(Release Info London schedule; October 5th, 2018, Cineworld, Leicester Square)
Collin (Daveed Diggs) must make it through his final three days of probation for a chance at a new beginning. He and his troublemaking childhood best friend, Miles (Rafael Casal), work as movers, and when Collin witnesses a police shooting, the two men’s friendship is tested as they grapple with identity and their changed realities in the rapidly-gentrifying neighborhood they grew up in.
Collin and Miles are guys we know from the community, guys people probably know from their communities. We knew their voices because it’s a part of Oakland. The film sets out to forge a world that feels viscerally real, but where the most private thoughts and intense feelings can suddenly spill over into lyrical poetic meter. Following in the slam poetry tradition, the film is unflinching when it becomes confrontational. Yet that shift is also part of the point. Collin and Miles are laughing and ribbing with each other right up until the moment they hit a nerve of unspoken truth that has to be reckoned with. It's about putting our preconceived notions about other people, friends as much as foes, up for interrogation. The movie isn’t about the wide divide between black and white, it’s about the incredibly narrow divide between two people who grew up in the same circumstances with the same hostilities, attitudes and ideologies surrounding them, but one is black and one is white and they've to walk through the world differently. It’s not a canyon between them, it’s a hair splinter between them. But what’s a minor distance for Miles is cavernous for Collin. On the surface they’ve had a lot of the same experiences growing up in Oakland but inside they’ve learned very, very different things about the world.
Collin, the parolee aiming at starting again as a free man if he can just hold it together for 3 more days, and mischief-making Miles, a wild card whose unpredictability threatens to blow up Collin’s chances. That Collin is black and Miles is working-class white allows them to dig deeper into the oft-unseen reality of everyday racial tensions. These tensions, which often go unremarked upon in daily life, become the underpinning of a story that also tackles more visible divides between police and African-American communities, between wealthy and blue-collar, between the way things were and the way things could potentially be. Underlining the differing stakes for the two friends, the story kicks off with Collin witnessing a police shooting just when he’s doing all he can to avoid the police, an even that not only imperils his parole but also haunts him. Collin drives away, but he can’t let it go. The guilt, confusion and anger at the disproportionate impact on the black community set off a slow-burning fuse inside Collin that will ultimately lead to a reckoning both with Miles and with his own bottled fury. There’s been ongoing police brutality in Oakland since before the 60s.
Before Collin even sees a man get killed, he’s so used to the idea of police violence it feels normal to him. The fact of it doesn’t surprise him, it’s the personal way it hits him that surprises him. But he knows the history. And while Miles, as a white kid who grew up in a black and brown neighborhood is just as in tune with those hostilities, at the end of the day it just doesn’t affect him in the same way. Collin has grown up in a community of color so the idea of lots of white people moving into his neighborhood feels colonizing to him in a way it wouldn’t for Miles. Miles feels like his identity is being stripped from him, but Collin feels like his whole world is being undone. Miles is a poor white person and the system is not particularly sympathetic towards him either. But Collin has to fear a bigger monster and has always had to keep himself in line in a different way. The 9-minute climactic confrontation scene with two cameras is a single take all the way through, capturing the explosive back-and-forth between Collin and Miles in real time. Collin’s dream sequence looks like a modern music video, replete with flashing colors, choreography, and dollying cameras, while employing theater tech to time everything perfectly.
The trick is to make it feel like it’s organically coming out of the drama. The pair carefully let the mechanism of inserting rhymes evolve in the film, so that the audience would go with the flow. The first time we hear Collin rap, it’s very literal. But as it goes on, it gets more subtle and you’re not entirely sure how much of it's in his head and how much is real, which is purposeful. Meanwhile when Miles gets his hustle on by selling junk left behind in for-sale houses, he displays his own talent for bombastic rhymes. Miles speaks in a slang-driven speech pattern that has dominated street culture in Oakland since the ‘70s, derived from pimp culture. This same braggadocious demeanor makes it's way into music and trickled down into the basic vernacular of the region. Val (Janina Gavankar) is Collin’s skeptical ex-girlfriend and co-worker, who wants Collin to demonstrate that he’s really changed since he returned home from prison. Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones) is Miles sharp girlfriend, who pushes him to be a better role model for their son. Molina (Ethan Embry) is the police officer Collin witnesses shoot an unarmed man. Rin (Utkarsh Ambudkar) is a local who has a riveting story to tell about Collin’s past, and young Sean (Ziggy Baitanger) is Miles and Ashley’s son, who absorbs so much of his environment.
This is a story about a man trying to stay out of trouble for just three days in a rapidly changing, and charged, Oakland, "Blindspotting" walks a tightrope. From it's hilarious but hellaciously tense opening moments, the film pulses to the vibrant beat and energy of Oakland, yet bristles with urban fury and fears that can explode at any moment. From that incendiary mix of opposites comes something unexpected. The film is an excavation of race, class and manhood, and a rap-fueled story that at times busts out into its own rhymes. But more than all of that, "Blindspotting" is a reminder of what we miss when we look at one another without seeing the full picture. It's a timely and wildly entertaining story about the intersection of race and class set against the backdrop of a rapidly gentrifying Oakland. Bursting with energy, style, and humor, and infused with the spirit of rap, hip hop, and spoken word, "Blindspotting" is a provocative hometown love letter that glistens with humanity.
