these last three days without being nabbed for a parole violation and sent back to prison.
Colin and Miles work together for a small moving company, which is managed by Val (Janina Vanankar), Colin’s ex-girlfriend. Miles is a loose cannon, so Colin is the driver and takes charge of the moves. One late evening, as Colin (alone) is driving the truck back to the office, he witnesses an unarmed black man being shot in the back by a police officer (played by Ethan Embry), an event which will haunt him every moment of these three days. Within the next 48 hours, he will witness two more traumatic events, both involving Miles (one of these in the home of Miles and Miles’s partner, Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones)). With good reason, Colin begins to melt down, going to a very dark place which will lead to traumatic actions of his own.
Colin has not had an easy time sticking to the rules of his probation and it will clearly be a major challenge for him to survive these last three days without being nabbed
After reading the above plot summary, you may be surprised to learn that Blindspotting is generally described as a comedy. The film does have a humorous, satirical edge and a few funny scenes, but this is no more a comedy than it is a musical (some suggest that Colin’s penchant for suddenly breaking into rap makes this a musical). On the contrary, Blindspotting is a raw, in-your-face, dark, and occasionally violent, drama. It’s also unpredictable and unnerving in exactly the right ways to bring its profound messages home while never being heavy-handed (unlike Lee’s film).
Blindspotting addresses many themes, including guns, police and racism, but it uses the friendship between Colin and Miles (one black, the other white) to also tackle gentrification, cultural appropriation and the trials of growing up in a poor urban neighbourhood. What sets this film apart, however, is the way it treats every single character with empathy and compassion. In many ways, as the film’s title suggests, this is what the film is about – the unique blind spots we all have as we struggle to make the best of our lives.
The writing of Blindspotting is original and wise (and spot-on). Add in the solid acting, excellent cinematography and good score and you have one of the year’s best films. It won’t appeal to everyone, and has a number of scenes that are very hard to watch, but for those willing to endure, the rewards are worth it.
Blindspotting is rated R for language, brutal violence, sexual references and drug use.