Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal’s ‘Blindspotting’ Is an Exploration of Identity and Gentrification
Daveed Diggs, an actor and performer best known for starring in the Broadway hit “Hamilton” and a recurring role on “Black-ish,” and poet Rafael Casal take their talents to the streets in the dramedy “Blindspotting.” Best friends since their early days growing up in Oakland, Diggs and Casal together wrote this film that follows a pair of tough Oakland natives, one black and one white, as they grapple with the changes in their neighborhood brought on by gentrification, as well as more issues close to home.
Diggs stars as Colin, a convicted felon who has three days left on his probation. Living in a halfway house, he earns a living working as a mover alongside his best friend, Miles (Casal). Being a part of a largely African-American community, caucasian Miles has something of a chip on his shoulder, as he is the same race as many of the hipster gentrifiers he claims to despise. Rougher and more aggressive than Colin, Miles played a major role in the crime for which Colin was convicted, but didn’t face the same consequences. 72 hours away from freedom, Colin faces an internal struggle as he works to better himself while also maintaining a close relationship with Miles, to whom he feels indebted to not only because of their years of shared history, but also due to his being his only friend who visited him regularly during his incarceration. Early on, he witnesses a white police officer (Ethan Embry) kill a black man who was running from him, a scene that has a devastating effect on his psyche.
Diggs and Casal do a good job here of finding the balance between the light and the dark, as “Blindspotitng” hums through its second act, sharing a slice of life as Colin and Miles go about their daily routines, which for Colin includes drinking green juice and going for morning runs. While Miles may not share Colin’s goals regarding self-improvement, his partner, Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones) looks to a better life as she pushes to send their son to a bilingual preschool. Humorous moments involve Colin finding out that his mother (Tisha Martin-Campbell) has given his childhood bedroom to his annoying little step-brother, and Miles’ attempts to make some quick cash by selling hairstyling equipment and a boat. Finally, there’s a flashback to that fateful night Colin committed the crime that landed him in jail, narrated animatedly by a witness (the always amusing Utkarsh Ambudkar).
The plot of “Blindspotting” really picks up in the third act, after Miles’ questionable choices put his family in jeopardy. Finally, all the frustrations Colin and Miles feel for each other, as well as society, cause things to come to a head during an explosive scene at a hipster party, of all places.
At the end of it all, “Blindspotting” is really a film about identity. As Miles comes to terms with his whiteness, Colin struggles to deal with the fact that his new status as a convicted felon causes others’ perception of him to change, including those who knew him before, such as his former girlfriend, student Val (Janina Gavankar). Diggs’s performance is rich in pathos here as he grapples with the unfairness of it all.
This being a film from the guy from “Hamilton” and a poet who appeared on “Def Poetry Jam,” there is are some rhymes sprinkled in “Blindspotting,” and while Diggs and Casal certainly have a talent for words, these scenes in an otherwise naturalistic film may take some viewers out of it.
“Blindspotting” opens July 20 in select cities, July 27 nationwide.