Set against the backdrop of a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in Oakland, California, Blindspotting centers on the lifelong friendship between its two main characters, Collin (Daveed Diggs), and Miles (Rafael Casal). Taking place over Collin’s last three days on a year-long probation, the film never shies away from the issues plaguing Oakland, and most major U.S. cities right now, while also telling a story filled with both humor and humanity. After its surprisingly quiet premiere at Sundance earlier this year, Blindspotting made it onto the film slate at this year’s SXSW, where it got a standing ovation from the audience.
We got the chance to sit down with stars Diggs and Casal, who also co-wrote the film together, and director, Carlos López Estrada. The three of them talked about the whirlwind process of making the movie, as well as how their background in theater and hip-hop ultimately helped it come together.
There’s a lot going on in this movie, so let’s just start from the very beginning and go from there.
Daveed Diggs: Well, we’ve known each other a long time, and Jess and Keith [Calder] have been the producers of this from the beginning, and they discovered Rafael Casal.
Rafael Casal: On YouTube.
Diggs: On YouTube doing poems a decade ago.
Casal: Poems and rap music.
Diggs: After HBO had discovered him.
Casal: But Jess and Keith were starting their company and were looking for interesting writers and I think they were looking to develop new writers and…
Diggs: They made the mistake of thinking Rafael was interesting.
Casal. They made the mistake of thinking I was interesting, and then I stalked them for quite a long time. [Laughs.] No, they came up and met me and were like “Do you want to film stuff?” I was like, “Sure, of course.” That’s a very theoretical question to ask an 18-year-old. But they wanted to do something with heightened language, and over the next year they got introduced to Daveed and we sort of all realized we really wanted to do something together. And there was a lot of turbulence in Oakland with the relationship between black men and police and — I don’t know if it’s a turbulent relationship so much as police shooting black men. Not a 50/50 relationship so much as a hunting mission. We realized that that’s part of the story we want to tell about Oakland.
Diggs: Shout out to some of the great police officers on OPD, though. Margaret Dixon, what up?
Casal: None of the guys on The Force documentary. So, we were like, “Well, the relationship between that and what gentrification is doing for Oakland and continuing to polarize the city seems like two issues that were a massive intersection.” We had loosely conceptualized these characters, Collin and Miles, and decided to write a script that was just around what was happening in the city around a shooting.