Disclaimer: I am not from Oakland, so most references and homages to the Bay will go over my head. That’s entirely my bad. Now, let’s get into it.
In 2018 one of the most stunning movies in the last decade, Blindspotting showed us what’s it’s like to witness police brutality and the mental ramifications it can have. But it was also a love letter to a place like no other, Oakland California aka The Bay Area. Using spoken verse the film connected its audience to a culture most of us will never be able to see in person and it gave insight into the complicated world of male friendship. It was a masterpiece and there will probably never be another film like it. Which is why the chance it’s been given to expand the Blindspotting universe in the form of television couldn’t have been given to more deserving content.
In the film, life was shown to us through Collin’s eyes and it was his story he shared with his best friend Miles. We only caught glimpses of Ashley, Mile’s life partner, her story wasn’t fulfilling as it could have been. Now the show has come to rectify that. Here, this is Ashley’s world and she’s telling the story. And from her perspective, life is much more complicated than it seems. With the love of her life behind bars, the newly established security of a better life is ripped from under Ashley’s feet; leaving her to pick up the pieces. She’s thrown from a middle class lifestyle back into her Bay Area hood roots and no matter how much she wants to escape it, it’s the place where her support system resides. So she has no choice but to deal.
Despite being only a half hour, Blindspotting comes out the gate swinging. It throws the only character the audience really knew behind bars and shifts focus towards the side characters and the ones mentioned only by name in the movie. With Miles locked up, Ashley is forced to take their son, move in with his mother and half sister, and figure out how she’s going to survive. She and Miles were on their way out of the hood, now Ashley is back to square one and not everyone is happy about her return to the neighborhood. Hell, Ashley herself isn’t too pleased about the entire situation. She depended on Miles, she doesn’t even know their online banking password. Not to mention Trish, his half sister, has zero love for Ashley and loudly makes it known whenever she can. The dislike is mutual though and Ashley has no problem voicing how much she disapproves of Trish’s sex work lifestyle. But as much as Trish can’t stand Ashley, she and Miles’s mother Rainey seems to love her daughter in law very much. At least enough to allow her and Sean to move into her home on a whim’s notice. However Rainey’s house is a place of controlled chaos. Trish’s latest dream of running a female owned strip club has set up base in her mother’s living room. All day long girls walk around with little to no clothes on and constantly pose for sexy pictures. It’s not exactly the best place for a little boy. But again, what choice does she have?
There is solace in the chaos of returning home though. For Ashley it comes in the form of Janelle, her best friend and Collin’s little sister. Janelle has been away traveling world for five years and now that she’s back, Ashley’s got someone completely in her corner. Which is what she needs. And even though her daughter is practically disgusted with the new living arrangements, Rainey is also in Ashley’s corner. Proven when, after Ashley discovers an engagement ring in Miles’s old room, Rainey tries to comfort her by getting on one knee and pretending to be her son. It’s weird and awkward but it’s the thought that counts. Life has been turned upside down for Ashley, she’s gonna need all the help she can get to keep afloat and not lose her sanity in the process.
While the film was entirely male centric and through the male gaze, the show completely diverts from that and centers itself around the women. This is Ashley’s show, it’s her world, her perspective and her journey. And it’s being told by mostly women as well. Taking the criticisms of the film seriously it’s creators Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal have established a very woman heavy crew behind the scenes, especially in the writers room. Which is probably what makes Blindspotting feel so refreshing and new even though it’s a world we have been to before.
Having only seen the first episode there isn’t much to be reviewed as pilots are always the set up and establish episode. But the show is beautiful both visually and as modern content. There is no other place like The Bay, it’s a little world of its own and I’ve never seen a place presented to the audience the way Blindspotting shows us Oakland. Every inch of the neighborhood Ashley has returned to is full of life and anytime is a great time to turn up. Like the sideshow she and Sean attend in the middle of the afternoon.
The cast is brilliant and stacked with major talent. Jasmine Cephas-Jones has been a star in the making for a while and now her time to shine is here. She’s given life to Ashley in both new and old ways, the fierce protective mother we saw in the film is still present but in the show it seems she’s going to be allowed to be more than just Miles’s baby mama; and rightfully so. Right behind Cephas-Jones is Jaylen Barron who steals every scene she’s in as Trish. Outrageous and loud, Trish is like her brother but times ten and though she may be abrasive she made several points from the moment she appeared on screen. With the demeanor of Miles and Trish, it’s intriguing that they have such a hippie like mother as Rainey but it’s not often that a legend such as Helen Hunt agrees to be in the first season of an experimental tv show and it’s delightful to see her play off the likes of Cephas-Jones and Barron. Rounding out the impressive cast of women is Candace Nicholas-Lippman who, though we haven’t seen much of, lit up the entire screen with her bright and gorgeous smile. It’s a smile much like Daveed Diggs’s, meaning the casting department made the right decision in giving her the part of Collin’s little sister. Hopefully we’ll get to insight into what their relationship is like and what it’s like to return home by choice for her. Finally we have Earl, Janelle’s new roommate who is renting out the spare room in her mother’s home. Played by Benjamin Earl Turner, the most we know about Earl at the moment is that he spends a lot of time yelling across the street for someone to get him a burrito from the taco truck since he’s on house arrest and the truck is just beyond his monitor’s permitted perimeter. It’ll be exciting to see what he’ll bring to the show in later episodes.
I am excited for the plot points that had seeds planted in the first episode. At the top of my list is the dynamic between Ashley and Trish, if it’s not a highlight of the series then it will be an opportunity missed. Trish and Ashley are two sides of the same coin, they come from the same background but live their lives very differently and endlessly judge the other for the choices they have made. Which is a very real thing for a lot of women. It will be interesting to see where this sister-in-hate relationship goes, especially with the jarring way Ashley snips and snarks about Trish’s line of work. I sincerely hope the inner workings, internalized fear and the societal pressure that weigh down and project onto these two is addressed and explored.
It will also be interesting to see the way Blindspotting develops and grows its side characters. In the movie, there wasn’t enough time to tell Collin’s story, a bit of Miles’s and give Ashley the growth she deserved. With television, growth is the only way to keep a show interesting. So I hope to see in depth development to the likes of Janelle, Earl, Trish, Sean and Rainey. But I’m especially interested in Janelle and Earl, both of them have potential to make great characters. And since they both are the darkest of the main cast, I really hope that they’re given more substance than just being the comedic relief.
I’m very hopeful for the story Blindspotting is about to tell us. I still frequently watch the movie so now that it’s having its universe extended, I couldn’t be happier. I’m geeked for this Oakland takeover we’re about to witness.
Blindspotting is available on Starz, new episodes premiere Sunday nights.
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