Penned by Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, Blindspotting is a treasure and a love letter to Oakland. With a blend of beautiful visual symbolism, unique wordplay, and great music, Blindspotting tackles the complexities of race in America, including the use of the word “nigga.”
Directed by Carlos López Estrada, Blindspotting follows Collin (Diggs) on his last three days of probation. Collin was originally sent to jail after a bar fight went horribly wrong, and is now just trying to keep his head down and become a free man again. After dropping off his hot-headed, culture-appropriating childhood best friend Miles (Casal), a terrified man comes out of nowhere and stumbles into the front of his van at a red light. Fleeing from Officer Molina (Ethan Embry), this unarmed Black man scrambles onward, before being shot and killed right in front of Collin’s eyes. Shaken, Collin shares this life-altering experience with Miles and his girlfriend Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones) who, in turn, shares that info with Collin’s ex, Val (Janina Gavankar).
As the movie continues, Collin not only struggles with staying out of trouble on his final days under the thumb of the law, but is also stricken with severe anxiety and paranoia about being killed, harangued by vivid nightmares after witnessing the murder. Collin, already uneasy around cops just due to the color of his skin, finds that this murder causes a very real shift in him. The nuances and visuals of Black men never really receiving justice within our judicial system and being held responsible for crimes they did not commit is a dream world for him that parallels a reality we know all too well as Black people. His hallucinations of Black men in the cemetery after being killed in a world where systemic racism has never died is equally heart-wrenching.
On his quest to be a better and reformed man, Collin is almost in an angel versus devil struggle when it comes to his relationships with Val and Miles. Val exposes Miles to Collin for who he truly is. She qualifies Miles as loyal and sometimes even well-intentioned, but also as someone who doesn’t listen and instigates a lot of the confrontations that they find themselves in. Coversely, Miles sees Val as an enemy, and even disloyal, because she wasn’t there for Collin while he was in jail. The perspectives held by each are reasonable, led by their love for Collin and each wanting what they believe is best for him.
Miles, never truly seeing the error of his ways, does not initially listen to anyone offering sound advice. The scariest example is when Collin tells Miles not to buy a gun to protect Ashley and his young son Sean (Ziggy Baitinger). This does not compute as a bad idea until Sean is found playing with the loaded weapon. Miles, who seems to express himself through anger, leaves the house and immediately gets into an altercation. Afterward, Collin recognizes Miles’ volatile nature and how it affects both of their lives.
Miles struggles with acceptance within the white community, and with the feeling of having to also prove himself to the Black community takes a toll on him. Collin calls Miles out for the “nigga” that he is, recognizing that Miles’ behavior most closely mirrors that of a “nigga,” more so than his own. While the use of the word “nigga” is piercing in this blow-up between Collin and Miles, it’s also jarring earlier in the film when another non-black character uses it as well. Collin expresses that he’s consistently being perceived and persecuted as the “nigga” in the friendship, when it’s actually Miles’ behavior that should be judged as such.
Both relationships are flawed, and eventually Collin realizes that he has a blindspot when it comes to both Miles and Val. Realistically, maybe he should let both of them go, because they are both living in the past. Val is unable to see Collin for more than his criminal past and mistakes, while Miles holds his past loyalties over Collin’s head. With Miles, we see a redemption with Ashley, but he fails to apologize to Collin for his behavior, making it a problematic part of the film for me. Collin shows clear growth throughout, yet he just willingly takes Miles back without this friend atoning for any of his actions.
On his first day of freedom, Collin has an encounter with Officer Molina and Miles at his workplace. Collin, still carrying the gun that Miles bought and that Sean almost set off, is deeply triggered. In a surprising, yet much-needed move, he threatens Officer Molina but does not kill him. He shares his experiences with him as a Black man and releases a lot of anger and pent up fear that he has, but let’s him go free to think about his actions.
One of the funniest scenes is where we finally find out about Collin’s conviction, told through the lens of Rin (Utkarsh Ambudkar), a seemingly unknown moving company patron. His brief yet ridiculous storytelling brings up old wounds for Collin and Val, but you cannot help but laugh at parts of this moment. Obviously, it quickly turns serious when the fight ends up in flames, but Rin’s perspective of what happened is gold.
Blindspotting uniquely shows a convicted Black man’s perspective and his journey to reintegrate into a society that has failed his community too many times. It is dramatic, funny, emotional, and downright hard to watch at times, but in the way where you know great art is present. With only a couple of missteps for me—like wanting the confrontation with Officer Molina to come sooner—Blindspotting is definitely filled with more beauty than not.
The flow that Collin spits to Officer Molina is so dynamic and unlike anything I have seen in a movie, furthering not only Collin’s narrative, but also asking poignant questions of the Officer himself. There is a shift in this film because, by the end, you hope that people, specifically those cops that are not on the right side of justice, start to dig internally and question things within themselves. While throughout the film you are not secure in Collin’s fate, you know he deserves a shot at redemption, especially in a world seemingly against him.
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