There are few movies today that adequately engage in the intersections of power and identity. It’s a shame because, given our history and the way it’s shaped today’s reality, we need these films as much as ever.
Written by its stars, Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs, Blindspotting all but overtly asks its audience to reflect on our individual stances in the world and how they shape our perceptions, our interactions and our environments.
Together, the direction, writing and cinematography poses this question in a way that doesn’t feel like a challenge. It’s digestible due to its comedic timing and poetic spoken word, acknowledging the unfortunate truth that most people don’t listen unless it sounds pretty.*
After an intro to the Town, audiences meet Collin (Diggs) a black, Oakland-native who, a year prior, was convicted of a felony. With only three days left on probation, he witnesses a white police officer murder an unarmed black man.
The horror of what’s happened is undeniable, yet the cinematic world keeps spinning. After experiencing a trauma that should seemingly stop time, life’s casual continuance is somewhat shocking — but then again it’s not.
It’s a bleak reflection of today’s reality where, in one year, over 1,000 people are shot and killed by police. A disproportionate amount of these people are black men, and instead of disarming officers, communities are told they need to learn how to dodge bullets.
Almost immediately, other narratives and external factors compete for Collin’s attention. Interruptions as large and systemic as gentrification and as urgent as making curfew prevent any time for pause.
The pain and injustice of what happened gets buried and, without enough air to breathe, the grief comes in gasps. It escapes sideways in Collin’s nightmares, his internalization and momentary outbursts all of which, to a misunderstanding perspective, might seem like insanity.
But his reactions make perfect sense to the audience, the other witness to the crime. We’re struck with the atrocity of what Collin sees, yet we too carry on. We go with the flow of the film and proceed to laugh at the absurdities.
Compared to Collin, Miles’ (Casal) story highlights certain discrepancies one could not see had it been standing alone or with its own likeness.
Contextual clues provide us with the fact that the two’s friendship began at the same starting point. Yet, as the story weaves and unravels, it’s apparent how Miles skin tone has continuously served as an armor and pedestal despite their similar roots.
Blindspotting’s juxtaposition of realities shows a clear, holistic understanding of why things are the way they are.
Gentrification and white supremacy plays a character of its own. It’s what lies between Collin and Miles, between Collin and freedom, between Collin and the rest of the world.
These entities are personified by “well-meaning” affluent white people who appropriate Oakland’s milieu, chew it up and spit it back in the faces of those to whom it originally belonged.
The humor is in making fun of those in power. The laughter correlates with how often that power is present, which is essentially the entire movie. When there’s momentary removal from it, on a run with Collin through the Mountain View Cemetery, or the few minutes before sleep, the devastation sets in.
These characters and scenarios pinpoint who’s allowed to distance themselves from harm and who not only has to live in it, but is put more at risk for any attempts to fight it or escape.
This film is less about good or bad, right or wrong, as much as it is about the intricate complexities of power dynamics. It’s about who gets to write the story and who gets the last word.
Human brains have a tough time holding two or more supposedly paradoxical ideas at once, and life isn’t binary. We also think in narrative and want to identify as the hero — no one wants to be the villain in the story. It’s hard to see that most things aren’t mutually exclusive, that we can be a marriage of elements, both good and bad at the same time.
Yet if we do concede to being the bully, we want to be the brooding tough-guy Judd Nelson plays in The Breakfast Club; the one who’s pain wins audiences’ hearts by explaining away the hurt we’ve caused with the hurt we’ve felt.
But when people with power and authority do this they extinguish other realities to uphold their own. And today’s bullies aren’t just teasing kids in hallways, they’re killing people. They’re wearing badges and pointing to the words “serve and protect” as if they’re valid enough to excuse murdering folks who’ve never been given a fair chance to survive in the first place.
Cops aren’t bad people, but their work entails carrying out the wishes of a historically white institution, where they’re stewards to narrow views and shallow understandings of what causes folks to create alternative economies in the first place.
The introduction of green juice might be a relatively harmless part of gentrification, but that’s not the only effect it’s having. Recognizing these nuances again shows how things aren’t binary and this isn’t a simple matter of black or white. It’s a matter of the layers and intersections between identities and what they mean not only for one’s ability to succeed, but their ability to survive.
What’s critical, too, is to see who has authority in any situation: in a father-son dynamic, who has the power? Man to woman? White woman to black woman? Queer to straight? Circumstances and contexts frequently redefine the lines of power and they can change place by place, day by day, moment by moment.
It’s important to pause and take note. It’s imperative we have conversations and think critically about films like Blindspotting and examine our roles and determine where we can act more equitably.
When it becomes clear who has the most power, it should also be clear who needs to move back and listen. It should be clear who needs to be given time to breathe and to speak.