At a time when so many incredible indie films are being made, Blindspotting sits well amongst the list as one of the must-sees. It’s a feature film that channels the talent of spoken word artists, Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, into an urgent, compelling fresh take on contemporary America. On screen, as in real life, the actors are friends, co-workers, and co-writers — in the film their co-writing takes place more spontaneously, in between deliveries in their company truck, rather than in room with pen and paper (or keys and a laptop). Diggs, a Tony-winning Hamilton alum, plays Collin, who’s spent a year in prison and has three days left of his probation sentence before he’s free. Casal is his longtime friend, Miles, a loyal but flammable factor in Collin’s would-be clean streak.
The film takes its premise from the psychological term Rubin vase, where an ambiguous form can lead people to either see a vase or two faces kissing. According to the term, and explained by Collin’s ex (played by Janina Gavankar) who’s studying it to further her career, you can’t see both at the same time. If you’re used to seeing the one, you cannot easily see the other. It’s something you actively have to do.
The film runs with this idea — just because you don’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there. Like, the pattern of police bias and brutality against young black males, covert racism, white shame. The film tackles these things, but also the things we can so obviously see – gentrification, violence, classism, loyalty – but perhaps can’t fully agree on their repercussions. What Blindspotting does, like good art can, and should, is offer understanding. If we’re willing to see it.
There’s a debate raging on between friends I know on FB (not sure if their friendship will withstand the name-slinging that’s started as a result of the initial post) about the French Ambassador’s response to Trevor Noah’s joke about Africa winning the World Cup. A French friend took umbrage with the joke, feeling that it divides France, instead of bringing French people together, no matter their family heritage. He doesn’t see that denying a person’s roots – especially if they are African and black – has for far too long been a regular and deliberate occurrence in this world. For many, Trevor’s joke really resonated, and he explained the legitimate reasons for why it rings true. Because this FB friend doesn’t “see” the views from the other side, doesn’t mean they aren’t there, and aren’t true and valid. And yet, when others try to point out the shortcomings of his own Rubin vase, he disregards this even further. Unfortunately, digging his heels in only further is how he manages to uphold the very real stereotype of a European white male.
I want Blindspotting to be seen by as many people as possible. I want it to be seen by the people least likely to see it. But I also want it to be seen by the friends I think are, or consider to be, awake to the complexities that exist within humanity today. Even those of us who feel like we can already see what’s wrong in a given situation need to constantly re-adjust how we view things. Bias is a deep-seated condition, and it’s hard work to overcome. It’s not easy to step away from what’s been pre-conditioned in us. The final scene of Blindspotting is a jolt that might help. I truly hope it does. Its gobsmakingly good. I don’t even think that’s a real word. But how do I convey how arresting it is? I couldn’t take my ears off the screen.
Blindspotting uses humour and hip hop to create a work of art that allows for spirited discussions. The rhymes that Diggs and Casal play with, sometimes at a pace that my ears couldn’t keep up with, will make you want to watch it again. I’d be keen to know what kind of impact Hamilton had on the making of Blindspotting. I know it has been a long time in the works, but surely the way Hamilton made hip hop theatre so accessible played a part in helping make this film possible? Either way, I appreciate having both around to help tell the stories we need to hear, to see.
There’s another scene in the film that stood out for me. If you know me, you’ll know I love some good running on film, and I tend to geek out the minute I see a run coming. Diggs’ character goes for 3 or 4 runs during the film. It’s the time where he tries to block out the fears he has of returning to prison, as he awaits his probation to be over. But on one particular run, through the graveyard near the halfway house where has been staying, his imagination and history run into each other, in a very haunting, very powerful way. It’s just another scene that makes Blindspotting something worth seeing.