Blindspotting is a comedy, except when it’s not. The switches are jarring, but that’s real life. One minute, you’re driving home from work after a seemingly normal day, the next, you’re a witness to a police shooting against an unarmed African-American man. Or so happens to Collin (Daveed Diggs) just three days away from the end of his probation. What follows isn’t necessarily an investigation into the events of the shooting, but rather an internal look at Collin’s own experience as an African-American man living in Oakland, California, and how he’s supposed to move past his incarceration when the only thing society, or even those closest to him, sees is a criminal.
Directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada and co-written by Daveed Diggs (Hamilton) and Rafael Casal, Blindspotting succeeds in the smaller moments more so than with the bigger picture. With Diggs in the starring role, rap plays a major part in the way Collin expresses himself. He’s stilted at first, taking his time to search for the right words, even while he’s just rapping about work, or walking down the street. It’s all part of “making it sound pretty,” according to Collin’s best friend Miles (Casal), whom also has a talent for spinning his words. In one of the better scenes of the film, Miles talks fast with a potential customer whom he’s trying to sell a beaten down sail boat to. The back and forth between the two is electrifying in the moment and mostly played for laughs. Where the use of rap comes to fruition is when Collin confronts the white police officer he witnessed shoot the unarmed African-American man. Finally, Collin is able to put to words what he’s been feeling since the shooting, with his freedom just now beginning. It’s a satisfying moment of revelation, and Diggs brings it all in a scene sure to make him an even bigger star.
The dialogue too is snappy and full of energy. Diggs nails the comedy, and then immediately drops into the emotion of a scene without so much as a blink. Casal is a standout as well. At first coming across as the comedic relief, Miles has depth to him that Casal delivers on. It’s both Diggs’ and Casal’s nuanced performances that allow the emotion and the comedy to fight against each other without it seeming like the film is also fighting itself.
Identity, police brutality, gentrification, and the differing perceptions of those around us find their way into Blindspotting. But Blindspotting isn’t offering any answers to how to fix these issues. Instead, it’s acknowledging they exist, and maybe sometimes the only thing we need to deal with them is language. In that sense, the film is content with leaving them hanging. However, there are moments where the film hands you an answer that isn’t satisfactory, instead being confident in its ambiguity. Still, the film leaves us with an atmospheric feel of Okaland and the people that inhabit it. The dialogue sings at a relateable hum, playing with the notion that comedy and tragedy walk hand in hand, offering big laughs and moments of sobriety. Despite some predictability, as a first feature-length film for both Diggs and Casal, Blindspotting is proof of a pool of talent we’ve just barely skimmed the surface of.