I’m over the moon about all these films this year that register BLM issues and the African-American experience in such powerful ways. Blindspotting will sit alongside works like BlacKkKlansman, Black Panther, If Beale Street Could Talk, The Hate U Give and Life and Nothing More as a shining example of this cinema’s vital necessity in our times. It is also one of the best films of the year, and unfortunately one of the more overlooked offerings compared to the others. I haven’t heard much water cooler talk over, say, Daveed Diggs’ stirring performance as an ex-con nearing the end of his probation, or how brilliantly the film intersperses a witty sensibility within its more activist framework. When a scene as unexpected and hilarious as a hairdresser cussing out M. Night Shyamalan’s movies for making her nervous comes along, it’s very hard to pull away and remain objective. The mixture of irreverence and the joyous celebration of exuberant personalities harkens back to the lived-in quality of Spike Lee’s filmography, and one can almost imagine Lee having helmed this.
Carlos López Estrada is no slouch, however. Bringing his extensive experience as a music video director to the table, he punctuates Blindspotting with the well-timed syncopations of an impassioned rap performance, finding grooves in which to place the collective anger and hurt of a race and let it spark. Around those grooves are the rhythmical interpolations of character and heart that gives every rap song its own distinctive flavour. Many reviewers have commented on how Shakespearean this setup is, and while that is true, it’s also very much beholden to the arcs found on some of the best hip-hop albums out there. There’s usually a gradual buildup to the grand moment of reckoning, with a song that tears into the ones that came before it in order to find even greater nuggets of truth. This is how the film ends, with Diggs being afforded the scene of his career (thus far) when he is given the opportunity to face down the evil that has bedeviled him for days. It is no coincidence that he is also facing down the camera itself, crushing that fabled divide between spectator and spectacle so that we cannot come out guiltless. Especially those who are Caucasian, such as myself.
The unforgiving bluntness of the film’s mode will put off some who favour nuance. To them I say: how else would you tell this particular story? Sometimes you need to draw the largest picture possible for people to “get” it, because if they don’t, then the cycles of racial violence and suffering will continue to balloon. Anger is how you get your point across plainly, and Blindspotting does this while offering so much more: compassion, the chance for rehabilitation, and the opportunity to make the right decisions after your own string of mistakes, among other things. It is a dialogue we need to have—and we need more people to proliferate it. A film like this will do a lot to get that conversation rolling.