Sundance 2018 Review: Blindspotting is a Flawed Yet Powerful Social Injustice Story
There was a lot of buzz on the web about Blindspotting kicking off the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs play the two leads characters but also co-wrote the screenplay. The plot is centered around Collin (Diggs), a young black man from Oakland, who is trying to turn his life around after a horrible incident lands him in prison. Now, out on parole, Collin is trying to reevaluate his life but can’t seem to escape the harsh realities of his neighborhood after he witnesses an unarmed man shot multiple times. Haunted by the shooting and faced with the constant reminder of his skin color, Collin attempts to improve his life which means addressing his friendship with Mitch (Casal), his best friend that has a bad reputation for starting trouble.
Blindspotting had the potential to be a great film, but sadly the odd mixture of comedy mixed with heavy dramatic elements just didn’t mesh. Don’t get me wrong, Blindspotting does have its moments and some compelling ones at that. The scenes where Collin begins to fear his future and see the realities of the world around him are incredibly effective. Also, the dream-like sequences where Collin sees himself as well as other black men from Oakland being shot and killed are visually compelling.
Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs script does have a lot to say and will give the viewer plenty to think about regarding social class, social injustice, gentrification, police brutality, and race. There is a lot to take away from this story, but as a whole, it does feel like the script is trying to tackle way too many issues at once. I applaud filmmaker Carlos López Estrada for trying to blur the lines of two genres while making a huge statement about race but I sadly do think the film tends to be a bit too ambitious for its own good.
Without spoiling anything, there is a scene where Collin begins to rap while holding a gun pointed at a police officer. This scene is full of raw emotion and packs one hell of a punch. You can tell that Daveed Diggs poured his heart and soul into this scene and dug down deep to nail this scene. Unfortunately, while the scene is riveting, it isn’t grounded in reality. For a scene that is so full of emotion and anger, it just doesn’t feel like something that could ever actually happen in real life. It is without question a powerful movie moment, but I would be lying if I failed to admit that the whole thing felt a little contrived when I sat back and analyzed it. I don’t want to discredit the scene or the Digg’s incredible performance, but I struggled to get past the mindset of “this would never happen in real life.”
There are two strong female characters in Blindspotting both of which blew me away whenever they were on-screen. Janina Gavankar who plays Val is what I would call the voice of reason in Collin’s life. She’s beautiful but also smart. She knows how to stay out of trouble and gives Collin some terrific advice. The women in this film add so much depth to the story. I love that these two females were smart and had a lot to say that felt grounded in reality. The problem with the female characters, however, is that they aren’t in the film nearly enough as they should be. They kind of show up every now and again to say something intelligent and thought-provoking but are quickly forgotten about when the focus shifts back to Collin and Miles.
Things get worse for the film when it comes to the comedy. The is where the film fails horribly. With a series of jokes that include everything from Collin getting his hair straightened to countless scenes of clean-cut white guys trying to act and talk like they are from the streets, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and wonder why is any of this in the film. There were some people who laughed at these jokes at my screening, but to me, they all felt tired and clichéd. There are even jokes about Whole Foods and healthy meal replacement drinks that are made with kale.
There are plenty of films that can perfectly blend two genres, but Blindspotting does not do this well at all. In fact, the tonal shift from comedy to intense drama is jarring and feels as though you are watching two completely different films. The film also suffers because I felt like it never quite knows what type of film it truly wants to be. Is Blindspotting suppose to be a social satire or is it a cautionary tale about the social injustice that occurs in black neighborhoods? There are so many topics brought up in such a small period that it is kind of hard to really know.
The film ends so abruptly after such an engaging and emotional moment. It almost felt like the writers as well as Estrada didn’t have any idea how to end the film. This was shocking because the film seemed like it was building to something but then ends on this strange conversation where Collin admits that he isn’t ok. It sort of feels like they ran of money and just inserted the end credits. The film feels unfinished and rushed. It left me with a very similar feeling that I had when I exited the theater after watching Roman J. Israel, Esq at the Toronto International Film Festival last year.
Despite its flaws, Blindspotting is a bold, brave, and important film that should be seen and discussed. While it is a far cry from perfect, I do believe that the topics brought up within this story are meaningful and relevant to today. The unfair treatment of black men and women is still happening in the USA and knowing that makes me sick to my stomach. Films like Blindspotting can spark a conversation and debate, so it is important to support films like it. While I do have a ton of issues with how the filmmakers approached this story, I want to celebrate them as it is an achievement that will hopefully bring more awareness.
Scott ‘Movie Man’ Menzel’s rating for Blindspotting is a 6 out of 10.