On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was killed by an excessively violent group of police officers outside a Minneapolis grocery store, just because he used counterfeit money to pay for some cigarettes there, then refused to return them when challenged about that. Afterwards, the country exploded with violence. Stores have been smashed to pieces, cars have been lit on fire, and other cops have even been injured and/or killed themselves.
Amongst all this chaos, I’ve heard 2018’s relatively overlooked Blindspotting being hailed as more timely than ever, just like Contagion was when COVID-19 first hit. Going into completely blind, I hoped with all of my heart that it would be a genuinely great movie, not something that’s been blown way out of proportion just because it relates to current events. Thankfully, it’s far and away the former.
Blindspotting isn’t a preachy, condescending lecture, as I was fearing. Nor is it a crudely manipulative slice of misery porn attached to an “important” issue, as most of these “message” movies commonly are. Rather, it builds its undeniably relevant themes around a powerful character study, an unforgettable snapshot of two troubled lives in the rapidly gentrifying town of Oakland, California.
One of them is Collin Hoskins (Daveed Diggs), a convicted African-American felon only three days away from finishing his one-year probation sentence. The other is his angry, short-tempered white best friend, Miles Turner (Rafael Casal), who always pulls Collin into the very trouble he’s trying to avoid. One night, however, Collin witnesses a startling act of police brutality, which could have pulled the film in a very, very predictable direction. It doesn’t.
In fact, as Blindpsotting starts focusing on other things—Miles’s increasingly violent behavior, the anger gradually building up within Collin—you even start wondering if it has forgotten about this life-changing moment altogether. Of course it hasn’t (and when it does circle back to that later, the result is surprising, haunting, and satisfying in equal measure), but this refusal to adhere to any traditional story structure is exactly what makes the film so surprisingly special. Instead of being awkward or clunky as a result of this, the film still stands strong because of how sharply it’s written, how smoothly it flows, and how unexpectedly hilarious it often is.
Let’s talk about that humor for a second. The very concept of it in a film so prominently about racism and police brutality sounds absurd, even impossible. However, it not only makes these heavy themes go down a bit easier (they’re still very impactful and hard-hitting, mind you, but they never feel overwhelming), but also fits extraordinarily well into Oakland’s lively atmosphere, the wild hustle and bustle of its fast-talking residents. When Miles haggles with a hair salon owner over some products, the moment works so well because it’s not only hilarious, but also an authentic piece of the world they both inhabit.
Some have found the comedic portrayal of a rather serious—and violent—plot point to be a tad jarring. While I admittedly do have to agree with that, it’s really such a minor quibble (particularly when compared with the rest of the film) that to concentrate on it further would be highly unnecessary. Besides that, there’s scarcely a single issue I have with the film at all.
Above all, Blindspotting works because of the vibrant, tense dynamic between Collin and Miles. They both clearly care for each other, and moments of them casually bantering and joking around are extremely entertaining to watch. When their own personal issues start getting in the way of this friendship, it’s not a cheap way to move the screenplay forward, but a natural and honest progression of these characters’ journeys. You always feel something for these two, and find yourself rooting for them at every turn—even when they’re getting themselves involved in terrible things.
Obviously, Blindspotting is far from the only critically acclaimed film tackling the same general subjects. However, it just may be the most accessible, witty, and—most of all—unexpectedly poignant. Don’t miss it.