BY LINDSEY BAHR
“Hamilton” star Daveed Diggs used his own life as inspiration for the film “Blindspotting,” which premiered as one of the opening night films of the Sundance Film Festival Thursday to largely positive reactions.
Diggs co-stars in and co-wrote the film with his longtime friend and collaborator Rafael Casal. They used their experience growing up in Oakland to inform the script about a man, Collin, is in his last days of probation, and his best friend Miles, who are grappling with the gentrification of the Bay Area and their once “rough” childhood home. Its provocative logline describes it as “a buddy comedy in a world that won’t let it be one.”
Audiences largely praised the film on social media following its Park City, Utah premiere, kicking off the annual indie film festival.
“This is a powerful and passionate movie about race and Oakland and language that I will be thinking about for days,” wrote Buzzfeed reporter Adam Vary on Twitter.
Film critic Tomris Laffly said she respects it more than she loves it.
“Had lots to say about racial injustice, though I found it structurally/stylistically messy,” Laffly wrote. “An imperfect artifact.”
Los Angeles Times writer Tre’vell Anderson said that Diggs’ performance was “gripping.”
“Beautifully captures the enduring effects of police overuse of power on black folks while commenting on a changing (gentrifying) Oakland,” Anderson said.
“Blindspotting” is the feature debut for music video director Carlos Lopez Estrada, who has known Diggs for years and directed a few videos for his experimental hip hop group Clippings. When Diggs and Casal approached him with the script, he said he knew it was the right thing to get on board with.
“It’s inspired by many characters and places and events that took place in their lives and them being a mixed duo lends itself to a lot of conversations, that, I’ll just say, are important right now in America,” Estrada s told The Associated Press. “Through their relationships, we try to navigate those and ask questions that hopefully inspire some meaningful conversations.”
Estrada is also looking forward to audiences getting to see Diggs in a new light.
“He is an extremely talented individual,” Estrada said of the Tony-winner. “I’ve seen him before in a variety of mediums. I’ve seen him perform a lot of rap, I’ve seen him perform spoken word. I have never seen him deliver range like he does in this movie. The movie is a comedy at times. It’s a drama at times. It quickly jumps between one and the other. There are a lot of musical elements. To me this is one of those roles that honestly no one else could play but him.”
Opening night selections have not always been sure-bets at Sundance — one year the spot featured Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash,” which went on to win J.K. Simmons an Oscar. The next year, it was the largely forgotten gymnastics comedy “The Bronze.”
“Blindspotting” is in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the festival, which runs through Jan. 28, and one that is angling to get purchased for distribution. Along with the dystopian comedy “Sorry to Bother You,” with Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson, “Blindspotting” also is one of two films at the festival this year set in Oakland.
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr
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