The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Blindspotting.
Can you talk about the collaboration between the two of you in terms of writing, producing, and performing this?
Rafael Casal: Yeah, Diggs, can you?
Daveed Diggs: I mean we’ve been working on this for ten years at this point with our two producing partners the whole time, Jess and Keith Calder. Jess Calder approached Rafael, because she found some of his poems on YouTube and asked him if he would be interested in writing a film. We were already working together a bunch at the time, so eventually we tricked them into working with both of us. What they were interested in was a film that used sort of heightened language and this type of poetic verse that we had been doing a lot of work in. For us it was important to tell a story about the Bay Area and a story that starred us because we didn’t think anyone else would ever do that. We both came to the table with the things that we wanted, and we decided that those made sense for a movie. Right around the same time Oscar Grant was murdered at the Fruitvale BART station. So, the conversation about when you tell an Oakland story, that’s what the conversation was about. At that point, the early drafts of the film had so much more to do with the community response to the shootings. We always wanted to show Oakland. We had never seen Oakland represented as the city we know it to be on screen, so that was part of the point. So, we wrote this film that was mostly about community response to a shooting, and how it was starting to differently affect Colin and Miles. Over the course of time the way that discussion happens has changed so much. So, one of the major updates to the film is that Colin is the only one particularly affected by it, because he witnessed it. Chicago is on fire right now, because of this shooting. This is part of the hype, right? These things continue to be publicized and continue to be spoken about, and we used to protest and riot about them routinely. There’s a kind of fatigue associated with that. I just read a post from a friend of mine where he was showing his bruises from going out to the protest last night from getting beat up by the police. He was saying that not only is it dangerous to be black, but it is dangerous to love a black person. It’s dangerous to care about a black person enough to show your support for them and their family.
“Our goal was to finish this goddamn movie.”
Can you talk about bringing in the director?
RC: Yeah, we both worked with Carlos in a few different capacities over the last few years. He directed music videos for Daveed’s band, which is how I met him. And, then he directs the sort of final film project for our program called BARS that we started at the Public Theater here in New York. It’s a theater and verse program. The through-line of all of our collaborations with him is trying to figure out how to do narrative work with verse. Whether that be a song or a theatrical production. Sometimes, that leap is where a lot of the potency of the language is lost. We hadn’t seen it done the way that we envisioned it. We felt like Carlos was the best ally that we had, because we had sort of been in the trenches with him trying to chip away at this. We were fortunate enough to be working with the same producers, who first asked if I wanted to direct it. I said, “Noooooo.” We were two months away from shooting it, and we had to do a page one rewrite. Diggs was going to be on planes that whole time. So, it felt like that was a tall order. But, Carlos is so uniquely qualified for the task. He’s such a gentle, sensitive human in all the best ways. Sensitive to the subject material, sensitive to taking something and not making it his own before fully understanding it. We’re essentially asking to capture a hometown that he doesn’t know that we hold very dear. So, for us that meant we had to have a shorthand with the director. We had to have open, constant communication. So much of the process of making this film was the three of us, or the five of us with our producers, huddling up before a scene and reminding each other what was important about it. He was so gracious in keeping the process open and collaborative while giving it a very stylized, heightened look that is his signature aesthetic. We’re also advocates for working with your friends and putting on your friends when you have the opportunity to. Carlos, like us getting to make this movie, whether you’re ready or not, it might be a decade before you get to do the thing that you want to do. So, we had this opportunity to give a first feature to someone. So, he graciously came aboard and moved to LA with me two days later to rewrite the script.
Have you thought about any kind of educational component to go along with this film?
DD: People ask us that a lot. For high school it’s tricky, because of the R rating.
RC: I said ‘fuck’ too much. I said ‘fuck’ too much, and now we can’t show it to high school kids.
DD: It’s very gratifying that people see it and feel like it might be useful for them in some way. I think our biggest goal was to create a thing that people liked. And, not even that. Our goal was to finish this goddamn movie. And, then we did that. Then, we thought it would be cool if people saw this thing. So, we sort of hoped for a Netflix release or a straight to streaming thing. Then, Lionsgate came along and was like, “we can put this in movie theaters.” So, that’s where we are now.
RC: I remember asking at Lionsgate if there would be a poster.
DD: That was the question: would there be a poster. Then they came in and showed us fifty posters. So, I think as far as we had thought ahead was that we made something that we’re really proud of. Hopefully people get to see it. It’s very gratifying that people see it and want to do something else with it. But, I don’t think we are ever particularly prescriptive of what that thing is. I think the audience is smarter at that than we are. We’re sort of too close to it to decide what it’s good at. I think everybody else through seeing it can decide what kind of tool it is.
Since making the film how has your relationship changed?
RC: It’s over. Can’t stand each other.
DD: This press tour is the victory lap, and then we’re done.
RC: We’ve worked on so many projects together. Albums and albums of music, and we’ve had different iterations of bands together. We’ve done web series together. I found this picture the other day. We shot this sci-fi web series probably like six years ago. It was a space thing and there was a puppet. But, we had to drive up to the desert to shoot it, and there was only four of us there. Someone had to hold the camera. Me and another actor were in the shot, and then Diggs had to do sound and run the puppet. His hand had to go through the puppet and shake my hand in the shot. So, there’s a picture of Diggs with his hand up the ass of this puppet covered in slime. He’s operating it in this hand, and the boom is under his arm pointed at our mouths. That’s what we come from. So, this is the cool part. Now, people are like do you have any other stuff you want to work on. And, I’m like, “Yeah! All this stuff! Open that door, go to the left, that pile!” So, now we get the opportunity to do things with this thing that we learned about recently called a budget. I don’t know if any of you have heard of this term. It’s when they give you money to make a thing.
DD: Before you make it!
RC: Before you make it! So, we’re looking forward to that.
DD: Our working relationship has stayed remarkably similar for two people have been working together for so long. Rafael usually has an idea that he’s super excited about. I poke holes in it for about three days, and then if it’s still a good idea we do it.