When you talk about race in a movie it’s best to recognize that you’re not an authority on the subject. Set on the sunny, Eastern side of the San Francisco Bay, Oakland is a city that's right now experiencing seismic shifts. In the ‘40s and ‘50s it was renowned as 'The Harlem Of The West', a hotspot of booming African-American businesses and culture. But historical patterns of segregation and cycles of poverty took their toll. Amid the turbulence and civil rights movement of the ‘60s, Oakland became the epicenter of 'The Black Power' movement and 'Black Panther Party', and forged a progressive community spirit that would set the city on it's own course, unique in 'The United States'. Today it is one of the most diverse places in America, with a mosaic of white, black, Hispanic and Asian residents. Yet the new Oakland, the increasingly gentrified, high-rent Oakland, with it's hipster hangouts, vegan food trucks and high-toned art galleries, has not come without controversy or a high cost on long-established neighborhoods, traditions and social life. So is Oakland losing it's beautiful soul or finding new ways of bringing people together? That’s one of several core questions the film raises for audiences to debate.
"Blindspotting" sees two Oaklands, one city steeped in a long, complicated history of oppression and defiance and another city of young newcomers forming atop the old one. For those who've long called it home, the fear is that if the town’s history is buried or ignored by the changes, it could cut off a community from it's most sustaining roots. An essential branch of those roots is the story of 'The Black Panther Party' (BPP), a group that emerged out of Oakland in 1966 to become a flashpoint in the national fight for civil rights. Though renown for their black leather jackets, dark berets and 'Black Power' ideology, the group’s impact went much further. They also helped to forge and nurture a sense of unbreakable community in Oakland that impacts every native for several generations. Everybody coming of age now in Oakland was raised on a well-balanced diet of historical context and that includes what 'The Black Panthers' did for the community and what happened to 'The Black Panthers', which led to a lot of distrust of the government but also an inclination towards progressivism, protest and community action. It might have been half a century ago, but the circumstances of the 'BPP’s' founding remain hauntingly familiar.
Two young students at 'Oakland’s Merritt College', Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, formed the group for one reason; to help protect the black community from the police brutality and unequal treatment they saw devastating Oakland families. They chose the name 'Black Panther' because it's an animal that doesn’t strike first but will aggressively protect itself from attack. 'The BPP' embraced the incendiary idea of armed self-defense, which would soon bring them into violent conflict with the law. But that was just part of what they did. They also campaigned for full black employment, fair housing and access to healthcare and education. The 'BPP' became famed for their free breakfast program, which provided meals for impoverished Oakland youth. They ran free health education and sickle cell anemia testing programs, provided transportation for the elderly, conducted voter drives, sponsored candidates for office and monitored police stops long before the advent of video, let alone smart phones. Spreading across the nation, The 'BPP' was visible everywhere in the early 70s. But targeted by 'The FBI' and riven by shootouts with the police, controversial criminal charges as well as internal power struggles The 'BPP' began to collapse. More than 50 years after it's inception, debate still rages over 'The Black Panther Party' as a force in American history. But in Oakland, it's impact on the culture is undeniable.
Oakland is a place of equal parts defiant grit and revelatory grace. The town changes so fast it makes our heads spin. Hipsters have invaded the boulevards, healthy foods and prices have hit the bodegas, and business is booming, but what's being erased in the process? "Blindspotting" becomes a tale of the two Oaklands, the old Oakland and the new Oakland, the white, working-class Oakland and the black Oakland, the slangy, arty, spirited Oakland and the violent, angry, rebellious Oakland, by exposing the hidden divides between two thick-as-thieves friends. The Oakland that the film depicts feels exhilaratingly specific and local. But also, it's a microcosm of what many American cities face in 2018; marked by youthful vitality, innovation and style to spare, but also reeling from the effects of inequity, unaffordable housing, gangs, crime, racial profiling, underemployment, police violence, structural injustice, and parents of color having to have the talk with their kids. "Blindspotting", traverses both sides of the morphing city, as some thrive and others scramble to stay afloat. The urban flows and word-play that are so woven into the fabric of Oakland culture had to be infused into the core of the script.
After all, Oakland’s many paradoxes, as a city that can be sometimes playful, sometimes tragic, where ecstatic late-night dance parties and bloodshed are both part of the rolling cultural landscape, are a huge chunk of what make Collin and Miles who they're. A visceral sense of the city still hangs onto the legacies of it's historic past, while on the precipice of being remade, emanates from every frame of the film. The central hub of Oakland has just gone into this massive overhaul with an influx of people. With new people comes new perspectives, and with that, new commerce. But that turnover has felt violent, both economically and physically, to people who’ve lived there their whole lives, because they're suddenly treated very differently. Knowing where you’re from is so foundational for who you're as a human, and if that disappears, it might mean that you've no context anymore. Artists who are from Oakland are hell-bent on preserving our context, making sure there's an origin story. While N.Y.C. usually takes center stage in rap history, Oakland has long been a rap capital in it's own right, befitting the city’s history of urban artistry and social engagement. In fact a separate rap culture to the one on 'The East Coast' developed simultaneously in the city, drawing on a rich brew from Oakland’s soul and funk scenes of the past.
Today, Oakland is home to a fittingly vast variety of styles, from alternative backpack rap to conscious rap, but much of it pays homage one way or another to the city’s long history of boldness and activism. In Oakland, music has always been a primary means for citizens, from all walks of life, to share their stories and express their realities. The film’s very title refers back to a scene in the film involving a common illusion; a picture that, at first, looks like a vase, but on second glance can instead look like two faces, if you shift your eyes in just the right way. "Blindspotting" is a potent metaphor not just for race relations but for all human communication. For all it's timely themes, and lens on how we perceive and sometimes blindly miss one another, "Blindspotting" is at it's heart a hometown adventure told through the friendship of two inseparable underdogs.