“Can I not better myself?”, asks ex-con Collin (Daveed Diggs, best known for being in the original cast of Hamilton) to his friend since childhood Miles (Rafael Casal), as he buys a recently stocked Kale-juice smoothie from their local mini-mart. On the last days of his probation, Collin feels the urgency to change his life’s direction, even if Miles’ reckless behaviour threatens to pull him back down. Not only is he considering change, given the rapid gentrification of Oakland around them, where (mainly white) migrants are co-opting ‘urban culture’ while smoothing out its rough edges, “turning projects into prospects”. And while some local residents are happy for increased property values and vegan burger options, others who hang their identities on the old greasy burgers are devastated by these changes. Blindspotting investigates this valuation of economic improvement against authenticity; if things are becoming truly ‘better’ or just ‘cleaner’.
Blindspotting remarkably manages to humanise such complex social problems, making pertinent issues around race and gentrification not only understood, but felt. Miles and Collin embody this dynamic, with Miles incensed by the influx of gentrification as, being white himself, he views these new residents as damaging the culture he’s worked so hard to assimilate into since childhood.
Collin is more docile, both by his nature, but also as he understands his black skin will make him a target of police violence more than Miles. The two may have grown up together, but their racial divide is insurmountable. Such complex issues only intensify as Blindspotting continues, first-time director Carlos López Estrada overflowing with sincerity and ambition, tackling grounded social issues with unique stylisation. Blindspotting has so much to say, and it even says it in rhyme.
These semi-musical forays of Miles and Collin, expressing their turmoil through rap, although pretty incredible by themselves, may prove too distracting or strange for some viewers. The high-ambition of Blindspotting does make it trip over itself, particularly in the first half. There, the juggling of drama and comedy is slightly too rough for either to land properly. The pieces seem out of line. However, in the second half these disjointed bits fall completely into place, and scene after scene Blindspotting feels riveting and essential. Here the film drops most pretence of comedy, becoming instead first and foremost a suspense film. Blindspotting becomes the most effective version of itself. Here, Collin’s probation becomes a timebomb, which anything, from working with Miles to simply being a black man walking outside, could set off.
Blindspotting requires some active engagement from the viewer, and takes a little bit to deliver its point. But once it does, it is a smart, unique, earnest and tense film. In a world so dependant on first impressions, Blindspotting offers a vital lesson on how to see it more clearly.
Image: Robert Campbell via Wikimedia Commons.