The TV collection “Blindspotting” is a love letter to Oakland, ladies of colour and native filmmakers
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When the film Blindspotting premiered in 2018, viewers had the chance to see Oakland and its residents through the lenses of childhood friends Collin (played by Daveed Diggs) and Miles (Rafael Casal). The acclaimed film touched on incarceration, police brutality, gentrification and belonging in the ever-changing city of Oakland.
A TV adaptation of the same name is set to premiere on STARZ this Sunday, June 13th. The show continues where the film left off for six months after Miles was arrested and detained for drug possession on New Year’s Eve. But instead of focusing on Collin and Miles, Blindspotting, the series, follows the story of Miles’ partner Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones), who navigates the world without him as a mother, daughter and sister-in-law.
Community screening event
What: A free outdoor screening of the new TV series “Blindspotting” with personal appearances by series co-creator Rafael Casal and the actors Jasmine Cephas Jones, Benjamin Turner, Candace Nicholas-Lippman and Jaylen Barron
When: Saturday June 12th. The event starts with a DJ at 6:30 p.m., followed by a showing of Episode 1 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Webster Street, between Grand Avenue and 22nd Street
Oscar-winning actress Helen Hunt also appears on the series as Rainey, Miles’ mother. Hunt got on the project after developing a friendship with Diggs and Casal, the result of a tweet she sent them praising the film.
“It’s as crazy as it sounds. She was on my TV screen when she tweeted about the movie, “Casal said of Hunt’s unexpected contact. “I slipped into her dm’s and it became a nice friendship. She was loving and generous. ”
Hunt’s portrayal of Rainey is a caring and free spirited woman who comes to terms with the fact that her son is imprisoned while simultaneously trying to find her daughter-in-law Ashley, grandson Sean (Atticus Woodward), and rebellious and equally free-spirited daughter Trish (Jaylen Barron ).
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“We texted each other and next we talked about how we should one day work together,” said Hunt of her friendship with Casal and Diggs, who wrote the original film and wrote and produced the series. “When they finally got the green light, I wanted to make sure I could fit into this world that they created, especially as a well-known actress. You don’t want to come and take something deeply authentic and make it look less real. “
Although we don’t see Collin (his absence is explained that he’s moving out of the state to start over), we catch a glimpse of Miles – both in jail and as the voice in Ashley’s head witnessing their struggles and with you speak his mouthless comments only as an apparition for them.
Although primarily filmed in Los Angeles, a number of scenes were filmed in the city including around West Oakland, Port of Oakland, Frank Ogawa Plaza, and Joaquin Miller Park. The show also offers a glimpse into Oakland’s food and cultural scene, featuring a range of writers, directors, extras and actors from the Bay Area. And much like the film, the series permeates the language of its characters with lots of Bay Area slang and references to lyrics by local artists.
Left to right: Jasmine Cephas Jones and Rafael Casal filming at City Hall in Oakland earlier this year. Credit: STARZ
Locals Diggs, Casal, and Brooklynite Jones produced the series, and Diggs and Casal, who wrote the original film, also wrote all eight episodes of the series. Other writers on the show include Oaklander Nijla Mu’min, Alanna Brown, and Antioch-born Benjamin Earl Turner, who plays Earl. Candace Nicholas-Lippman from Sacramento plays Collins’ sister Janelle.
The authors’ decision to tell their story from the female perspective of Ashley, Rainey, Trish and Janelle was a deliberate departure from the original film. And for Jones, it was imperative that the series honor the voices of women and convey what Oakland means to the people of Oakland.
“It was a family affair to be back. It was my first time seeing a sideshow, ”said Jones of the West Oakland filming. “It was great to be immersed in the world we talk about on the show. Oakland is such a great place. “
Jones’ character Ashley evolves as the series progresses, and viewers get an intimate look at what’s going on inside their head in the form of Shakespeare-like monologues, a narrative device that was also used in the film.
“I wanted to be very honest and real,” Jones said of the internal monologues written by Casal and Diggs. “Your entry into the heightened verses is really her purest self, and you really understand what she is going through emotionally.”
The show explores topics of sexual harassment, sex work and female friendship and uses Jones’ character to examine what it is like to move around the world as a woman of color.
“We wanted to shed light on how Ashley, as a woman of color, could not speak out because she was afraid of losing her job,” said Jones, “and how often women face abuse in the workplace.”
Dance scenes and interpretive dance sequences are a big part of the show. Credit: STARZ
The show’s two breakout stars are without a doubt Nicholas-Lippman as Janelle and Benjamin Earl Turner as Earl, who is under house arrest and rents a room from Collin’s mother’s house. Well worth paying attention to the duo’s chemistry on screen and their comedic chops throughout the show. Their natural chemistry belies the fact that the two had never met in person before shooting their first scene together.
“I felt so inspired after seeing the movie,” said Nicholas-Lippman. “As an actor, I always like to make art that has a message.”
Turner was not only an actor, but also in the writer’s room. “I knew Daveed and Rafa before the film. I found her through YouthSpeaks, ”he said, a not-for-profit organization serving youth artists in the Bay Area.
Fans of the film will enjoy the many “Easter eggs” placed throughout the show, with actors from the film unexpectedly appearing in new roles and some scenes reverting to moments in the film. For example, a scene with Trish reminds viewers of a scene in the film where Miles is selling a boat to make a quick buck. “Trish is another version of an interesting Miles-type character,” said Casal.
Although filming in Oakland was challenging during the pandemic, Casal sees potential for the city to become more of a hub for filmmaking.
“We are only just discovering what the hurdles are,” said Casal. “We need more national incentives for productions” and “Creators need to make a point to come back.” Although this is a smaller town with a less developed movie scene, Casal believes Oakland has enough skilled local talent to make big productions to support. The growth of the movie scene would also bring much-needed revenue for Oakland and the Bay Area in the form of taxes and local businesses, he said.
“When a production comes into town, money is spent on site,” said Casal. “It eats in restaurants. It hires local teams. The big thing the bay has to do to make this possible is to support them. The bay has to love it. ”
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