“Blindspotting” suggests a moment when someone is too focused on their own point of view and can’t see the other side of a situation. It’s not a good place to be – you’re missing something, and it’s probably not going to work out well. The exception is the film which adopts that term as its title. BLINDSPOTTING, which opens on July 20, is a vibrant comedy with an undercurrent of dark drama, created by long-time friends Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal.
Diggs and Casal wrote and star, and they made BLINDSPOTTING as a way to capture the energy and character of Oakland, CA. The story follows two lifelong friends. Collin (Diggs), a convicted felon, is trying to get through the last days of his year-long probation. Collin wants to put his criminal past behind him but his close friend Miles (Casal) fully envelops the “street” lifestyle, and the conflict between their diverging paths drives a wedge into their bond.
While the connection between their onscreen alter-egos is threatened, the real-life bond between Diggs and Casal couldn’t be stronger.
Friendship Turned Partnership
Daveed Diggs is most notable for his Tony Award-winning performance as Thomas Jefferson and Marquis de Lafayette in the Broadway hit Hamilton. Diggs is also noted for his impeccable rapping. Rafael Casal might be considered a newcomer to the acting world, but he is an uber-talented spoken-word artist. The two met when collaborating on a music project. Their friendship quickly grew stronger, and they eventually became creative partners.
The best friends both call the Bay Area home; Diggs is from Oakland and Casal from Berkeley. While BLINDSPOTTING is not based on real events, they took a semi-autobiographical approach in writing the script. Each wanted to base the film’s story in the Bay Area, and in the most authentic way possible. As performers and storytellers, the duo believed their real-life chemistry could carry over onscreen. As they sought to capture the genuine spirit of Oakland in the script, they also acted on a sense of responsibility to address issues that affect their hometowns.
Nearly A Decade In The Making
Writing BLINDSPOTTING took over nine years. After meeting Diggs and Casal, and seeing them each perform, producers Keith and Jessica Calder, the husband and wife team at Snoot Entertainment, suggested writing a screenplay. (Snoot is also behind films such as You’re Next, The Guest, and Blair Witch.) The ball began to roll when the pair found a story framework with which they could turn poetry into cinema.
For years, they made their way to the Snoot headquarters to work on the script and pitch the latest drafts. Eventually, their blossoming careers got in the way, with Diggs heading to the east coast for his work on Hamilton. Casal also took a job at the University of Wisconsin-Madison teaching theater.
Last year, Snoot gave BLINDSPOTTING the green light. To make sure everything was on track, Casal rewrote the script within a month while Diggs kept up his work on Black-ish and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. They called upon a friend, Carlos López Estrada, to direct. They also had to cook up a production team for their low-budget film. Thankfully, recruiting talented local crew became easier as people learned the film was Oakland-based.
The Story’s Relevance
Diggs and Casal didn’t just want to make a movie, they wanted to create a meaningful story that reflects the current social landscape. BLINDSPOTTING addresses divisive topics such as racism, police violence, and gentrification. Many crew members had seen, first-hand, how those issues affect the Oakland area. The conditions often force citizens to take sides, which the film focuses on. Director López Estrada touched on that notion to Variety:
“I think the movie asks a lot of very direct, complicated and sometimes uncomfortable questions. And although all the characters in the movie have really strong points of view, they’re leaving it up to you to decide.”
BLINDSPOTTING isn’t intended to highlight crime or the negative aspects of the city. Just the opposite, in fact. Diggs and Casal spotlight the lively character of Oakland neighborhoods, even as they change due to gentrification and other cultural movements. Music was a big part of their upbringing and individual careers, and consequently is a big part of the film’s boisterous voice. Keeping the film small meant keeping it real, and BLINDSPOTTING should be one of the most effectively authentic movies of the summer.
BLINDSPOTTING hits theaters July 20, 2018.