Blindspotting (2018) by Carlos López Estrada

Films like ‘Blindspotting’ remind us why it’s important to support the arts in every community, not just the places that are the epicentre of arts industries. For example, while ‘La La Land’ tells a great story about Hollywood/ LA, and is a truly stand out film in that regard, it is not the first one to do so and it won’t be the last. This is because a lot of artists come to/from LA or New York and as such, tell the stories they know best.

However, other artists from other parts of the USA and the world have completely different tales to tell. These local stories are unique not because of the overarching themes they discuss, such as friendship or trauma, but because of the cultural nuance they bring. A film like ‘Blindspotting’ can only come from an old American city with a pre-existing community, experiencing police brutality, and gentrification. The same can be said about, ‘A Separation’ (2011, Asghar Farhadi) or ‘Fandry’ (2014, Nagraj Manjule).

These films are historical, anthropological documents that capture moments in space and time that most of cinema is too ‘big picture’ to do.

Now to talk specifically about ‘Blindspotting’. This is just a very moving experience. The story of Collin (Daveed Diggs), a convicted felon who is on his last three days of probation joined by his quick tempered friend, Miles (Rafael Casal) is a ride that shifts gears between being laugh out funny to butt clenching tense with shocking ease.

It explores the fear ridden life Collin leads as he tries to constantly be ‘worthy’ of his freedom while contrasting it with the life of Miles, who is as much part of the city’s brick walls as Collin but has the benefit of being white. The film begins with a split screen depicting the then and the now, but it feels like the split screen never goes away as we see Collin and Miles next to each other. It’s the same frame, the same essence, but the difference is race stands out. Collin’s eye is always twitching to see if there is a cop rounding the corner or if what he’s doing might be construed as illegal. It’s the look of someone being hunted.

The film layers this by talking about the trauma that gentrification brings to a community. An issue that I have been mostly blind to because I am part of the hipster wave in the areas I inhabit. The trauma of gentrification is something that communities across the world experience. On one side you have towns that built up over time and have nurtured their own culture. Oakland, USA, Johannesburg, South Africa, and Mumbai, India are all examples of this. But with changing economics (brought on by new markets such as software development booming) these communities see an influx of people from other towns who due to their higher capital, can quickly change the layout of the city that was built. And the new layout that is put in place does not respect the pre-existing culture nor is it accessible to lower income citizens. Blindspotting depicts this in many brilliant ways and for that alone it is worth a watch.

The poems and raps that Daveed and Rafael say are equally brilliant, touching, and insightful. Combined with powerful, evocative imagery, the film juggles a variety of tones, characters and settings while staying balanced.

This film feels like a gem I missed out on and I am glad to have seen it now.

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