In The Eyes of the Beholder - Blindspotting
You ever seen one of those movies where everyone involved seems intent on changing the world? They have an understanding that that probably won't happen, but they throw everything out there with reckless abandon just in case. Race relations, criminal justice, gun rights. It's all there in all it's Oakland-infused glory. Daveed Diggs, of Hamilton fame, goes all-in with the entertainment capital he’s earned thus far to make this passion project that he and his longtime friend, Rafael Casal, started working on almost a decade ago. It is at once timely and timeless, as it tackles issues that have bubbled under the surface for years and are now staples in the nightly news. It does all of this with an obviously tight budget, but enough earnestness to leave you considering its messages.
Colin (played by Daveed Diggs) has recently been released from prison and is struggling to make it through the finals days of a year-long probation. He works as a mover with his high school buddy, Miles (played by Rafael Casal). Since Miles is a habitual troublemaker, Colin works to avoid the worst of his shenanigans and stay out of trouble to remain out of prison.
We follow Colin and the short-tempered Miles while they navigate Oakland in ways that force them to face the guns, police violence and an unforgiving penal landscape. The film delves into the idea of appearances and stereotypes and the ways they inform our interactions with one another. Colin’s overarching message throughout the movie is that there is almost nothing he can do to be seen in a different light, and thus his lot in life is largely cast for him by those around him.
If you are not familiar with Daved Diggs’ rap group, clipping., do yourself a favor and a favor and a favor. The visual style so prevalent in their videos is on full display in this 95-minute exposition. There are moments here that are truly gripping, and even though their setup is largely formulaic and predictable, they will still stick with you. At times, the movie takes on a mixed media quality with spoken word sequences used to drive home the film’s central themes. This is where the fact that Diggs is a uniquely gifted rapper makes the movie something of a singular experience. He uses the same machine gun delivery that won him a Tony Award as Thomas Jefferson and Marquis de Lafayette in Hamilton to deliver crisp critiques of many people’s conceptualization of racial politics.
Diggs and Casal were inspired to make this because of what they felt was lacking in on-screen portrayals of the Bay Area. It is a place with a bubbling undercurrent of gentrification, racial strife and economic inequality. Some of the best sequences in the film seek to tackle these in a way that exists outside of the outline of the plot. These vignettes function like the kind of mini-essays Spike Lee sometimes inserts into his film. In these moments, the movie is about as inventive and thought-provoking as anything else you will see. These bright spots, however, are held together with rather pedestrian connective tissue. Many of its central arguments won't seem novel to people of color and even White audiences should have more sophisticated understandings of race by now than the film gives them credit for. The charm and uniqueness of its leads saves it from being more underwhelming, so while it is unlikely to change the world, it is certainly possible it will change you. And that’s not nothing.
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