Words are hard. By themselves or strung together in a sentence. They’re tricky. Some of them have several meanings while others only have one definitive meaning. They can be exchanged like currency and thrown like punches. Both universal and limited. There just might be nothing more complicated than words. But there also might be nothing more beautiful than words. When used correctly and with imagination, they create works of art. Weaving colorful pictures into our minds without dipping a brush into paint, words compiled together to make scripts are often exquisite and give us compelling stories. The best movies have the best scripts. And Blindspotting, written by Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs is one of 2018’s best.
Collin has three days left on his probation. He’s made it an entire year without any incidents and if he can make it through these last three days he’ll be free. As free as possible, with him being a tall black male with long braided hair that is. One would think since Collin has made it this far that his last three days of probation would be a breeze. But life always seems to have a way of making what should be easy, hard. And when your best friend is loud, volatile and ready to fight at the drop of a hat; staying out of trouble is more complicated than people realize. Miles has been Collin’s best friend since they were 11 years old, they work at Commander Moving and spend every day together. Collin even picks Miles up in the morning, drops him back home at night and makes sure their time cards are properly clocked in and out. They’re like two peas in a pod. However, where Collin is laid back and chill, Miles is abrasive and ignorant. Usually, it’s reflected back on Collin before it is Miles and even though that isn’t Miles fault, it eventually becomes the backbone of their fall out. Collin is, more often than not, the one who pays for Miles’s foolishness.
Make no mistake though, Miles isn’t stupid. He’s just very much a town nigga, he’s proud of his Oakland roots and he’s ready to defend himself at all times because of his pale skin in a sea of brownness. He’s had to be this way to survive but now with the gentrification of Oakland, more and more white people are starting to show up. Which makes Miles look like a poser to those that don’t know him. And there’s nothing worse than being considered a poser.
While Miles deals with the possibility of being seen as a transplant, Collin quietly suffers from PTSD after witnessing the police shoot an unarmed black man. Over the next couple of days, Collin is haunted by the incident. In the back of his mind, there’s the constant blaring of the car alarm that went off when the black man was shot. The red light flashes in his mind when goes for his morning runs and when he sleeps at night. Any time Collin sees a cop car his world suddenly zeros in on it. He’s is now always acutely aware of his surroundings and always on guard. He may be out of jail, but in many ways, Collin is still a prisoner. Which is only proven even more every time he goes home to the Halfway House. In this house, he’s nothing more than another convicted felon. The parole officer who runs the house, James, cares not for Collin’s personal life or feelings. His main focus is whether or not Collin has done his assigned chore of cleaning bathrooms each day. He tells Collin that he’s assigned these chores so that it can be determined if he can follow simple orders or not. As if how well Collin can clean a bathroom is going to stop the police from messing with him out on the streets.
It’s in the usage of words that Blindspotting finds its home. It’s a beautiful film visually but it’s the dialogue and the script that give it that little boost above the rest. Shown amazingly in the parking lot argument that Collin and Miles have after Miles loses his temper at a party. It’s a blow-up that’s been a long time coming, the two have clearly never had a real fight in their friendship before. To Miles, Collin is acting brand new. Almost like he’s trying to fit in with those that are gentrifying their home. He’s right in the sense that Collin is different since having gone to jail. But Miles is wrong to think that the change was something Collin did willingly and is just doing to try to fit in. Collin had to change to survive. He’s on police radar already for just being a black man but now he’s on it even more because he’s a convicted felon. He had to change so he doesn’t end up dead or back in jail. Miles doesn’t get that.
Throughout the whole movie, Collin has been calling Miles nigga. He refers to him as one constantly, it passes his lips with such ease and Miles just goes with it. He’s never said it back, he is white after all. But he hasn’t ever stopped Collin from calling him one either. It’s addressed however when emotions are high and tensions boiling over, Collin demands that Miles say it back to him. Collin wants to hear Miles say “yeah, my nigga”, he wants to hear that word come out of his friend’s mouth. But Miles won’t say it. He’s white, therefore he technically isn’t a nigga and can’t ever be one. And Miles knows that. Most importantly he knows it’s disrespectful. Even though Collin has given him permission to say it, which is all it takes for some nonblack folks. Miles knows that him saying nigga would be disrespectful to Collin. But he has it put into a whole new perspective when Collin tells Miles that his actions, his ignorance and his gun-toting bullshit is what they (the police and white people) expect from Collin. Even when it’s clearly Miles who is the ghetto one, people still look to Collin to be right at his side acting the same way. Miles is the nigga that they are out here looking for, even though their eyes automatically seek Collin to slap that label onto.
I really like Blindspotting. The story, the character structure, the script and the attention to detail. It’s all amazingly well thought out. There are so many layers to the film that one viewing isn’t enough and even after seeing the film five times, I find myself picking up on new things that I missed before. It’s in the details the story is able to become such a powerhouse. From new futuristic houses sticking out between older traditional Oakland homes to the way transplants have no care for the natives. Or the fact that the man in charge of Collin at the halfway house is a black man who has absolutely no sympathy for him at all. Even the flashback of the fight that sent Collin to jail is packed full of details that help the present story that beings told now.
Collin and Miles’s relationship is one of the greatest details of the film, the way they understand each other. It’s in the structure of their friendship that makes all other dynamics connect and progress the film through its journey.
For example, a seemingly big part of Collin’s struggle is his ex-girlfriend, Val. She works the front desk at Commander Moving so Collin has to see her every day. They broke up when Collin went to jail and Val hasn’t forgiven him nor gotten over it. She still likes Collin but is too aggressive in her disapproval of certain parts of his lifestyle. Val constantly tells Collin that he needs to get rid of Miles, dismissing the fact that Miles is his best friend. His only friend from the looks of it. She wants Collin to want better for himself, but she can’t get past the fight that put Collin in jail and she won’t stop blaming Miles for it.
One thing I wish we could have gotten a little more of was Collin and Ashley. I wanted them to have a one on one conversation about the trauma of cops shooting black people. Her just asking him if he’s alright and then never bringing it up again or noticing Collin’s rapid decline was a little strange to me. She does have a whole child to care for so it’s not unrealistic for her to not notice, but it would have been nice all the same.
As a beginning filmmaker, Blindspotting is a film that I’m going to be studying for a long time. It’s a masterpiece and it’s beautiful but it’s also simple. It’s not complex or hard to follow and I think, in that, it’s able to build a strong storyline and even stronger characters. It’s a film that you can tell truly began in the writer’s room with a clear vision of what the message was going to be. And I love that. It makes me excited for the world of films and opens the possibility of what we could be seeing in the future. I’m especially excited to see what Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal do next. It promises to be, at the very least, a thought-provoking good time.