On June 12, 2018, at The Washington Post, the Steiny Road Poet saw a screening of Blindspotting, an independent, low-budget film by actors Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal. Set in Gertrude Stein’s home town of Oakland, California, the film, ten years in the making, is a cross genre work that settles neither as comedy nor tragedy but clearly belongs to the world of poetry, specifically rap. Given the huge popularity of the Broadway rap sensation Hamilton, some readers might recognize that Daveed Diggs originated the Hamilton roles Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson for which he won a Grammy and a Tony.
Blindspotting concerns a young man named Colin (Daveed Diggs) tightly entrenched in the underworld of Oakland, where drugs, violence, and police brutality are common place. The difference is he has done time and is on the verge of being released from a halfway house. He is looking forward to his freedom and a second chance, which also might mean reestablishing his relationship with Val (Janina Gavankar). The problem is his devoted, childhood friend Miles (Rafael Casal), who should be more responsible since he has a wife and child, behaves recklessly threatening Colin’s precarious legal status and even his young son’s wellbeing.
As the film opens, Colin is trapped in the backseat of a two-door souped-up car precariously close to his curfew time at the halfway house. To make matters worse, Miles surprises Colin with a large collection of guns. It’s the kind of comic scene that makes for breathless giddiness because the viewer doesn’t know which way this situation will go. Lucky for Colin he gets out unscathed only to be driving home in a borrowed work truck (he and Miles work for a moving company) when a man leaps out in front of his van and then races away from a policeman who shoots him dead. Again, Colin’s fate teeters on the edge but he is told by other police officers to move along. Minutes late, he gets back to the halfway house and is given a hard time by the house monitor who could write him up but instead gives him latrine duty. This is the shitty life he lives.
From this horrifying scene where a white policeman kills a man of color, Colin is plunged into a case of PTSD, complete with comically strange nightmares and daytime visions, such as seeing dead men standing by tombstones in the cemetery where he runs every morning. The cemetery scene strikes Steiny as possibly an unintended but brilliant allusion to Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town. In Our Town, the dead Emily resurrects herself on Earth for one more day with her family and finds out the living do not savor their time on Earth. Such is the case for Miles when his new gun ends up in the hands of his six-year-old son Sean (Ziggy Baitinger). Colin says the gun is his so Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones) won’t throw out the father of Sean. Does that sober up Miles? No and here is where Steiny will let you, Dear Reader, find out how this film resolves around all these terrible gun issues.
Only one more detail and this relates to why Steiny thinks the cemetery scene was not an intended allusion to Our Town. What does blindspotting refer to? Colin’s girl friend is studying psychology and she has made up slang names to help her remember certain concepts, one of which deals with Rorschach images. Rorschachs contain within the same picture two different images and which one you see first puts the other in your blind spot. The picture Val shows Colin is either a vase or two faces. He sees the vase and then wonders what this means. In the film, what this means is he has learned about seeing things from different vantage points and things are never black or white. In fact, something can be black and white at the same time, like Sean who is biracial. Outside of this very sobering, well-acted film, Steiny says the creators—Diggs and Casal—have worked hard to keep this on an Everyman level with no
highbrow blather (read rapping). Therefore, the word Rorschach is never mentioned. Gertrude Stein who studied psychology, wrote cross genre works before such a thing was identified, blended comedy and tragedy/drama deliberately wrote with simple English words. Does Steiny think Diggs and Casal were influenced by Gertrude Stein—no not directly. Maybe they read Hemingway who took Stein’s advice to use simple language.
Jeff Bezos and The Washington Post get big points for offering this news worthy film, along with a talkback by the co-creators, in advance of its national release. Lionsgate will release Blindspotting nationally in two phases this year: July 27, a limited release and August 10, a wide release.