Lifelong friends Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal are by admission artsy as f**k. Before the Citi Bikes, green juices and fresh produce at Whole Foods invaded their native home of Oakland, Diggs and Rafa, as they refer to one another, were two dudes who understood the power of verse, ate at the taco trucks, went to poetry slams to meet girls and got into the occasional brawl or two.
Their loyalty to the neighborhood they once knew still oozes from them, despite its changing landscape. Whether it be a slip of the word “fa sho” during an interview or the way they plant their feet, sway from side to side, pop a collar or screw up their face when music from a Bay Area artist comes on. No matter what, these two are most definitely still Town.
Accurately depicting their home—along with the speed with which gentrification is changing it and how police brutality cripples it—is at the forefront of their co-written and produced film Blindspotting. Set to hit select theaters Friday, July 20, Diggs and Rafa showcase the nuances of everyday life for homegrown residents of cities across America.
In a little more than 90 minutes, the film centers around Diggs’ character Colin who after serving a stint in prison has three days left on probation when he witnesses a police shooting. The sobering moment unravels him throughout the film and acts as a shadow of sorts. Yet, despite his freedom being 72 hours away, Colin's rambunctious and reactionary best friend Miles (Casal) endangers his chances for a fresh start.
Without beating audiences over the head, Blindspotting does exactly what the name of the film entails, it opens viewers’ eyes to their own potential blind spots. Under the direction of Carlos López Estrada, Rafa and Diggs showcase that while their home is changing, so is the brotherhood they once knew.
VIBE spoke with Diggs and Casal at New York's Langham Hotel about their hopes for the movie, their personal blind spots and how James Baldwin inspired one of the film’s most poignant scenes.
VIBE: How do you hope white people will react after seeing this film? What kind of discussion are you hoping for?
Daveed Diggs: I think any discussion is good after. That’s what in general an audience hopes for, right? I’m not particularly prescriptive for what I want anyone to take away from it. I think the film advocates for all of us that there are some, even with people who we are very close to, there are things and aspects of their experience that we don’t understand. And it advocated looking closer into those things and turning to see our blind spot.
Rafael Casal: We’re at this really polarizing moment in this country. Everything is a snap judgment. Everything is a reinforcing of your own opinions. We’re not really reaching much to change. Revision is something we’re all inherently afraid of, so I think the film tries to present to you moments where you can easily summarize a person or a circumstance and then gives you a little more information that complicates it in some way. And that’s not just true in the movie, that’s always true if you do the extra work to look a little bit closer. The concept of Blindspotting is actively looking beyond your conscious snap judgment based on your lifetime of experience, because that is still within your framework of you and the way that you walk through the world. And that’s true for everybody. But in order to narrow those gaps between people, to find empathy outside of your own circumstance it takes active work.
DD: He runs through that cemetery because a lot of people run there in The Bay. A big part of this film for us was representing Oakland accurately.
People in Oakland run through cemeteries?
DD: They run through that cemetery.
RC: My mom runs there.
Why that cemetery specifically?
RC: Mountain View Cemetery is gorgeous. It’s got an actual amazing view of the Town when you get up to the top.
DD: Colin is running to have some sort of routine that is his own. His whole life has been scheduled by the probation officer, right? He has to clock in at a certain time every night and there are so many rules and these rules are in place to try and force him to get back to jail. Colin is sort of running to actively try and do something good for himself that is his, and that’s not going to send him back to jail. In theory, those hours that he spends running are the safest parts of his day. It’s the only time he’s alone and the only time he really gets to think. Geographically, that’s closer to where we imagined Colin working. There was a logical reasoning.
"Revision is something we’re all inherently afraid of, so I think the film tries to present to you moments where you can easily summarize a person or a circumstance and then gives you a little more information that complicates it in some way." -Rafael Casal
At the very very end, Colin rushes Miles off after the fight in the newer part of Oakland and the two are arguing. Colin says to Miles “You the ni**a they looking for” Who came up with that line?
RC: I’m pretty sure that’s the original line from that scene.
DD: That scene, Rafa called me eight years ago or something in the middle of the night and said 'I think they should have this discussion' and we sort of spiraled about it for hours and kept sort of chipping away at it.
RC: Just in the nature that we had to write this last draft and a few drafts prior, I did a lot of practical writing but most of the writing process is a conversation about what we want to say. So I’m sure in conversation, we got to this point about what does it mean to embody the attributes of how we criminalize black and brown people and what does it mean when someone is actively trying to separate themselves from it and someone’s very survival is dependent on it and when those two come together.
