Updated 1/25/18: "Blindspotting" has been bought for theatrical distribution by Lionsgate. A release date has not yet been announced.
The co-writers, co-stars and longtime friends behind "Blindspotting" describe the film as "a buddy comedy in a world that won't let it be one."
The film tackles police brutality, gentrification, and the uncomfortable reality of never fully understanding another person’s experience — even your best friend's.
"Blindspotting" is a collaboration between Daveed Diggs — from the original Broadway cast of “Hamilton” — and Rafael Casal, a musician and poet. The two grew up together in Oakland and the script is as much an ode to their hometown as it is to their friendship.
The Frame's host John Horn sat down with Diggs and Casal in Park City, Utah to talk about "Blindspotting," which was the opening night film at the Sundance Film Festival.
On documenting Oakland's gentrification:
DIGGS: I think for us, particularly if your career or your life or your studies take you away, and you start coming back, you miss a lot of the through-line. You just come back and the corner store you used to go to is a SoulCycle place. These things that are real landmarks for you in your life all of a sudden don't exist. And it's not so much that the replacement thing is bad, it's like you wonder if anyone remembers what was there before. There's a history that feels like it's being lost.
CASAL: And that the SoulCycle is not for the people who [have lived] in that neighborhood. It's for the people who are replacing them. So there's an immediate difference in intention with what's being taken out and what's being put in. It feels so violent for the people it's happening to, and it feels so shrugged off for the people who are getting a SoulCycle. And that conflict is so interesting to stare at. It's why I love talking to people after they see this film. Because people just see it totally differently.
On police brutality in the film:
DIGGS: I think the issue of police brutality and excessive force and how it resonates for the black community is one that I think we tackled most in the fact that, after experiencing this, [my character], Collin can't let it go. Being able to very palpably feel unsafe when you already have these strikes against you, when you're already trying so hard to remain above the line. Adding another pressure onto it affects everything. That's not unique to Collin. I think what we are trying to present was a character that could be sympathetic to everybody, so you could understand some of the fear that black people walk through life with. There is a different value on our bodies than there are on other bodies. It's scary, it makes regular ass-sh** scary sometimes. And I think that because of Collin's situation,,we get to see that all ramped up.
On the "talk" many black parents have with their children about police interactions:
CASAL: There are a ton of brochures and a ton of videos [on this issue]. One in particular that I saw that went viral was just parents having that talk with their kids on camera. There's a line that we put into the end of the movie that says, "You may think you know what's happening, but to feel it, it has to be you." I think sometimes we are consciously aware that these things exist, and people outside of the immediate consequence of that problem are aware that that exists. But it's a very different thing to make that a central point in the film [that pops] up at unexpected moments. So that it does catch a mostly affluent white older audience off-guard where you're like, Yeah, you forgot about that talk. Nobody [who's] black forgot about that talk. And that's the difference. That conversation is so prevalent to a few groups of people in this country, and completely absent in other households. And that's an awareness that people don't have. You know, you're having the birds-and-the-bees conversation and that's your big stressful talk. And other parents are like, That talk is the easiest talk. I'm trying to keep my kid from dying.
On the polarity between beauty and ugliness in the film:
DIGGS: The tonal shifts are, to me, one of the characters of Oakland that is most prevalent in the film. It's very intentional. I love the way that [director Carlos Estrada] and Robby [Baumgartner], our director of photography, managed to capture that. Just by really dialing all the way in to the dark, gritty stuff — and to the truly beautiful lyrical stuff. And having them coexist right up against each other. And never commenting on the fact that that might be weird. I mean, that's a very Bay Area thing, to just never comment on the fact that this is exceptional. I love that about the film and I think it's one of the things we had certainly baked into the idea of the script. You don't know how that's going to work, and you certainly can't imagine it until you see it.
CASAL: That's why when we sent out a [summary], we decided not to give it a description, but just say, "It's a buddy comedy in a world that won't let it be one." That, in a lot of ways, was the only framework we wanted people to come in with. When I grew up watching buddy comedies, which generally star predominantly white actors, I go, This is ignoring the rest of the world. And it's funny, but it is ignoring the rest of the world in order to be funny. And I want to see a buddy comedy that doesn't, that is trying to be funny amidst a world that is still in existence while the film is happening. It starts when the world starts and then the world starts to interrupt their lives in very different ways and — for the very few folks who have seen it so far — [they] know that when we get to the end, it's strayed pretty far from a buddy comedy. And that's the world's impact. And I think that what we're trying to do is remind people that there's people trying to have joy, but also people are getting dragged down amidst that joy.