Why Blindspotting is The Most Important Film Released in the Last Decade
The Devastatingly Accurate Representation of Urban Life in America
I feel like prefacing this article by acknowledging that I am a Caucasian male who grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey is necessary. That being said, as I am currently attending Rutgers University Camden, I can say that I have met people and surrounded myself with friends who have been affected or whose families have seen/are currently seeing the effects of the subject matter within Blindspotting. This film is without a doubt one of the most overlooked movies from 2018, which is a shame in its own right. This is not a piece about how the movie came and went from theaters without much recognition. Rather, this piece is about how this movie is arguable the most important film released in the last decade.
Police brutality, racial inequality, the United States prison system, and gentrification, are all socially relevant issues within our society today that Blindspotting chooses to tackle. The manner in which the film does this is unparalleled, painting one of the most devastatingly accurate representations of urban life in modern day America. The movie does not shy away from the harsh realities facing these communities and in doing so helps solidify its important themes.
Living and attending school in Camden, I have now seen gentrification first hand. For most people in America, hearing the name Camden, New Jersey would bring the association for crime. Following an overhaul of the police force in 2013 (6ABC), the city has seen a consistent decline in violent crimes, and while it is still listed on America’s most dangerous cities, the evidence is there that the crime is slowly dissipating. With this positive outlook, Camden has now also began to see a return of industry to the city. In 2018, Subaru built a new headquarters in the downtown area of Camden, with construction for American Water and The Camden Tower (an office building, also the tallest building on Camden’s waterfront) also beginning.
As of this writing, the American Water Corporate building is nearing completion, with construction on new waterfront lofts beginning with an estimated Spring of 2019 completion date. While the updated look of the waterfront may be a pretty one, the inevitable raise in taxes for Camden citizens will cause a lot of current residents to either increase their household incomes or move out. On top of that, as Camden’s property value continues to rise, those who cannot afford to stay will have no other option than to sell their houses, some which have been lived in by their families for generations. Obviously to some, this is a non-issue and will just be unrightfully justified by arguing that it is the old residents’ faults for being in that situation, when in reality many of them were born into it. The cost of living goes up, while those who have lived and been a part of the community for years are forced out.
Looking at the way Blindspotting portrays gentrification is one of the most accurate representations of a social issue ever put to film. With the movie taking place in Oakland, the setting may differ from an East Coast city like Camden, however the principles for the gentrification process remain the same. In the film, the process is first shown during the opening sequence when we see Collin (Diggs) and Miles (Casal) at the recently re-opened fast food joint. They joke about how it just “isn’t the same” with an employee informing them that it is because they ordered a vegan burger and that they need to specify that you do not want said vegan burger. It is a rib at hipster culture (a recurring theme of the comedy in the film) and how vegans are often viewed as hipsters, and vice versa.
The film leans heavily into showing the change in life within the urban environment. The image (not scene) that sticks with me the most from the movie is this picture showing the early stages of redevelopment of a neighborhood. It is a striking image to see older residential houses next to these two modernized, art deco inspired houses. This is not me attacking hipsters either, as I am 95% sure most people would classify me as one, rather, it is an attack on a larger issue that has been prevalent within the United States for generations. With race affecting property value and hipsters being looked at as more of a “white thing”, they just happen to be the group many associate with gentrification in the modern era. The film plays this up by having hipster culture spattered throughout, with examples like the dreaded Green Drink, new artsy houses, large bicycles, cultural appropriation, or the incident that gets Collin put in prison prior to the film’s opening, all being linked back to the incoming hipster wave headed to Oakland.
Wayne Knight, of Seinfeld fame, also has a brief role in the film. He gives some insight into the themes at play early in the film when Miles & Collin are helping him move out. His character, a photographer, superimposes oak trees (for which Oakland is named after) over the city’s new identity. It is a beautiful, yet depressing scene when you think about its implications. While gentrification is one of the main issues throughout the entire film, this also feels like an acknowledgment of how urbanization in general has poorly effected the entire world despite technically being necessary.
The prison system in the United States has been a hot button topic for many years, so with everything this film covers, it is not that shocking that it indeed is one of the issues touched upon. This clip from The Daily Show featuring the writers/stars of the film, Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, will do this section better justice than I ever could. Just watch the clip and listen to to the two of them talk in detail about how hard it is for former inmates to live post-jail lives once released. A quote from the NAACP helps back up this idea:
A criminal record can reduce the likelihood of a callback or job offer by nearly 50 percent. The negative impact of a criminal record is twice as large for African American applicants (Criminal Justice Fact Sheet).