Do you remember how you thought of that line?
RC: That line is from a James Baldwin interview. It was the beginning of my James Baldwin high and that’s where that came from. Baldwin talks about white people’s invention of that word and why white people need it which I thought was a fascinating point to make. There was a necessary idea to criminalize and in order to have a place to target. It’s what we’re doing to Latin people in this country right now. It’s what we’re doing to immigrants in this country right now. Some place to associate the blame and then assigning them these attributes. What I think was fascinating or what excited me about that scene it’s not this base level conversation about whether or not Miles can use the N-Word or not.
Right, that's not it.
RC: Miles grew up in this neighborhood. All his godparents, aunts, uncles. He's had this conversation. Colin isn’t his one black friend. He doesn’t have a white friend. That’s who Miles is. He’s well aware. I think that’s why Miles is so flustered in that moment. It’s not like he’s confused. It’s like what point are you getting at? We’ve talked about this. We know this. I think it’s about Colin trying in that moment and failing so he can succeed in the later scene as Miles is a spectator watching him say it to someone else.
Colin is trying to explain to Miles they’re walking differently in the world and they’ve always been, but the gap has never been wider than in that moment because the context of the city is so so different and it’s affecting Colin in a way that he can’t handle. That’s the biggest wedge that I’ve seen between them, but what I love so much about the concept of that scene is the culmination of Miles’ arc. Miles goes home and removes that word from his household. And I think while still processing why just understanding that there is something there that is problematic for him and he’s probably going to do the work to figure out what that is now that his context has changed a little bit more.
Would either one of you continue to be friends with Miles?
RC: All the people that Miles was based on where at that premiere. I love that dude. Miles is loyal. He’s a family man. He’s helped Colin survive his entire life and he’s having a shit week too.
I think it’s really easy to demonize Miles because you’re not looking at the fact that a cop murdered someone in our movie. Miles is not the bad guy. Miles is an angry guy. He’s a poor kid. Broken home. Trying to raise a family. No money, getting pushed out of his neighborhood and people are making him feel alienated there. He’s not having a great time right now. He’s not trying to be menacing.
DD: Who’s your best friend or your closest family member? What would it take to disassociate with that person completely, particularly when the most dangerous thing for both of them is the changing context? Nobody around them seems to understand the world they grew up in anymore. Only they know each other better than Anybody. For them in that context, those are the people you’re probably gonna hold onto the tightest even when it’s hard, even when they’re all of the things that need to be worked out. They are still closer together than everybody else in the world surrounding them.
"There’s a certain amount of leeway that men get. It’s somehow charming if I walk into the room I’m just here for the ride I didn’t read the lines, let’s joke about it, blah blah blah. My privilege is that can somehow come off as charming." Daveed Diggs
What are some of your own blind spots professionally, personally?
RC: This has come up a few times and I don’t think we’ve answered them very well.
The one that we’re always kicking ourselves the most for is that our female characters never talk to each other in the movie. I think that makes us so mad that we missed that in hindsight. So that’s male privilege, right? We tried to write really really interesting three-dimensional female characters. So we didn’t pass the test. What’s that test?
DD: Bechdel Test.
What about personally?
DD: I’m trying to think if there has been anything that’s been pointed out to me recently?
So what areas personally do you think you can fix?
RC: I think all straight men are a work in progress.
I just think the way that we built the institution of masculinity is horrifically detrimental. I think it’s a lifetime of unlearning. A lot of horrible things have been reinforced. I grew up brawlin’ with people too. That street culture that hyper-masculine culture and only being able to relate with anger and humor and nothing else is a big part of this film and a big part of our reality. Daveed and I are lucky that we have a special communication. We’re artsy as f*ck.
DD: Hella artsy
I’m in a relationship with someone who is also an actor and she we obviously have very different experiences and I realize sometimes the way I get to approach a lot of things and it’s absolutely male privilege. I have this real fuck it attitude sometimes about meetings, about self-tapes. There’s a certain amount of leeway that men get. It’s somehow charming if I walk into the room I’m just here for the ride I didn’t read the lines, let’s joke about it, blah blah blah. My privilege is that can somehow come off as charming and she doesn’t get that. When my advice to her is careless, of course, that doesn’t work for her and I’ve told her that. So I’ve been trying to check that a lot in the ways that, particularly in Hollywood are very very different. Just trying to understand the stresses from her perspective are very very important.