MovieMonday: Blindspotting

 

It’s hard to say whether this movie is overambitious or just a bit scattered.

It was written by Daveed Diggs and and Rafael Casal, two Oakland natives who also star.

In the story, Collin (Diggs) and Miles (Casal) have been friends since childhood.  Collin is ending a prison term and trying to get through his last three days of probation without getting sent back to the slammer.  Miles, his hot-headed friend, is making that difficult.

The plot begins when Miles and a mutual friend pull six handguns out of hiding places in the friend’s car while Collin frets in the back seat, knowing that if he is seen around firearms, he will be back in trouble.

Later, Collin sees a white policeman chase a black man and then shoot the man in the back, killing him. The incident affects Collin’s peace of mind throughout the film and is revisited in a confrontation in the final moments of the movie.

And there is more.  We see the tangled loyalty of the two friends.  The white guy, Miles, is more violent and threatening but faces no consequences for his behavior.  Meanwhile, Collin’s more controlled demeanor offers no protection.  In fact, their friendship has driven a wedge between Collin and a former girlfriend whom he still seems to love.

Another theme, or perhaps character, is Oakland itself.  Collin and Miles resent their city’s gentrification, and the film itself includes many handsome and affectionate camera shots of traditional Oakland landmarks.

Much of the dialogue between the two friends and in their reflections is delivered as rap poetry.  It calls to mind Shakespeare and his iambic pentameter, and it signals, perhaps, how seriously the screenwriters took the enterprise.  (This also calls to mind the hit musical, “Hamilton,” which is full of hip-hop dialogue;  Diggs won a Tony award for his portrayals of the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the show.)

Finally, for all its serious ideas, “Blindspotting” is stocked with plenty of absurd laugh-out-loud humor.  An odd combination perhaps, but not an unwelcome one.

In short, this is a hybrid film of many disparate pieces, arguably too many, to create an impressionistic view of a situation that is far from simple.  This will be challenging for audiences who have come to expect carefully blocked, formulaic plots that lead to understandable resolutions, but the effect is interesting.

The title tells the broader theme:  That our preconceptions — blind spots — cause us to misread situations and other people, at some cost to them and to us.   That observation feels true to me.


Note

Oakland, or at least the Oakland of the movie, is a pastiche of people from all ethnic backgrounds, of families whose members are of different races and of social events that include much more diverse participants than most of the rest of us encounter in our daily lives.  If Oakland is a stew of ethnic misunderstanding, we must wonder, how much worse is the situation in the rest of the country?

In an interview, Diggs said that he worked for a time after college as a substitute teacher in Marin City, the northern neighborhood of Sausalito, Calif., in Marin County.

 

During World War II, African Americans settled in Marin City, apart from Sausalito proper, for shipbuilding jobs.  After the war, the government built housing projects that extended the isolation;  in addition, nearby subdivision developments included deed restrictions that kept black families out until well into the 1960s.

Marin City was an isolated black enclave for two generations.  More recently, new condo developments have gone up in the area and probably brought some integration, but even now the separation is observed in the school district.

For many years, the Sausalito Marin School District enrollment consisted of black children from Marin City and the mostly white children of military families stationed at the far end of town.  (Local parents generally sent their children to private schools.)

When the military installation closed, district enrollment became almost entirely African American.  Now there are two schools, one a charter that is integrated with a plurality of white students and a Marin City school with a mostly black student body.

If Diggs had set his movie in Marin City instead of Oakland, my guess is that it would be a much angrier piece of work.

 

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