This past Saturday, Jan. 20, at the Grand Theater in Salt Lake City, audiences gave the film described by Sundance as a “buddy-comedy” that drops you “into a vastly layered story” about gentrification, a standing ovation and and a warm reception to the film's writers and cast during the Q&A that followed the screening.
Directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada and set in Oakland, the hometown of its screenwriters and actors, Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs, the film is meant to act as a “time-capsule” that preserves a glimpse of the city “the way we know and love it,” Casal explained during Saturday's Q&A.
In recent years, Oakland has seen many changes, due in large part to the gentrification of its neighborhoods. With Oakland absorbing some population spill-over from Silicon Valley, the film grapples with the issues that face the city’s long-time residents as their city changes around them.
But it does so in a surprising way.
In what is best described as a new-age Shakespearian style, the film's characters speak in rhythmic rhyme that rises and falls with their emotions and communicates the connection to the city in a beautiful and at times jarring manner.
“The Bay Area is a hotbed for innovated language and slang and stylized speech to begin with, and so we used that as a sort of logical link,” Diggs said, who plays the part of Collin. Of his character, he said, “You notice throughout the film that the first time we hear him rap, it’s very literal and as it goes on, it gets more obscure and you’re not entirely sure how much of it is in his head and how much is real.”
He said that using heightened language was one of the filmmakers' major focuses, one of the “core pieces of the DNA” of the movie from its earliest conceptions more than 10 years ago.
And while Diggs and Casal spent years developing the script, the film itself was made in just 22 to 25 days, “depending on who you ask” said Utkarsh Ambudkar, who has a small role in the film.
“Blindspotting” was the first feature film for both Casal and Diggs, but if their enthusiasm says anything for their futures, it probably won’t be their last.
Since its premiere in Park City on Thursday, Jan. 18 the film has already been acquisitioned by Lionsgate, which bought the distribution rights for the film earlier this week. And in Variety, film critic Peter Debruge called it, "the most exciting cinematic take on contemporary race relations since (the 1989 film) 'Do the Right Thing' nearly 30 years ago."
Whether it's writing raps or scripts, Diggs said “the skill set or the way I work on everything is the same. I search for the thing that is really exciting … and I like it to be different.”