The Other Side of California
by Tyler Warren
Out of all the independent films this summer, Blindspotting separates itself from the documentaries and the usual high brow fare. In fact, it even goes the opposite way. Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal bring nuanced performances to characters who lead simple lives, only to be agitated by the changes in their neighborhood. For Miles (Casal), it’s all about providing for his family and being there for his son. Despite this, he often finds himself in conflicting positions due to the increasing gentrification, which takes a toll on his ego. On the other hand is Collin (Diggs), who’s just trying to keep himself from going back to jail for an altercation gone horribly wrong. This all comes to a head when Collin witnesses a police shooting at a red light, which leaves him in a state of constant paranoia.
Yet, the movie doesn’t succumb to the tropes of “will he or won’t he” be able to make it to the end of his parole. Instead, director Carlos López Estrada dives beneath the surface level circumstances, bringing you into their daily lives, and showing rather than telling you what it feels like to live in Oakland, California. This is through both the Caucasian eyes of Miles, and the African-American lens of Colin’s perspective. This film breathes life into the often forgotten landscape of the Bay Area, one constantly used as a backdrop or another city to set a story that doesn’t even incorporate it as a location. As Collin and Miles navigate their jobs as movers, they reveal to the audiences all the little idiosyncrasies that make Oakland what it is instead of just getting the landmarks, like the Fox Theater, or the Oakland Coliseum. Estrada takes you into the homes of those who live there, displaying their vibrantly colored, juxtaposing architectures.
This film also does an amazing job with the wardrobe, capturing the NorCal hipster style Oakland has been associated with, and revealing their roots through the wardrobe choices of the flamboyantly dressed Miles, and the soft-palate of Colin. However, all the attention to costume and production would be wasted if they wiffed the dialect. Even though California is one state, almost 40 million people live there. Each city has a different way of communicating, of interacting, which Hollywood often shapes into an image of themselves. However, in the hands of Diggs and Casal, Oakland and Berkeley natives, it soars. It’s what makes all these simple characters so compelling. Collin and Miles talk in modern prose, often breaking out into little freestyles back and forth, which ultimately pays off brilliantly in the end as Diggs gives one of the most personal and vulnerable monologues to hit the screen this year. In a chilling transfer of
power, Miles finally finds himself holding the gun, and while it gives him the opportunity to access his voice, he doesn’t like how it feels in his hands.
There’s been a boom of films taking place in the Bay Area this year: Sorry to Bother You, Black Panther, and early awards frontrunner Beautiful Boy are all shot in the San Francisco and Oakland. However, Blindspotting is the only one so far to incorporate the city as a living element in the story, despite first time director Boots Riley’s best attempts. In this sense, it stands alone as a time capsule because, as we are made so painfully aware of in the films last act, what makes Oakland Oakland may soon be gone.