'Blindspotting' Explores Tensions Between Police And African Americans In Oakland
Broad concerns about how some in law enforcement were relating to members of the African-American community exploded in recent years as reports of shootings of unarmed black men emerged more commonly.
But for people living in certain areas — including Oakland, California — that reality has been much clearer for a long time.
The new film "Blindspotting" hits theatres Friday with a story about what it’s like to live with that kind of fear and uncertainty — as well as issues of privilege and cultural appropriation — and the use of verse plays a key role, too.
Rafael Casal, a co-star and co-writer, joined The Show to talk about it.
RAFAEL CASAL: We sort of conceived of this about, you know, 10 to 12 years ago — it's been about a decade of a journey getting it made. I think when we were conceiving of it I don't know that we actually, at least for Daveed and I had any sense that it would ever actually get made. If we were going to attempt to make a film or write a script for a film and dedicate that amount of time to that with the unlikely chance that it would actually ever get produced we wanted to write a reflection of the conditions and circumstances that are most prominent in the communities that we come from. And so I think very much “Blindspotting” is a reflection of the conversations being had in our home base of the Bay Area and those conversations happened to be about police violence, and brutality, and gentrification, and violence.
STEVE GOLDSTEIN: And did this conversation evolve over the creative process or because you've been having conversations like that all along, did that play a role? I guess I'm wondering if — I mean obviously things change in the course of a screenplay and making a film but when it came to the real themes and ideas and conversations did those stay relatively stable?
CASAL: I think the national conversation shifted over those 10 years. And so we would always adapt and accommodate the scripts to meet the conversation and in its most contemporary form. Some of the things that changed the most drastically were when we started writing that the idea of protest against police brutality and the outrage the town felt like the appropriate response and they would probably warrant some kind of legislative or administrative change with the way that people are being policed. Especially because that was around the time when we started having filmed video footage of these these police shootings. And we felt like we were all looking at the same tape and were like "Wow now we have this footage where now we can all get on the same page." I think what happened over those 10 years is a little bit of trauma fatigue because we're in such abundance of these moments and these situations happening, and no real change in the way that we deal with them has occurred over a decade now. I think now the film is much more about how people can look at for example footage or a person or a story or a circumstance and all see a different version of it based on their own life experiences. We can look at that police footage and that country can see it differently depending on who's watching.
GOLDSTEIN: From a creative process is that in some ways daunting but also energizing? I mean you don't like to see those things happening in the world but do you feel as though this makes the message even more relevant and energizes your ideas?
CASAL: I think probably more of the latter. I think the process of trying to make any of that work is a daunting task. I think we hold ourselves to a certain standard of making sure that we always write intelligently and with smart characters dealing with situations that are as complex as the people watching the film. And so in that respect I think the bar is just high on creating art in general, for us.
The idea of getting to tell a story that we feel like hasn't really been told for is more energizing than it is daunting for us. I think we're just excited that there's so much material and so much conversation and so much nuance to give the conversation that hasn't existed in this space that we were just excited to take a crack at it.
GOLDSTEIN: Yeah. Could you talk more about the verse a little bit because I know if with your creative background people are going to wonder how much of this was was ad-libbed? Was this on the script? And was it rehearsed many, many times to make sure that the connection there was made in the film came out right?
CASAL: Well so, Daveed and I are by trade we're poets and musicians first. So every verse section in the film is meticulously scripted. It's something that, you know, it's our performance that is, you know, the idea that it just sort of pours out of Collin is part of the execution and the acting of the role. But those moments are some of the most pointed moments in the same way that you would put a musical together and you would, like, meticulously composed that music. We did the same with the verse work here. Every line and syllable is placed to have the effect that we, you know, that we hope that it has — because those are the verses is the heightened moments of the film. It's the moment when we ask the audience to really lean in and listen close and pay attention to the information, and it's also some of the most entertaining moments because it's so enjoyable to listen to. And so those are those are the most precious moments of the film for us.
GOLDSTEIN: The comedy, and that's something that people shouldn't miss from “Blindspotting,” the idea that it makes it feel more real because it feels like these longtime friends are having a real conversation about things whether it's someone's girlfriend or whatever it may be, there's that feeling of, "OK maybe we haven't seen a genre like this but we can relate to what these two leads these two friends are going through."
CASAL: We didn't have to do this, like, selling and then delivering on a genre that we promised. We were all, you know, sort of dedicated to doing was trying to tell the story as honestly as possible with all of its complexity and not sell anything short. And so what that means is that in the same way that we don't live our lives, you know, single genre days are are not things that I have ever experienced. Like, I don't have a drama day and wake up the next day I feel like I wanted it to be a comedy day — you know that's not how we live our lives. We live in least, at least the duality of a few different genres at once. We really wanted our characters to be afforded that same thing where, you know, that is the story of the poor and disenfranchised and oppressed — is like you don't have the luxury of just having a drama day and letting that happen. You got to go to work, you have to be with your kids, you still have to pay the bills. You still have to deal with all of your day to day problems. And so comedy is very much the way in which that functions. So that pairing felt so natural and so intuitive to us because comedy is a vital necessity for us in our lives and for the lives of the characters.
GOLDSTEIN: Does “Blindspotting” provide sort of a realistic look at what people go through and having gone through in Oakland and privilege in all these things, but at the same time do you see that in exposing this reality to more and more people in this way that there can be some sort of light at the end of the tunnel to some extent?
CASAL: Well, to quote James Baldwin, “I'm an optimist because I'm alive.” I'm always in the hope that the function of art is to provoke conversation and empathy, which I hope then provoke tangible, hopefully legislative change on things that we are currently failing at. I think a film does the right to have you fall in love with the characters, and sometimes characters that you won't come across in your regular life. And that starts to chip away at that disconnect when you see these people on the news or at your local store or you have tension at a gas station or in the neighborhood you just moved into. I think we fall in love with people through film. That's why we sort of pushed for more representation of different communities in film and television. It's one: it's great for people's career and it's great for the audiences to see more of themselves in those shows. But it's also for those who hold power in this country to become more familiar with those who are who are less well-off and are disenfranchised in some way.