Miles is the better character to look at for how the movie tackles racial inequality, with the following quote being how Rafael Casal describes his character:
We’ve always had to describe him as a minority among minorities…
He and Collin grew up together in Oakland, where he was the only white kid growing up with a mix of different minorities. That idea shows in his character and is something that feels realistic with there actually being a small number of white people living in these poorer urban environments amidst a community made up predominately of minorities. Miles wears a grill, acts like your stereotypical gangster, and is shown to have extremely violent tendencies, and yet we never see him facing the threat of being arrested. Compare that to Collin who spends the majority of the movie on probation after serving his prison sentence, while having a strong fear of the police after seeing what is basically a murder by a policeman within the first act of the film. Val, (Janina Gavankar) Collin’s ex-girlfriend, even brings this up while arguing with Collin. She makes the point that if the cops had shown up to a beatdown involving both he and Miles, that Collin would be the one to be arrested or shot.
By keeping Miles away from the police while continually putting Collin in their path, it builds a divide between the two characters for the audience. It shows how self-aware and cautious Collin has to be despite being a legitimately reformed felon, while Miles lives carefree despite living a criminal lifestyle.
The entire movie Collin fears the police as monsters who are out to get him, with visions and nightmares haunting him throughout his days & nights. The courtroom nightmare scene is almost indescribable and is easily one of the most powerful scenes from any movie in 2018. On his daily runs he has brief yet vivid visions of the night he saw the shooting. He sees dead Black men standing in front of their graves in one of the most unnerving sequences in the whole film. These sequences build onto one another, crafting this identity built solely on Collin’s fear that has consumed his daily life.
The following scene is one of the most intense scenes I have ever experienced, and still after seeing the film multiple times it still makes my palms sweat. You should not watch it until having seen the film, but if you need that extra push to watch it, this should do that. In the scene, it does clarify that all police are not monsters, as the one shown here is clearly facing some mental issues following the shooting, with him shown locked away in his garage fretting and crying prior to Collin and him interacting. The movie does not try to justify what he did or make him out to be truly sympathetic, but it does show that he too is a human.
Also, credit where credit is due, Daveed Diggs’ facial expressions throughout the movie are nothing short of captivating. He and Casal both deliver powerhouse performances, but the way Diggs’ uses his face is just so mesmerizing. The fear on Collins’ face can be felt in the scene when he is walking on the street after his fight with Miles later in the movie. No words are said, but the physicality speaks tenfold.
The cinematography and soundtrack also are key factors in making this movie work on so many levels. Despite having an amazing script and relevant subject matter, without a good cast, capable director, strong cinematography, and accompanying soundtrack, the movie would be nothing. Blindspotting checks all the boxes which helps it not only get its message across, but also keeps you on the edge of your seat while providing entertainment the entire time.
I recently recommended Blindspotting to one of my best friends, Nissim Hayes from the Bronx. His reaction after watching it is what pushed me to finally write this article, something I have wanted to do since first seeing the movie last year. Just the way he described how watching it made him feel initially after finishing it immediately made me want to re-watch it (which I ended up doing later in the week). As for a relevant quote from his reaction to showcase exactly what I’m talking about, here is this:
I really felt this movie, I can’t even explain how much that shit resonated with me. I need to have my little brother watch this, so many important moments. It has the perfect amount of comedy that it doesn’t feel like you need to dread real life, but doesn’t downplay the harsh realities.
The fact that a movie can have this type of impact on someone shows just how much the art form can do. For me, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar somehow helped me finally cope with the loss of my mother despite being released 4 years after her passing. Film is a form of entertainment, but also of escapism. It has the ability to share a real message when it wants to, and with Blindspotting, it genuinely feels like one of the most accurate depictions of the issues facing modern day urban life, an issue that goes unchecked by many. It sheds light upon a way of life that many average film-goers have never had to experience, while people living in lower-class areas are having to deal with these issues daily. This film is both culturally and socially significant, with it truly making its own case for being considered one of the most important films of the decade.
If you have yet to see Blindspotting, please do yourself the favor of renting or buying it off of Amazon, or buy a physical DVD of the film. Just do what you can to see it and share it with everyone. It is a film that needs to be seen and talked about for years to come, with social and political relevancy that will remain in tact for years to come.
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